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New Brunswick premier says pandemic has wiped out projected budget surplus

FREDERICTON — The premier of New Brunswick says the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has wiped out a projected $92.4 million surplus for the coming year. Blaine Higgs made the comment Friday following a brief sitting of the provincial legislature.

FREDERICTON — The premier of New Brunswick says the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has wiped out a projected $92.4 million surplus for the coming year.

Blaine Higgs made the comment Friday following a brief sitting of the provincial legislature.

"Oh absolutely, it's gone. In less than three weeks (the budget) isn't worth much at all in what it was projecting," Higgs said.

"Things changed so rapidly and we saw such a different outlook. The surplus is gone. The ability for us to pay down the debt is certainly, I would say, not probable at this time at all," he said.

Earlier in the day, the legislature passed a pair of bills to help the province deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

A handful of members from the four parties, sitting well apart, met for just 20 minutes to quickly approve the legislation without any debate.

The changes to the Employment Standards Act are aimed at protecting the jobs of workers who are quarantined or forced to stay home to care for loved ones during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Public Safety Minister Carl Urquhart brought in amendments to the Emergency Measures Act to help essential workers.

"Daycare services are essential for many of these people. An amendment is being made to provide authority for government to provide emergency daycare services in areas of need when all other avenues have been exhausted," Urquhart said. 

Premier Blaine Higgs later told reporters that change was made in case it's needed.

"We are not looking to go out and start a daycare at the expense of the current ones that are in operation. We want those to continue and we're hopeful they will continue," he said.

There were also changes to extend the deadlines for various actions before the courts and tribunals.

Green party Leader David Coon used the short session to table a petition calling on government to provide year-round ferry service to the island of Campobello.

Residents have complained they are being forced to cross into the United States for supplies or make the one hour drive, through a portion of the state of Maine, in order to reach the New Brunswick mainland.

Some have complained that opens them to added risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Coon said while the quick sitting of the legislature was necessary, he hoped there would not be similar sessions in the future.

"It's my sincere hope that this is the last time we go through that, and it's the last time that we sit in the legislature without question period, and without the opportunity for members to make statements, and without debate on bills," Coon said Friday.

He said a committee of the legislature has been asked to develop a plan for re-opening the legislature and report back to the all-party COVID-19 committee next month.  

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 17, 2020.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press




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