Premier Andrew Furey revealed the final membership of the team set to guide Newfoundland and Labrador through the economic crisis that has befallen the province.
Chaired by former Canada Post and Royal Mail CEO Moya Greene, the task force includes representation from the private sector, labour groups, indigenous populations and critics of the Muskrat Falls project.
An interim report from the committee is due on Feb. 28, 2021, with a final report due on April 30, 2021. The terms of reference for the committee will guide its work, focusing on the expenditures of the province, which hit a record high with the 2020-21 provincial budget.
“The province of Newfoundland and Labrador is currently facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis. The budget deficit forecast for 2020-21 will exceed $1.8 billion. Furthermore, the province has added over $6.3 billion to its net debt in the past six years. This is unsustainable,” reads the terms of reference.
“A comprehensive plan to address its ballooning debt, deficit and expenditures will be essential. Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest per capita revenue of any province in Canada. It also has the highest per capita spending. A plan is needed that will realign our expenses closer to our revenue base.”
The deadline given for the economic recovery team is April 30, 2021. April is a typical time for budgets to be released, with April 16 serving as budget day in 2019, for example.
Furey says the committee needs enough time to do a comprehensive job.
“We need to give them adequate time in order to gather all their information they need in order to provide the strategies and recommendations they need in order to guide the financial and fiscal future,” said Furey.
“We have to ensure they have adequate time and I think that this is adequate time.”
He says the work of the committee will not be limited to informing the 2021-22 provincial budget.
“This report will inform all future budgets, not just the coming budget,” said Furey.
“We’re still in a global economic crisis, we’re still in a pandemic.”
Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie says the time for study of the fiscal woes of the province has passed.
“We have more than enough reports. The shelves around here are sagging with reports. You can mention various reports that have been handed in — including the Mills report — and none of those things are being acted on,” said Crosbie.
“There’s a long action list that everybody knows about if anyone cared to look at them. Now we’re confronted with a situation where the new premier is still planning to have a plan, but there’s no action. It’s action that we need.”
New Democratic Party Leader Alison Coffin says she is concerned about the timeline of the report, given the scale of the challenge presented to the committee.
“I notice there is an interim report coming in February. But by February most of the budget has already been incorporated,” said Coffin.
“I do have some concerns about the efficacy and urgency of the work of that committee. They have an enormous, enormous task ahead of them. I know that the mandate has changed ever so slightly since it was introduced. It was supposed to be a post-COVID recovery taskforce and, if you look at the terms of reference, it seems to be now more ‘let's rejig our economy entirely.’”