Newfoundland and Labrador's Finance Minister says the rising cost of living presents a difficult challenge for a province facing a $350 million deficit in 2022, but says initiatives put in place during the Spring budget are putting money back in the pockets of residents.
Asked about the record high price of gasoline in the province, which unexpectedly jumped more than 11 cents per litre Tuesday morning, Siobhan Coady said she hopes to see some global change that will help residents at the pumps soon.
For example, the province expects the price of oil to lower to around $86 per barrel, which she says will be "a relief" for gas prices. The current price of oil sits at around $108 per barrel.
If that lowering doesn't happen, Coady said the province may have to consider more ways to help people tackle the rising cost of living.
But for the time being, she said, the province already has a number of measures in place: A one-time 50 per cent reduction in the price of motor vehicle registration, increases to the province's income supplement and income support programs, and "more than 100 per cent" money collected through the province's gasoline tax going back into the public's pocket.
"We've provided a multitude of relief measures. Of course this is very, very serious and we're taking it as such," Coady said Tuesday.
"We have to be very careful with people's money, and I think it's very responsible and balanced what we've done…If we think we can do more, we certainly would."
The programs aimed at helping residents tackle the rising cost of living will cost the province $142 million, money Coady says was borrowed by the province as part of the budgeting process.
Progressive Conservative Finance Critic Tony Wakeham said government needs to do more to help the people of the province, calling on Coady and government to take action.
"The people of Newfoundland and Labrador are really suffering," Wakeham said. "They need their government to do something else. What they've proposed, it's just not enough."
Wakeham pointed to lowering the gas tax as a way to help tackle rising prices — something Coady says is virtually impossible due to how the federal carbon tax's application in Newfoundland and Labrador was negotiated with the federal government.
If the province were to lower the provincial gas tax, Coady said, it would likely come with further carbon taxes being imposed by Ottawa on goods that are currently exempted from tax.
"For example, you don't pay carbon tax on oil heat for your home. If we lower our provincial gas tax, because they're really trying to drive a change in behaviour to address climate change, they could come in and impose what's called a federal backstop. Impose carbon tax on oil heat, fisheries, forestry, agriculture," Coady said.
"I'll give you back the money in other ways, and that's what we've done."
Wakeham believes the gas tax hurts the province, saying the deal with Ottawa forfeits the province's ability to manage its own provincial tax.
Although Coady couldn't say if more initiatives to help people in the short-term could be coming, she did say the province could do more in the fall, such as taking a look at the harmonized sales tax.