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The New Brunswick legislature in Fredericton. Image: Brad Perry

Higgs government to deliver pre-election budget

By Brad Perry Mar 19, 2024 | 6:11 AM

Tuesday is budget day in New Brunswick — the final one to be tabled before the next provincial election.

J.P. Lewis, a political science professor at UNB Saint John, said this is an important budget for the Higgs government.

“That’s the one that they’ll be rolling into their campaign, to their platform, to their literature,” Lewis said in an interview.

“It’s presenting to the voters the plans they have and to speak to their record of program delivery and fiscal management.”

The Higgs government’s sixth budget comes as many New Brunswickers struggle to make ends meet.

Lewis said he expects items relating to affordability and cost of living will be front and centre in the document.

“It would be quite shocking if there weren’t items that dealt with that directly. We know we’ve already had some of the policies that the government has rolled out attempting to address folks’ struggles and challenges in terms of getting by,” he said.

The political science professor said he also anticipates there will be something relating to the province’s debt, given that Conservative governments tend to focus on fiscal management.

But with a scheduled provincial election just months away, Lewis also expects there will be something to entice voters.

“In recent budgets, there’s been a lot of surpluses. If there is any surplus, it’ll be interesting to see if it’s a bit smaller because the government allows itself to do things,” he said.

“With people so concerned about cost of living, having a big surplus, voters might respond and say ‘well why don’t you spend some of that money on alleviating some of the financial pressures that exist.'”

The Progressive Conservative caucus has seen turmoil in recent months, but Lewis said he thinks the budget will pass without any issue.

“The premier could put something in there that he knew would upset enough of his colleagues in the PC caucus, but that would throw things into chaos. He wants stability this year,” he said.

Finance Minister Ernie Steeves will table the budget in the legislature shortly after 1 p.m. Tuesday.

Expectations from Liberals, Greens

New Brunswick’s Opposition parties have their own lists of expectations for the provincial budget.

The Liberals said there needs to be major investments in health care, cost of living, housing, and education.

On the health-care front, they want investments in collaborative care, a “fair contract” for long-term care workers, and retention efforts for critical care workers.

The Liberals also want to see the provincial sales tax removed from home electricity bills, a commitment to property tax reform, and more investment in housing.

In addition, they are calling for increased educator recruitment and retention, as well as a provincial school food program.

As for the Greens, they want to see a finance mechanism so nurse practitioners can work in collaborative care teams and solo practices.

They are also calling for community health centres staffed by collaborative care teams to be established in rural areas.

In addition, the Greens want a guaranteed livable income, a universal lunch program in schools, and support for non-market housing projects.