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PAM FRAMPTON: It’s time for a frank conversation

Finance Min. Tom Osborne.
Finance Minister Tom Osborne. — Telegram file photo

All across this country, as people deal with straitened personal finances during this pandemic, there are tough conversations being had.

Whether you are still working, but under difficult circumstances, reduced pay or added pressures; or whether you’ve lost your job and are receiving a government supplement, individuals and families are facing greater stresses than ever.

And often, when families are facing challenges, the adults gather around the kitchen table and have a family meeting, with frank talk about difficult choices.

Let’s face it, even if you’re still receiving some sort of income, if it has been reduced in any way you may be having trouble making ends meet. If you were earning, say, $60,000 a year and are now pulling in $2,000 a month from the federal emergency benefit, you still have to grapple with a mortgage and other bills stemming from spending decisions you made based on your original income.

How do you cope?

Well, you might start by listing your revenues vs. expenditures and trying to find ways to cut costs. Can we still afford cable TV? What about the land line? Can we trim the grocery bill? Do we try and sell our second vehicle? You get the picture. Those are tough calls to make.

Now, let’s look at the bigger picture — the state of the province’s finances.

We are, to put it bluntly, neck-deep in debt.

Two news stories in Wednesday’s Telegram were telling.

Often, when families are facing challenges, the adults gather around the kitchen table and have a family meeting, with frank talk about difficult choices.

David Maher reported that another $400 million could be tacked onto the price tag of the Muskrat Falls project, which is facing further delays. Nalcor Energy CEO Stan Marshall pointed out that the first principal interest payment of $200 million is due in December, even though Muskrat Falls won’t be up and running by then. Marshall said financing costs for the project are rising by about $1 million a day.

This province has already pressed the federal government for funding to help keep electricity rates reasonable for ratepayers once Muskrat Falls is on stream.

The second story, by Brendan McCarthy, detailed how the government and the province’s offshore oil sector are looking to the federal government for financial stimulus for an industry that has faced severe fallout from COVID-19. The need for federal government intervention is “critical and urgent,” according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Premier Dwight Ball said that between project suspensions and cancellations, the province could lose nearly $61 billion in gross domestic product between now and 2038. That’s huge.

Last month, the premier wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying the province needed urgent help as it struggled to pay its bills and make payroll.

Houston, we have a problem.

We’re in the middle of a pandemic and our economy has been crippled. And though restrictions are easing and more businesses will soon be able to resume operations, they’ll not be able to recoup past losses.

The province has reduced its daily COVID-19 briefings to three times a week since the number of active cases here is low, and those briefings play an important role in keeping people on the right track to protect public health.

But perhaps there could be regular public briefings, as well, on the state of the province’s finances and what can be done to mitigate our perilous situation.

On May 22, Finance Minister Tom Osborne promised a fiscal update in a week or so. We’re still waiting.

When Dwight Ball’s Liberals were elected in 2015, they protested loudly that the outgoing Tory administration had not let them see the province’s books.

Well now the books are firmly in the Liberals’ hands.

Open them.

It’s time we have that family meeting. And we’ve got questions.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s managing editor. Email pamela.frampton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton


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