Business leader calls for government to be honest about fiscal situation as House reopens June 9

Sherry Vivian/CBC

The provincial government is reopening the House of Assembly on June 9, and for the business community says it couldn't come sooner. 

Richard Alexander, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Employers' Council, told CBC News on Monday he believes decisions surrounding the economic and fiscal crisis of the province are being made behind closed doors with no transparency as government focuses on facing down COVID-19. 

"In a democracy, the way these things are supposed to be decided is in a House of Assembly," he said.

"So, debate it, explain to the people what's going on, what the situation is, what is the government going to do about it. The fact that those decisions are not being made in the House of Assembly, in a democracy that's quite frightening."

Alexander said he gives full credit to Finance Minister Tom Osborne for providing some relief to local businesses, adding the province was already in a dire fiscal situation before COVID-19 struck. He said the drop in the price of oil, coupled with the global pandemic, pushed the province over the edge. 

Alexander wants to know how far over the edge the province actually is, and is calling on Osborne and outgoing Premier Dwight Ball to take steps to alleviate the problem while also being honest with the public. 

"You're flying a plane and the plane is crashing, and what's the plan?," he said. "We've heard stories about government is actually hiring right now. That's very difficult for the business community to swallow right now when 30 per cent of our work force in the private sector has been laid off."

Sherry Vivian/CBC

The House of Assembly will reopen for the purpose of conducting public business which fell to the wayside due to the disruption of its Spring 2020 sitting caused by the pandemic, according to a news release on Monday.

The House will convene with all MHAs, implementing measures to accommodate appropriate physical distancing and comply with public health.

The public gallery and speaker's gallery will be closed to the public and employees, while the press gallery will be open with a cap on the maximum number of people attending at one time to ensure appropriate physical distancing can be maintained.

As the Liberal leadership race is slated to restart on June 8, with a new premier to be announced on Aug. 3, Alexander said the province cannot wait for the next premier before it starts planning and taking steps toward fixing its fiscal situation. 

He said the sense, now, is that things are beginning to turn, that COVID-19 wasn't as bad as it was previously thought. But, members of the NLEC are very concerned about business he said. 

"We have obliterated the curve, we haven't flattened it. But, we have the worst fiscal situation this province has ever faced. We've got an economic crisis," he said. 

"We're starting to hear things about the economic crisis, let's get our politicians to talk about what they're going to do to keep our province solvent." 

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labardor