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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

On Tuesday, March 8, 2016, Official Opposition Leader Paul Davis spoke in response to the Ball government's 2016 Speech from the Throne, which opened the new sitting of the legislature. Below is the Leader's speech from Hansard:

 

http://www.releases.gov.nl.ca/releases/2016/exec/0308n07.aspx

 

http://www.assembly.nl.ca/business/hansard/ga48session1/16-03-08%20(Throne%20Speech).htm

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Official Opposition.

 

 

 

MR. P. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Welcoming Remarks

 

Congratulations to you on your election and official appointment today. Also, on behalf of the Official Opposition, I would like to thank the Lieutenant Governor for his eloquent delivery of the Speech from the Throne today. And I would also like to thank the mover, the Member for Torngat Mountains, and also the seconder, the Member for Burin – Grand Bank, for their role today as well.

 

 

 

I'd like to take a moment as well, if I may, Mr. Speaker, to briefly extend our pleasure and welcome – we have the Justices of the Supreme Court with us today. We have leaders from business, labour and academia. We have representatives here from our churches and cultural groups, communities. Also, I know that many Members here today have members of their family who have joined them today, as well as citizens who have joined us here in the galleries, or have tuned in for the broadcast. So I welcome them all as well.

 

 

 

I want to welcome the Premier and his caucus today and, as well, Members of the Third Party this afternoon. I also want to just take a quick moment, if I may, to extend a special welcome to new Members of the House of Assembly. Especially to our own Member representing Conception Bay South, as well his first day in the House.

 

The Opposition's Critical Role

 

Mr. Speaker, for all 40 of us it's a privilege and an honour to serve the people here in their House of Assembly, and we should never forget that. We realize that only one government can lead at a time, and we respect the people's choice they made in 2015. They decided time for change had come. But remember, time for change will come again.

 

 

 

In the meantime, we've been elected to serve. And for Members on this side of the House, we've been elected to serve a very critical role, a role as Official Opposition for the House, to hold government's choices up to the light, if you will, and to offer alternatives when appropriate. We will do so vigorously because of what's at stake. That's the future of our province and the welfare of our people.

 

 

 

A Disappointing Throne Speech

 

This afternoon we listened to the Speech from the Throne. I was disappointed, I have to say, to hear very little detail on what the government's direction will look like and what it will include in the coming year. We heard much of the same words and discussions as we heard during the recent election campaign. While there's been very little detail in the Throne Speech today, we do expect that more details will be fleshed out from the budget and also from Question Period and debate in the weeks ahead.

 

 

 

Mr. Speaker, as well, it was interesting to note today that:

 

I didn't hear a reference to the very important fisheries fund.

 

There was very little reference to the people of Labrador.

 

There was no solid reference to a plan of action to address the fiscal challenges that we face as a province.

 

 

 

I was also very surprised that while there was some reference to openness and transparency, I expected to hear more details on how that would look and how that was going to take place.

 

The Fiscal Challenges

 

A theme echoing from all the messages that we've heard today and throughout this year we know is the fiscal reality that we face as a province. We acknowledge that the challenges are difficult. In fact, the challenges were already difficult a year ago when we brought down our budget in 2015.

 

 

 

The cause of those challenges here is the same as it is for Alberta and Saskatchewan, and that is, of course, the sudden, steep and sustained drop in the price of oil in the world markets. The reality, really, is that none of us created that loss of oil value, and none of us could do anything to change that and we still have no control over that.

 

 

 

If oil prices had remained where they were just a couple of years ago, we wouldn't be facing the challenges that we are today. Neither would Saskatchewan and neither would Alberta or the many other oil-producing jurisdictions of the world who are all facing very similar challenges.

 

 

 

In government you have to deal with the reality that you face, not the reality that you'd prefer.

 

Our Approach

 

That's why, even in an election year, we brought forward a budget – I believe an honest budget that included workforce reduction through attrition and also tax increases. This year I can tell you, just like last year, we will co-operate. We will co-operate with government and all Members in the House. We will work together to find the most responsible and least disruptive course of action to get through the challenges and onward to growth and prosperity.

 

 

 

With so much to offer, Newfoundland and Labrador has a tremendous future of opportunity ahead of us, as long as we can get through the present storm intact. That's where choices really matter the most, Mr. Speaker. Some choices will make us stronger; other choices can leave us weaker. Putting off the choices too long will only make matters worse. Delaying fuels uncertainty, it weakens confidence, and it continues to signal to our lenders a lack of a plan.

 

 

 

The Liberals' First Decision

 

One of our new government's first decisions, in their earliest hours of their mandate, was to reverse the HST increase that we introduced in last year's budget. I think, actually, it may have been their first request to the new prime minister. Now it may have seemed like a popular choice to make, it was certainly a popular campaign promise, but I don't believe it was very well thought out. As referenced in the Speech from the Throne, oil prices were falling and that meant oil revenue was falling. That meant the need for new revenue was growing, but the new Premier said that HST was a job killer. He said it many, many times.

 

 

 

The Liberal premier of New Brunswick doesn't believe that HST is a job killer. He just raised his province's rate from 13 per cent. He raised it 2 per cent to 15 per cent saying it was the fairest way to go.

 

The Liberal premier of Nova Scotia doesn't think HST is a job killer. He just called for a uniform rate throughout Atlantic Canada, a 15 per cent rate, saying that it would be good for the region and it would make our region stronger.

 

 

 

Others have also said that the most fair and progressive option, which is the same evidence that we used in raising our rate – that HST was the most fair and progressive option. Where was the new Premier's evidence-based decision making when he cancelled this increase? A decision that he made minutes after hearing it announced in the 2015 budget. His decision left a $200 million a year hole with nothing to fill it. That really doesn't sound like evidence-based decision making.

 

 

 

What Now?

 

How does he plan to fill it? Fee increases, income tax increases for middle class, small business tax increases. We've been put on notice today that everyone is going to be sacrificed and play some role in making this right. By cancelling the HST increase, he denied the province revenue it could be earning right now to help offset the deficit, spread over the whole year, the entire population, with credits to protect people that were least able to pay, with credits to protect our most vulnerable citizens.

 

 

 

That revenue would be helping us cope with this enormous shortfall that we're suffering because of the drop in oil prices. Mr. Speaker, $200 million is a lot of money. For front-line workers I know it's a lot of money for them as well. That equates to thousands of front-line workers delivering services and programs that are important to all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

 

 

 

The Liberals' Killed a Working Plan

 

By cancelling the HST increase, it also put a stake in the heart of the long-term plan that we brought to the rating agencies last spring. When the agencies saw our plan over a year ago with targets for debt, spending, restraint and revenue generation, they liked what they saw and they maintained the province's rating and outlook.

 

 

 

After the new government cancelled the revenue-generating HST increase on January 1, all three bond-rating agencies issued updates that very same month downgrading the province's outlook. All three agencies pointed to the lack of a credible long-term plan as a factor in their decision; a lack of a plan, especially from a government who had repeatedly declared that they had a plan – they had the plan for the future.

 

 

 

Now, that surely has not inspired confidence. It hasn't inspired confidence in our province and our people, giving up revenue while revenue was in steep decline. Even stalwart Liberals had been publicly saying that a plan is needed sooner rather than later. So where is that plan?

 

 

 

Where is Their Plan?

 

As far back as two years ago, the then Leader of the Opposition, now our Premier, told people he did have a plan – as long as two years ago. As a matter of fact, he even went as far as to say two years ago that you're going to like it.

 

Well, clearly he didn't have a plan.

 

That plan is needed now, not a year from now. Because the next steps after warning from the bond rating agencies – the downgrade comes right after the warnings. That will jeopardize our ability to borrow and that could cripple our province.

 

 

 

The uncertainty and fear in our province and our public service is real, Mr. Speaker. The speech today confirms, as I referenced earlier, reason for that fear when the province was just told that everyone is going to have to accept some level of sacrifice. Now that's a clear warning.

 

 

 

People Need a Clear Sense of Direction and Hope

 

We've heard these messages for several months. We've not heard messages of hope and future and potential and prosperity. We've heard messages of sacrifice. We've heard messages of tough times ahead, and yes we do, but not having that balance is crushing confidence.

 

It's hurting investment. It's depressing consumer spending.

 

The uncertainly in our province cannot go on and on.

 

People need a clear sense of direction – just as much as the rating agencies look for a clear sense of direction – and they need hope.

 

 

 

Minimizing the Impact on People

 

That is why we've been calling the Premier to open the House, so we could debate these important issues. I'm glad we're here today. Members on this side of the House are all glad to be here. I know Members opposite, I'm sure, are glad to be here as well. It's the first time we've been here since June 2015, nine full months.

 

We have to maximize our abilities and our opportunities while we're in this House.

 

That means we have to work together to minimize the impacts on the people of our province. That's our job.

 

That's what we're here to do.

 

 

 

Economic Diversification

 

The Premier has talked in the past about three options: cut, tax and borrow. There are other options as well. We heard some talk again today about economic diversification. No detail, but we heard talk of economic diversification.

 

 

 

What about those efforts to stimulate new growth? Yes, growth brings revenue to our province to help offset those losses from oil. Today we heard there is some plan and some discussion that's going to take place. Again, we haven't heard a lot of detail, but I'm talking about a plan that's going to work for the province today. Not a magical growth or fantasy plan as has been referred to in the past. Not about growth years down the road. I'm talking about real growth that can happen in a short time.

 

 

 

I was glad today in the Speech from the Throne when I heard the Premier's reference to tourism growth. Tourism growth and opportunity is significant in our province. In the past decade we've made significant progress in delivering on tourism, growing communities, helping to diversify the economy through tourism, bringing people home and growing business opportunities in rural parts of our province.

 

 

 

What concerned me the most this spring is when I heard that Marine Atlantic was increasing their rates. Where was our provincial government? Not one word from our provincial government in trying to defend the need for rates that were going to stimulate those tourism dollars and bring more people to our province.

 

 

 

What We Did for Growth and People

 

We've invested strongly in growth and diversification of our economy in recent years, including tourism; many, many hundreds of millions of dollars in tourism marketing, business attraction initiatives, research and development, innovation strategy, our ocean technology strategy, venture capital, aquaculture, agriculture, forestry, the fisheries, and arts and culture.

 

I'm glad today that I heard from the Speech from the Throne that several references to some of these very successful programs are going to continue. I thank the government for not casting these very successful projects aside, but continuing with investments and partnership in some of these very key areas that have benefited Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

 

 

 

We've invested $5.5 billion to open up Labrador through the Northern Strategic Plan and related initiatives and $6 billion in infrastructure. We heard a commitment today for continued investment in infrastructure, because we know that demand continues to be great. Mr. Speaker, $350 million for a tuition freeze and student aid reform, because we need to invite and bring students to our province and have an education system that has an opportunity for all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

 

 

 

We've invested in debt reduction, $3.6 billion, and $1.2 billion for a very successful poverty reduction. Mr. Speaker, $4 billion in tax reductions. That's $4 billion that remains in the pockets of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians so they can spend in their communities, so they can drive growth and drive the economy.

 

 

 

We Replaced $10 Billion in Federal Transfers

 

Mr. Speaker, it's very important to remember as well that $10 billion was utilized simply to replace the money that we used to receive through equalization payments.

 

For several years we used to get more than a billion dollars each and every year to help us pay the bills. As oil revenues rose and equalization funding fell, then stopped altogether in 2008, we had to take what used to be those oil revenues and convert them to replacing what equalization used to cover.

 

That amounted to $10 billion over the last decade.

 

 

 

Fighting for Some of the Money to be Returned

 

The premiers of other oil-producing provinces that are facing the same challenges we're facing here – Premier Wall in Saskatchewan and Premier Notley in Alberta – they're out fighting for some of that money to be returned.

 

They've not been afraid to step up and represent their constituents, the citizens of their provinces.

 

That's what equalization is supposed to do and help.

 

It's supposed to help provinces when they have a shortage, protecting provinces when revenues don't meet the needs.

 

 

 

If I can read just very briefly one section from our Constitution, section 36(2) of our Constitution which says, “Parliament and the government of Canada are committed to the principle of making equalization payments to ensure that provincial governments have sufficient revenues to provide reasonably comparable levels of public services at reasonably comparable levels of taxation.”

 

That's very simply what equalization is about.

 

 

 

This year, Newfoundland and Labrador does not have sufficient revenues to provide reasonable, comparable levels of public services at reasonable, comparable levels of taxation.

 

Why Not Stand Up for NL?

 

So why is it that Premier Wall and Premier Notley can be out looking for those much-needed revenues through equalization, but our Premier is not out with them?

 

I'm sure our Premier doesn't expect Premier Wall or Premier Notley to fight for them or to work for our province. They're looking for equalization reform. They're looking for stabilization reform. They're looking for stimulus and emergency relief.

 

 

 

What Other Provinces Are Getting to Help Them

 

Nova Scotia is getting $1.7 billion this year because they have shortfalls in their revenue – revenue that it needs.

 

It's the same for New Brunswick and for Manitoba.

 

If we had that $1.7 billion, our problems would be essentially solved in this province.

 

Ontario gets $2.3 billion.

 

Quebec gets $10 billion because their revenues are short of their needs.

 

 

 

What's really interesting, Mr. Speaker, is that this year the Liberal premier of Quebec is now publicly lobbying for more. The Liberal premier of Ontario has now joined the premier of Quebec in looking for more money to support their provinces as a result of the struggles that are being experienced by Bombardier, which we know is important to their province. Those provinces and those leaders are not afraid to speak up for their citizens.

 

 

 

Let's Make This About People

 

For years we've been paying our own way, while other provinces received the help, as I just described, those very much-needed equalization revenues. The Premier can't expect someone else to fight for us; he has to do it on our behalf.

 

Even the Liberal premiers of Ontario and Quebec – and while our Liberal Premier may be reluctant to make waves and cause problems for the new Liberal federal government we refer to as their cousins in Ottawa, we know that this is crunch time and we need to pull out all the stops for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

 

 

 

When Newfoundland and Labrador's public service and the best interests of our people are on the line, then the province must trump party and it's time to stand up and to demand action.

 

So let's make this not about party, but let's make this about people. The people's interests are at stake, and we all have a job to do to protect them – all 40 of us.

 

We will work with you, the government. We will do our jobs vigorously on this side of the House.

 

But we'll keep the people's interests as our priority, and we will do that to the best of our abilities.

 

So let us get on with the task of serving the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

 

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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