National Newswatch

FREDERICTON — New Brunswick's finance minister says Tuesday's provincial budget hits the government's target of a $125-million surplus to go towards the debt.

Ernie Steeves wore bright orange sneakers Monday morning as he unveiled the budget cover, with the title "Creating a Culture of Action."

"I've been working up a sweat since I started working on it," Steeves joked as he addressed reporters in the gym of a downtown hotel in Fredericton.

While Steeves would not release other details, he said the budget also focuses on the government's desire to lower taxes.

"The goal has always been to get some tax reductions for New Brunswickers and get some money back in their pockets," he said.

The minister said the budget was prepared using numbers from before the recent downturn in the markets, but he noted the province is usually good at weathering such impacts.

"Be it good or bad, New Brunswick doesn't have big ups or big downs. New Brunswick rides along pretty good," he said. 

Steeves said while New Brunswick has yet to have any confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, the province will feel the financial affects of the outbreak — noting its biggest export market for lobster is China.

The Opposition Liberals have vowed to vote down the budget, meaning the minority Tory government will need the support of members of the other parties to pass the budget and survive the confidence vote.

Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers said Monday he was "proud to stand with health-care professionals and with thousands of New Brunswickers who have lost trust in Premier Higgs."

"The only responsible position for a Leader of an Opposition Party is to defeat this government at the earliest opportunity," Vickers said in a tweet.

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin has been given the highlights and said it's a good budget, but he'll need to see the entire budget before deciding how he'll vote.

Green Leader David Coon said he would be discussing the budget with his caucus Monday evening and Tuesday morning, and would not say yet how he plans to vote.

He said the expected outbreak of the novel coronavirus might be a reason to support the budget in order to avoid holding a provincial election now.

"I would say that one of the factors that is at play here, which is unusual and unprecedented, is the coronavirus, and what that will mean for New Brunswick," Coon said.

The current standings in the provincial legislature are 20 Tories, 20 Liberals, three Greens, three People's Alliance members, one Independent and two vacancies.

Steeves said people should not be expecting him to present an "election budget."

"It isn't about spending big money and not tackling the debt. We are tackling the debt first and foremost. We are balancing the budget and we are focused on needs versus wants," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 9, 2020.

 

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press

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