COVID-19, dropping oil prices have 'severe' impact on N.L., says premier

Peter Cowan/CBC

With the Muskrat Falls rate mitigation plan still largely up in the air, spiralling oil prices across the world and COVID-19 throwing a wrench into the economy, both globally and on the home front, Newfoundland and Labrador is bracing for the unknown.

Premier Dwight Ball told reporters on Friday the impact on the province has been severe.

"The economic issues that we're facing right [now] have certainly changed where we were in February of this year and early March," Ball said.

"What we're seeing is revenues decreasing and expenses increasing."

However, the outgoing premier remains hopeful the province will make it through the current global pandemic.

Ball said the province is expecting to rebound faster than other jurisdictions based on measures it is taking right now. He did not say what those measures are, instead that the province is focusing on health for the time being.

Finance Minister Tom Osborne said the Liberal government was nearly ready to table a budget that was far more positive than many would have anticipated.

Neither Ball nor Osborne would say the province is headed toward bankruptcy when asked.

Peter Cowan/CBC

"It is very early in a very rapidly evolving situation and we are still trying to understand what it's going to mean from an economic and fiscal standpoint for Newfoundland and Labrador," Osborne said on Friday.

"It is very frustrating. It's very disappointing that the globe is going through such rapid uncertainty and change. And it's been a very stressful time. I think it's fair to say for any finance minister anywhere in the world."

Osborne said the province has been focusing on growing Newfoundland and Labrador's tech sector, aquaculture sector and agriculture sector, and that the province has outpaced employment and population numbers higher than was projected in the 2015 budget.

He also holds faith in the province's current business in oil and gas, saying there are currently almost 120 exploration wells registered within Newfoundland and Labrador and many of those are registered with the federal government and Environment Canada as well.

"We've started oil exploration on some of those this year because we've spent a great deal of money, and time and focus on doing the geological and seismic work in our offshore. We are told by the global oil industry that somewhere between one and six, and maybe one in seven exploration wells would lead to a profitable project," Osborne said.

"So we absolutely have a bright future in this province. ... As we see some sense of getting back to normal we will be able to determine the full fiscal impact on our province of the oil war and COVID."

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador