Is the Government of Canada bound to provide federal funds for the Province of New Brunswick’s chosen option for restoring the Petitcodiac? The Riverkeepers think so: “The province should start the project and sue the federal government for its share of the cost,” Petitcodiac Riverkeeper chairman Michel Desjardins said yesterday. (Times&Transcript, A2, 22 Novembre 2007)
Brian Murphy thinks that the federal government should fund 75% of the restoration cost. Shawn Graham has asked the feds for a 50/50 split of the $68 million pricetag. The feds have given approval for the project to proceed, but will not be contributing funding to the project.
Minister Cannon issued a statement earlier this week that “the Premier of New Brunswick has never made our financial participation a must for the removal of the causeway.” In response, Premier Graham stated that his commitment to restore the Petitcodiac was in the Liberals’ “Charter for Change,” and that on December 20, 2006 he had informed Minister Cannon that “New Brunswick would be reviewing four options to restore the Petitcodiac River.”
It is important to note Premier Graham’s subtle twist in the debate. The feds were notified that the Province intended to pursue remediation of the river, but were not consulted prior to announcing a specific option. This is important because the Province chose one of the most expensive options, (the least expensive being $34 million, or half the cost).
Any way you slice it, $68 million is a lot of money. It would mean a lot to children living in poverty and seniors waiting for health care. On the other hand, how can the Province of NB make the case that they can’t go it alone?
By way of context, we need to rehearse the math for the province of New Brunswick’s finances:
First of all, the incoming Liberal Graham government predicted a deficit of $400 million in order to justify increasing taxes. At the end of the day they in fact posted a $237 million dollar SURPLUS! This represents an increase of $637 million dollars in revenue from what they predicted upon taking office.
Secondly, the NB Liberals added $356 million to our province’s debt in their 2007-08 budget. When they later posted a surplus, they paid down the debt by $136 million. This adds up to a net increase in provincial debt of $220 million.
Let’s review: $637 million additional revenue; $220 million additional debt. How can a government raise taxes and increase debt at the same time?
They posted a $101 million dollar surplus (AFTER paying on the debt), and borrowed an additional $220 million to fund other “Liberal priorities.” That amounts to a pot of $321 million dollars that the NB Liberals have accumulated on the back of the province’s taxpayers!
Now Premier Graham is saying ‘We don’t have the money to pursue restoration of the Petitcodiac, and it’s the Conservatives’ fault!’ Who is he kidding? The option they chose represents only 21% of the $321 million cash pie they have hoarded. Perhaps he shares the affliction of his federal Liberal counterpart: “It’s not easy to make priorities!”