No new plans to work with opposition on minority government budget: finance minister

As the provincial government starts to work on what will be in its 2020 budget, the finance minister says he won't be doing anything new to reach out to opposition and Independent MHAs, whose support he needs to pass it.

"I have indicated that time and time and time again, my door is open. I invite any member of the legislature to come forward and provide me with ideas on where we can find efficiencies, you know, where we can better spend money," Tom Osborne told reporters after question period Tuesday.

The budget is expected in March or April but the process begins months earlier, as departments put in their proposals and the government holds public consultations.

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"The minister has always said he's had an open door policy. It's too bad he doesn't have an open book policy … so that we could actually have a chance to look at the books and see exactly what we're talking about here," PC finance critic Tony Wakeham told reporters Tuesday.

The NDP would also like to see a more formal consultation, in which the government shares its plan and gets feedback from the opposition.

But Osborne says that wouldn't accomplish anything.

"I'm not convinced that us laying out what our ideas are is going to be met with great applause and great support," said Osborne.

During question period the opposition asked where the government will find about $617 million in cuts that will be needed over the next several years to balance the budget. Osborne insists those are just projections that are subject to change, and he doesn't plan more than a year at the time.

He's also backed away from the plan to bringing the province back to surplus by 2022, saying he won't cut things like hospitals to reach the target.

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He won't say when the books may be balanced; that's expected in the mid-year fiscal update, which is promised before the end of December.

When the Liberals had a majority government, they didn't need the support of any opposition MHAs to pass it. But this year they'll likely need at least one NDP, PC or Independent MHA to vote with the government for the budget to pass.

If the budget is defeated, so is the Liberal government, which would likely force a new election.

Stop asking for more spending: minister

Osborne said he doesn't want a laundry list of spending demands from the other parties, as he's focused on finding ways to get by with less.

"It can't just be about spending money," said Osborne.

"I'm not interested in creating $2-billion deficits again; I am interested in finding efficiencies and finding better ways to spend the money that we're spending."

Wakeham said his party recognizes finances are tight, and he thinks there are ways to cut costs.

"Are there lots of places we could look at? Absolutely. Let's start with the minister's own Department of Finance," he said.

Wakeham said this year the department is spending an additional $1.5 million to fill vacant positions, and needs to look at whether those people are really necessary.

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