ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — In a throne speech that looks back as much as forward, the Newfoundland and Labrador government says it must do more with less to rise from an unprecedented financial meltdown.
The speech, read Tuesday by Lt.-Gov. Frank Fagan, said the Liberal government took majority power in 2015 "at a fiscal breaking point," after 12 years of Progressive Conservative rule.
The document blames over-reliance on offshore oil earnings that have collapsed since world prices crashed, starting in mid-2014. The province now faces an almost $1.6-billion deficit as net debt hit a historic high at $12.7 billion last year.
Still, the throne speech cast the best possible light on an ugly situation.
"We are determined to embrace what some may deem a crisis as an opportunity to do better with less," Fagan read.
"As a province, we have had to come to terms with the unprecedented fiscal situation before us, and it has not been easy. We faced the very real risk of losing the ability to borrow to pay for the programs and services government provides."
The speech also takes aim at the almost $12-billion Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project that was estimated at half that cost when the previous Tory government approved it in 2012.
"We are in too deep," the throne speech said of the over-cost and delayed hydro development in Labrador.
"Cancelling the project is not feasible and it would put more financial burden on the people of the province."
Premier Dwight Ball would not tip his hand outside the legislature when asked if more spending and job cuts are coming in the next provincial budget, slated for April 6. He stressed the government has shown it's serious about streamlining after announcing it would eliminate 287 management jobs.
"I'll say the province is in much better shape this year than it was last year," he told reporters. "We've been able to secure the footing of our province.
"We want to get back to surplus in seven years and we're still on target to do that."
Back in the legislature, Ball railed against the former Tory government, accusing it of "shameful" mismanagement before losing power in November 2015.
"They did not plan for the future," he said of what he called the Tories' delusional assumptions that oil prices would stay indefinitely high.
NDP opposition member Lorraine Michael said low-income people in the province have borne the brunt of last year's budget, with its broad tax and fee hikes on everything from gasoline to books.
"Ask seniors if they're doing better with less," she said of cuts to dental care and other supports.
The 2016 budget also imposed an income-geared "deficit-reduction levy" on anyone earning $50,000 or more, which will stay in place until the end of the 2019 taxation year.
Auditor general Terry Paddon reported last November that most economic indicators in the province are deteriorating as major projects, such as the Hebron offshore oil development, wind down.
Long-term forecasts suggest a 13-per-cent drop in employment by 2020 affecting more than 31,000 earners, he said.
"Measures to reduce the significant deficits expected over the next seven years will impact services throughout the province and will affect every resident," Paddon said.
NDP Leader Earle McCurdy said cutting public spending at a time of recession will make a bad situation worse.
"We're in a tough spot but that's not the solution."
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Sue Bailey, The Canadian Press