N.L. emphasizes positive financial outlook as health spending reaches record levels

Newfoundland and Labrador Finance Minister Siobhan Coady delivered a provincial budget with a record $9.8 in spending on Thursday afternoon. (Patrick Butler/CBC - image credit)
Newfoundland and Labrador Finance Minister Siobhan Coady delivered a provincial budget with a record $9.8 in spending on Thursday afternoon. (Patrick Butler/CBC - image credit)

The Newfoundland and Labrador government is painting a sunny picture of the province's financial future as health spending reaches record levels.

"Budget 2023 is the largest investment in your health in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador," said Finance Minister Siobhan Coady in her budget speech to the legislature Thursday afternoon.

The provincial government plans to spend $9.8 billion this year — more than a third of which will go toward health care — and projects a deficit of $160 million deficit in the coming fiscal year.

"We haven't opened the floodgates on spending. What we're seeing is strategic investments," Coady said.

Several measures to help with the cost of living have been extended.

After initially projecting a $351-million deficit last year, the province posted an unexpected $784-million surplus. Driven by personal and corporate income taxes and higher-than-expected oil prices, revenue was over $1.1 billion higher than expected.

Interim PC Leader David Brazil said he's cautiously optimistic.

"Any day that there's not layoffs in the civil service and no increase in taxes is a good start for [the] provincial budget," he said.

He said his party can be credited with several ideas sprinkled throughout the budget.

"A lot of the programs and services and the budget lines they're implementing came out of debate in the House of Assembly," he said.

Province aims for health-care 'transformation'

The 2023 budget, titled "Your Health. Our Priority," touts the provincial government's plans to fix a health-care system that has been struggling to maintain services and staff.

According to the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, more than 136,000 people don't have a family physician. Health-care facilities are also struggling with shortages of nurses and other health professionals.

The province plans to spend $3.9 billion on health care this year.

Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada
Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada

In recent weeks, government officials have made a slew of pre-budget spending announcements, mostly focused on health care.

Some of the recommendations from the Health Accord, a 10-year plan to improve the province's health-care system, are scattered throughout the budget. For example, the province is going all in on team-based care, with $21.2 million allocated for 10 new family-care teams across the province.

And $9 million has been allocated to begin the process of consolidating 60 road ambulance services into one system to be managed by the new provincial health authority — another recommendation from the Health Accord.

A new Labrador Affairs department will administer the medical transportation assistance program, which will see a $1-million increase.

The province plans to spend $23 million on recruitment and retention initiatives, which will include 10 new seats in Memorial University's faculty of medicine.

Interim NDP Leader JIm Dinn says the province's record health-care spending is a good thing.

"The issue we're facing in health care is something that's been brewing for, I would say, decades," he said. "Multiple administrations all with the same, I guess, budget-based efficiency-finding, cost-cutting approach."

Still, Dinn said he wants to see a more long-term plan for addressing health outcomes than what is presented in the budget.

Coady promises prudent fiscal management

Just two years ago, a team commissioned by Premier Andrew Furey delivered a report recommending deep cuts to government spending. Three budgets later, those cuts largely haven't materialized.

Coady, describing the approach to this year's budget as "balanced," said the government "has been steadfast in focusing on responsible financial management."

Memorial University's operating grant is one area where spending will decrease — to $295 million from $309 million.

Coady said the provincial government will contribute another $127 million to its future fund. The minister said putting money toward the fund will help make the province's future finances more stable.

"It's about discipline," she said.

The province is projecting a $1.5-billion borrowing requirement this year. Earlier this month, Coady and Furey announced the province would begin selling bonds on the London Stock Exchange.

'The world will need oil'

The provincial government is expecting oil to trade at US $86 this year, with $1.1 billion forecast in royalties. The province is continuing to support the oil industry, with $50 million allocated as an incentive for exploration.

"The world will need oil for the next 30 to 50 years," the finance minister said.

Coady said the provincial government is diversifying the economy to shore up against volatile oil prices, pointing to the mining industry and the burgeoning wind industry as examples.

Coady said Newfoundland and Labrador still has the highest per capita net debt — at $16.2 billion — of any province in Canada. Still, Coady said the budget shows the province's finances are improving.

"Look towards the horizon," she said in her budget speech. "The sun is coming up."

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