Premier responds to Throne Speech 2012
March 5, 2012
The following are the remarks made in the House of Assembly by the Honourable Kathy Dunderdale, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, in response to the Speech from the Throne, March 5, 2012.
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Good afternoon. As the last of six speakers today, I will be keeping my remarks brief.
I welcome the guests who have joined us today, including visitors in the gallery, and I also welcome those who have tuned in to the proceedings on television and the web. While it does not always make for the most riveting television, the work we do in this chamber does have a profound impact on the lives of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and I am delighted that they have a window on the things we are doing on their behalf.
Here on the floor of the legislature, we are joined by some new faces – I extend my congratulations and welcome to those who have been newly elected.
I thank His Honour, and the Opposition and NDP Leaders for their remarks. I’d especially like to commend the Mover (the Member for Mount Pearl South) and the Seconder (the Member for Lake Melville) for their inspiring addresses to this House today. I know how passionate and determined all members of our caucus are to advance the best interests of the constituents they serve.
Let me take this opportunity once again to thank the people of our province for giving our government a strong mandate in October. Serving in government is an honour and a privilege, and we will work diligently to honour the trust that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have placed in us. In October, we made a commitment “to cultivate conditions conducive to growth: responsible fiscal discipline, a solid foundation of reliable infrastructure, competitive taxation, minimal red tape and progressive public services, including a range of instruments and initiatives to help businesses grow and families thrive.” We laid our plan to “ensure that Newfoundland and Labrador grows stronger and more prosperous than ever before.”
Our Blue Book charts the course for the next four years. Today’s Throne Speech lays out our strategy for the 12 months ahead. Later this month, the Minister of Finance will set forth our government’s fiscal plan in the 2012 Budget.
As the Throne Speech makes clear, and as I made clear in both a speech to the St. John’s Board of Trade on the 31st of January and in our 2011 policy Blue Book, it is vital that we live within our means. That does not mean making precipitous cuts when commodity revenues dip, as they are expected to do in the next two fiscal years. Taking a longer-term, multi-year view allows us to even out the impacts of dips, spikes and swings in revenue and still achieve the goals we need to achieve.
To live within our means while continuing to foster growth and sustain vital social programs, we need to set clear priorities. We’ve been doing that for the past eight years, and we’ve achieved goals some thought impossible for this province to reach. Our approach has worked, but we must remain vigilant.
These are tough times for the western world. In Europe, we’ve seen what happens when well-intentioned but utterly-unrestrained social program growth drives economies to the brink of bankruptcy. Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Ireland and others have seen the unthinkable happen. Even the mighty United States has suffered because of overexposure to debt – household debt and public debt. Governments must live within their means.
We will manage temporary revenue dips and run short-term deficits for the next two years, but we will not lose focus on meeting our target of bringing our debt down to the Canadian per-capita average within a decade. It is the right approach, the responsible approach — and it serves the best interests of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.
This is not an unrealistic goal. We’ve already reduced our public debt by more than a third from a high of $12 billion to an estimated $7.7 billion at March 31, 2012. That’s why we have the confidence of the credit-rating agencies, and it’s the reason we’re paying hundreds of millions of dollars less in interest payments than when we came to office. This money is then freed up for priority investments in things like health care and education and tax relief. Cutting debt has helped us strengthen health care, shorten wait times and make education more accessible. I’ve heard Memorial University President Dr. Gary Kachanoski talk about how thrilled he is with the progress MUN is making. I’ve recently met with Dr. Barry Rose, Clinical Chief of Cardiology at Eastern Health, and other cardiac care physicians, at the Health Sciences Centre as they’ve excitedly shared how cardiologists and cardiac surgeon fellows are travelling here to this province to learn best practices from our own professionals!
Our investments are paying dividends, in these and so many other areas. Our strategic approaches to meeting the needs of the people of our province are producing results; and together, we must continue to work to secure Newfoundland and Labrador’s bright future.
One of our highest priorities is to ensure Newfoundland and Labrador’s people and communities reap the benefits of the opportunities at our doorstep. From Hebron to Long Harbour, from mines across Labrador and the Island to Muskrat Falls, we saw this growth coming and we prepared.
Through successive tuition fee freezes to student aid reforms, we have set the pace for the country in post-secondary accessibility. We will be doing even more this year to give people the apprenticeship opportunities and journeyperson certification they need to qualify for the jobs that are opening up. We are opening doors for those traditionally under-represented in the skilled trades. We have urged companies and labour unions to work with us to ensure Newfoundlanders and Labradorians can get inside the door of opportunity to reap the gains.
This is about our future, and it is only by parking narrow agendas and working together as partners that we can ensure our people and communities benefit as they should. That is true for every sector of our economy, including the fishery.
We are investing in innovation, partnering with Memorial University and College of the North Atlantic, and encouraging our private sector to do the same, because we understand that innovation is the path to diversification and growth.
Let me close by reiterating how important it is to balance the short-term demands of governance with a long-range perspective. We have a moral obligation to view the future of this province, not just in terms of one or two years out, but also in terms of 20, 30 and 40 years out. If we squander opportunities by making shortsighted decisions today, it is our children and grandchildren who will reap the consequences.
That is why it’s so vital that we not squander opportunities by delaying further the decision we need to make regarding the development of Muskrat Falls, the least-cost means of meeting Newfoundland and Labrador’s power needs.
I’ve said this before and I have to reiterate it – we cannot let fear that is rooted in the mistakes of the past paralyze us from making the right decisions now. I welcome the questions that will come our way in the weeks to come on the development of Muskrat Falls, because it is under the light of scrutiny that this exciting project shines brightest.
In the coming months, we as a government will fulfill our responsibility by making the decision on whether or not to proceed with the development of Muskrat Falls. Our goals are clear: to meet the power needs of our province in the lowest cost way possible.
This project will move our province forward to a future grounded on renewable energy – energy generation that we the people will own and use to drive industry and opportunity in our communities for generations. A renewable-energy future is a sustainable future – and that’s what we need to be focusing on. Decisions to proceed on any major resource development by this government only occur when, and if, they are right for our province and provide benefit to our people.
Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are energized by the changes they have seen us lead in our province during the past eight years. The old doubts are gone. We aren’t who we used to be. When I attend Council of the Federation meetings with other premiers, or international energy conferences with governors and leaders of industry, people know our story.
They know who we are and what we’ve achieved here in this province, and they want to know more. They are intrigued by the province that is leading the country in economic growth, has achieved more than what many countries have been able to do in reducing debt, and is poised to move forward on the greatest undeveloped hydroelectric source in North America.
We must remain focused. We must not lose any ground on what we have achieved. Our government will remain steadfast as we work to ensure we capture every opportunity for this great province to thrive and every opportunity for our people to benefit. As exiting as the opportunities on our doorstep are, I believe the best is indeed yet to come.