It didn’t take long for the newly elected government to show its true colours.
Months after taking office in September 2010, the government instructed the departments to immediately trim one per cent from their budgets and prepare for a two per cent reduction every year for the next 3 years.
Finance Minister, Blaine Higgs, set the tone saying that these steps were not enough. In January, the minister had already slashed government expenses by $42.9 million.
In March, after promising to listen to the citizens of this province, the government chose to ignore the message New Brunswickers had been giving them during the budget consultation meetings, to scrap the Tax Reform in order to restore public finances.
Instead, the government tilted towards the business community. The corporate tax was reduced once again. It is now 10%, and the small business tax dropped to 4.5%, keeping on the same path than the previous Liberal Government.
On the other hand, the government decided to impose consumer taxes on items, such as fuel and tobacco.
The government announced cuts of $220 million in various programs, in which $17.6 million would come from expenditure reductions in school district administration and operations.
The government also announced another $23 million in savings through general expenditure reductions in Regional Health Authorities, for purchases and other efficiencies in non-clinical services.
Late this summer, we saw the first effect of the budget reduction.
The Horizon Health Authority announced its first cuts:
- Hours of operation were reduced at Minto, Harvey, Black Harbour, McAdam and Tobique Health Centres, as well as reductions at the Miramichi and the Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospitals;
- So far, a number of jobs have been eliminated in the Horizon Health network;
- Vitalité Health Network also reduced its hours of operation in some Health Centres, and they announced that a number of positions would be eliminated;
- The Finance Minister is now after the health care workers’ sick days, saying absenteeism in health
- care is costing the province $87 million.
Budget cut of $17.6 million to Education – in school district administration and operations - including funding for school libraries (staff, new books, etc), job loss or reduction in work hours for bus drivers, custodians, teachers’ assistants, etc.
A reduction of $4 million to the winter maintenance program was announced in early November. It means:
- New private roads will not be plowed;
- Fewer snowplows – 21 old plows taken out of service;
- Fewer winter staff – job loss over the next 2 years to allow $2.2 million in savings, which will reduce the number of jobs;
- Reduced amount of salt and reduced level of services – 216 private roads will not be serviced anymore;
- Discussions to introduce toll highways.
Privatization of the NB Liquor Store on Grand Manan Island – job loss; and
More privatization might be on the way – NB Liquor didn’t reach the target of an extra $10 million in profits over and above the $160 million in profits it made last year.
- Two-tier minimum wage;
- Minimum wage increase to $10 per hour is on hold until April 1;
- The discontinuation of the retirement allowance for newly-hired employees for non- bargaining employees;
- $20.6 million in reduced spending on various initiatives within the Regional Development Corporation;
- A third year of wage freeze is also in the cards, since they already asked the MLAs to take one;
- Proposed changes to prescription drug programs for seniors by increasing from $250 to $500;
- Nursing home construction and renovations have been delayed;
- Abolition of the Advisory Council on the Status of Women – budget cut of $418,000;
- Funding to the Secretariat for Community Non-Profit Organizations – budget cut of $378,000; and
- Funding to the Provincial Capital Commission – budget cut of $414,000.
Contrary to the previous government, the Alward Government did not announce major job cuts to the public services. Instead, it is eliminating positions mostly through attrition. Last year, 600 jobs have been eliminated through attrition.
The government also slashed 20 employees from Business New Brunswick and 24 jobs have been eliminated at Communications New Brunswick. More jobs are on the line. Now, the Health authorities are eliminating positions that have been vacant due the wage freeze ordered by the government.
Our members who are working for the Department of Transportation will lose their jobs or will not be replaced upon retirement due to the cuts to the winter maintenance programs. We can expect significant job loss!
Last week, Premier Alward announced major changes: budgeting, human resources, information management and accountability functions for the civil service will be merged into a single Management Board within the Executive Council Office.
Already, Blaine Higgs, who will be in charge of the Management Board, is talking about merging economic development departments and agencies into one. Another example is the consolidation of inspection and enforcement officers from different departments, including the Department of Natural Resources, Environment, Transportation and Public Safety.
The government structural review underway since last spring is set to introduce New Brunswickers to a “smaller, less expensive public service with fewer departments, agencies, employees and services.”
Minister Higgs said: “many will not understand why the downsizing, consolidation, streamlining and elimination of entire departments and agencies is necessary. “
The government will outline its three-year plan to restore New Brunswick to financial health in the next budget.
The months ahead
CUPE members have a major battle in the months ahead. For the past year, we have been put under notice: the government will come after our jobs, wages and benefits.
Already, they are trying to get our severance pay, which we negotiated for our members. They also want our sick days. A review of the Private Pension Plan has been done and a review of the Public Pension Plan is now underway.
The business groups are successfully lobbying for a race to the bottom.
We need to lobby the MLAs and campaign against the cuts to the public services. It’s not only our jobs on the line; it’s our social safety net!
The Government is only focusing at the bottom line – it only wants to balance the budget and please the business community. It is refusing to consider reversing the tax cuts that created this mess.
We need to come back to a progressive tax system where everyone pays its fair share so we could offer good public services to all New Brunswickers, no manner where they live!
The Signal - Vol. 3 No. 1 - Autumn 2011 (CUPE NB)