FREDERICTON (GNB) – The provincial government tabled a balanced budget today which would see the province’s net debt decrease for the first time in more than a decade.

“Our province is at a crossroads. We cannot continue pushing decisions down the road and risk endangering the future of our province,” said Finance Minister Ernie Steeves. “Today, we are taking the urgent action required to protect New Brunswick’s ability to provide essential programs and services, now and in the long term.”

The 2019-20 budget is balanced with a surplus of $23 million and total spending of $9.823 billion. Although revenues are projected to grow by 1.5 per cent, the budget limits spending growth to 1.3 per cent.

New Brunswick’s net debt is projected to decline for the first time in 13 years. The net debt is currently estimated at $14.1 billion and is expected to decline by $49 million.

“While we have made progress, we must remember the job is not done,” said Steeves. “We will need to continue to work hard to reduce our debt to an acceptable level. This will only be achieved by acting urgently and working together. We cannot do it alone.”

Highlights of the 2019-20 budget:

Growing a sustainable economy

  • The budget does not contain any new tax increases.
  • The government will maintain the current rules for the New Brunswick Small Business Corporate Income Tax Rate rather than implementing the federal passive income tax measure.
  • The front licence plate will be eliminated.
  • The fee paid by volunteer firefighters for their licence plates will be eliminated.
  • The budget includes a revised regulatory environment for repayable financial assistance programs in the agriculture, aquaculture, and fisheries sector.
  • The government will ask the federal government to allow for a change of scope of the twinning of Route 11 that will exclude the requirement to construct the remaining bridges and structures that are part of the project. This would allow for the continuation and completion of an affordable twinning to Bouctouche.
  • The government will also seek further changes to the scope of work to continue to enhance Route 11 to Miramichi.

Making government work

  • The government will introduce a new level of financial reporting, which will include, for the first time ever, actual quarterly results in addition to a year-end forecast.
  • The government will increase funding to the Office of the Auditor General by $1 million for 2019-20, giving it the resources it needs to protect the interests of taxpayers, and to hold government to account.
  • The government will introduce a new program, which will provide funding for members of the legislative assembly to support projects that are important to the communities they represent.
  • The Clerk of the Executive Council will also serve as the Chief Operating Officer, tasked with reviewing and improving the way the government delivers its services to ensure the civil service delivers high-quality programs and services based on clear measures and evidence-based evaluations.
  • The Department of Finance and the Treasury Board will be merged into one department and will assume responsibility for human resources services previously delivered by Service New Brunswick.

Building a sustainable health-care system

  • An investment of $2.4 million will be made in 2019–20 to implement a new nursing human resource strategy, which will include new full-time positions, more internationally educated nurses, stronger education programs and measures to improve retention.
  • A new primary health care demonstration pilot project, staffed primarily by nurse practitioners, will be launched to help more people access high-quality health care with the capacity for 6,000 patients once fully operational.
  • The budget includes investments in process improvements to reduce wait times, with an initial focus on hip and knee replacement surgeries.
  • The government will seek a one-time demographic-weighted health-care agreement with the federal government to allow New Brunswick to address health-care pressures caused by an aging population.

A path to a sustainable education system

  • The government will continue to work within the existing 10-year education plans, maintaining what is working and adjusting as required.
  • The designated New Brunswick Early Learning Centres initiative will continue.
  • An additional $1 million will be invested to increase wages for trained early childhood educators.
  • A red-tape reduction commission will be established to identify and eliminate regulations that distract teachers from classroom teaching.
  • Report card formats will be reviewed to ensure they are meeting the needs of teachers, students and parents.
  • The government will unveil a renewed bursary program for students attending both publicly-funded and private sector universities and colleges in New Brunswick.
  • The government will bring forward legislation to reintroduce the New Brunswick Tuition Tax Credit.

Providing sustainable social services

  • The government will provide funding to begin implementing key recommendations from the Child and Youth Advocate and the Savoury Report.
  • The government will invest more than $16 million to increase wages for home support workers.
  • The government will support research to identify initiatives to help seniors live safely, securely and independently longer.
  • The budget includes increased per diems from $135 to $142.50 for memory care beds in the province.

The Department of Finance and Treasury Board now project the New Brunswick economy to expand by 0.6 per cent. Ongoing trade uncertainty, weaker growth among major international and domestic trading partners, and temporary weakness in the manufacturing sector are all contributing to slower growth in 2019.

The 2019-20 budget reflects input from New Brunswickers from the pre-budget consultation process.

In addition to meetings with stakeholders, more than 2,500 suggestions and comments were received through e-mails and an online survey, as well as a live session led by the finance minister on Facebook.

“Today is about laying the foundation for a sustainable future,” said Steeves. “It is a beginning. We are inviting all New Brunswickers to join us in this journey to turn our province around.”

The 2019-20 budget speech and accompanying documents are available online.