Too little, too late, says opposition as finance minister defends cost-of-living measures

·3 min read
Finance Minister Siobhan Coady insists the provincial government is doing all it can within its fiscal constraints to help with the rising cost of living. (Mark Quinn/CBC - image credit)
Finance Minister Siobhan Coady insists the provincial government is doing all it can within its fiscal constraints to help with the rising cost of living. (Mark Quinn/CBC - image credit)
Mark Quinn/CBC
Mark Quinn/CBC

The Newfoundland and Labrador government was on the defensive on Monday as Progressive Conservative and NDP MHAs criticized its cost of living relief measures as too little, too late.

Last week, the provincial government announced it would raise the minimum wage, temporarily reduce the gasoline and diesel tax and introduce a one-time home heating supplement for families with a net income of $150,000 or less.

"These are extraordinary measures for extraordinary times, and, you know, I recognize that people want us to do more. This is what we can do today," said Finance Minister Siobhan Coady on Monday.

Concerns about the cost of living were front and centre during the spring sitting of the House of Assembly as fuel prices soared to record heights, inflation rose and many struggled to heat their homes and afford food.

Coady and Premier Andrew Furey have insisted for months that lowering the provincial gas and diesel tax could result in the federal government introducing additional taxes because of how the carbon tax is applied in this province.

Furey has said he discussed the matter with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau while he was in St. John's for the royal visit.

"The premier had an opportunity to speak with the prime minister and was given, you know, given the assurance that the backstop, which we were concerned about with regard to carbon tax, would not be imposed," Coady said Monday.

WATCH: The CBC's Darryl Dinn speaks with cost of living protesters in Labrador City

The provincial government plans to shave seven cents off the provincial tax of 14.5 cents per litre of gasoline and 16.5 cents per litre of diesel until Jan. 1. Coady said she hopes the tax reductions will pass in the House of Assembly this week.

Interim PC Leader David Brazil said his party will support the tax reductions but would like to see them go further. Brazil criticized the Jan. 1 end date, saying he wants to see the reduction continue until taxpayers no longer need the help.

"You've got to give them some stability, some peace of mind, at least know they are getting some break at the pumps and that'll continue until something changes dramatically that lowers the price of these fuels," he said.

Government still sweet on sugary beverage tax

Though the government is reducing its taxes on gasoline and diesel, Coady said the province still plans to introduce an tax of 20 cents per litre on sugar-sweetened beverages in September.

"The tax is designed to try and draw people's attention to the fact that they are drinking a sugar-sweetened beverage," said Coady.

Mark Quinn/CBC
Mark Quinn/CBC

"This is not about taxation; this is about driving behaviour," Coady said.

Brazil said his party isn't in favour of the tax and has viewed research suggesting similar taxes in other jurisdictions haven't achieved better health outcomes.

"At the end of the day, it's another tax on people, particularly those at lower income, that it would have a negative impact on."

Minimum wage increase not enough: NDP

The provincial government is also raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next 16 months. Employee advocates have been asking for the increase for years.

Mark Quinn/CBC
Mark Quinn/CBC

On Monday, interim NDP Leader Jim Dinn said the increase isn't enough to cope with inflation.

"Waiting 16 months is a little bit like throwing that life preserver to a drowning person long after they've gone down for the third time," Dinn said.

Coady said the government is following the recommendations of the provincial minimum wage review committee, which included employee and employer representatives. The government will be providing a subsidy to small businesses to help with the wage increases.

During question period, Dinn called on the government to index minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index plus one per cent. The index measures the weighted average of a "basket" of standard consumer goods and services over time.

"That's something that could have been announced with this package to ensure some stability, some comfort, some reassurance to people that the government is serious about addressing the the issue around minimum wage," he said.

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