New Brunswick budget $41-million in surplus, but health-care increase just $2 million

FREDERICTON — The final New Brunswick budget before residents head to the polls in a provincial election this year contains virtually no new spending on health care and no voter−friendly measures like tax cuts.

The $13.3−billion budget tabled Tuesday by Finance Minister Ernie Steeves includes a surplus of $41 million and a 6.4 per cent increase in spending.

And while the government boasted that the budget contains the most spending on health care in provincial history, there is only $2 million more than what will have been spent when the current fiscal year ends on March 31.

Steeves projects the government will spend $3.8 billion on health in the 2024−25 fiscal year — up from the $3.6 billion budgeted last spring but virtually the same as what was actually spent, according to revised figures.

Opposition parties had said that they wanted Tuesday’s budget to be focused on health care.

In a news conference Tuesday, Steeves defended his government’s health−care spending, saying the budget is about "making hard choices and making good choices."

He said government services are under pressure because of the fast rise in the province’s population. Over the last five years, he said the population has increased by more than 64,000.

"An aging population and the arrival of so many new residents are driving demand to levels not seen before," he said. "Clearly the status quo is not sustainable."

This is the minister’s final budget before a provincial election that has to be held by Oct. 21, but it avoids big−ticket items. "We do not make decisions based on the next election," Steeves said. "We make decisions based on what we financially can do, what’s best for New Brunswick, what’s best for the economy."

Provincial gross domestic product is forecast to grow by 0.7 per cent in 2024. The net debt is projected to be $12.7 billion, representing 26.7 per cent of provincial GDP.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2024.

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

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