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New Brunswick.

The Second Session of the Fifty-fifth Legislature resumed Wednesday, March 30, 2005, when Finance Minister Jeannot Volpe (Madawaska-les-Lacs) brought down the 2005-2006 Budget.

The budget focused on the five objectives set out in last year's budget:

* record investment in health and senior care (increased by $163.1 million to $2.3 billion); and education (increased by $38.5 million to $1.2 billion) and children;

* further tax relief for small businesses (small business corporate income tax rate will be lowered to one per cent and the income threshold will be increased to $500,000); more capital investment and new community economic development programs (capital expenditures for roads, highways, hospitals, schools and other priorities will increase three times faster than all other program spending, to help create jobs and better public infrastructure);

* no raise in or creation of any new taxes;

* stronger value for taxpayers by saving money in back-office government operations in order to reinvest in front-line government services; and

* the budget is balanced with a surplus of $98.9 million and a reduction in net debt of $4.0 million; gross consolidated revenue is projected to be $6.109 billion, up 2.9 per cent from revised 2004-2005 estimates; gross consolidated expenditure is estimated at $6.105 billion, up 3.7 per cent from last year.

Education spending will include funding for K-12, initiatives under the Quality Learning Agenda, 85 more teaching positions, the second year of the pilot laptop research program, quality technology infrastructure enhancement, and increased investments in universities and community colleges.

Health and wellness spending is increased for Medicare, hospital services, ambulance services, prescription drug program, promotion of healthy living for children and youth in the areas of physical activity, nutrition and healthy eating, tobacco cessation, mental health and resiliency, nursing programs, and support for families, children, persons with disabilities and seniors. Social assistance rates will increase by 6% over the next three years--the largest increase since 1991; nursing homes, by 9.1%; support agencies by 10% over the next three years; and an investment of $11.8 million in the Early Childhood Development Agenda.

The budget provides an additional $11 million in tax relief: all provincial income tax credit amounts and tax brackets have been indexed to protect against inflation effective January 1, 2005.

In his response to the Budget speech, Opposition Finance Critic Michael Murphy (Liberal, Moncton North) claimed that the government had failed to promote economic development and to create jobs with growing wages. He criticized the budget: "What did we get from this government? What did we get as tools for growth? We got stealth taxation--higher property taxes through higher assessments. We got higher power rates. We got price shock in insurance. We got more financial fiascos. We got less health care and less belief in our people."

On April 7 during the Budget Debate, Opposition Leader Shawn Graham (Kent) moved a non-confidence amendment to the motion "THAT this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government." During the debate, Eric Allaby (Liberal, Fundy Isles) moved that the question be now put on the opposition amendment that "this House no longer has confidence in the Government." In ruling the motion out of order, Deputy Speaker Trevor Holder (PC, Saint John Portland), ruled that it was clear that the Standing Rules and the parliamentary references referred to the moving of the previous question on the original motion and not on the amendment.

In closing the Budget Debate on April 15, Premier Bernard Lord (Moncton East) announced a tuition cash-back program which will allow students enrolled in post-secondary education who live and work in the province to have one-half their tuition costs to a $10,000 lifetime maximum rebated against their provincial income tax anytime up to 20 years from when the first year credit is earned, effective January 2005.

Three Bills received Royal Assent on April 14:

* Bill 11, An Act Respecting Rural Communities, introduced by Environment and Local Government Minister Brenda Fowlie (Kennebecasis) will allow rural communities to choose their own form of local government. The Rural Community Model calls for an elected council chaired by a mayor and will provide, at a minimum, community planning services upon being established. The province will continue to provide other local services until rural communities are ready to assume these services themselves and will continue to provide services in local service districts that choose not to become part of a rural community. This initiative is part of the provincial government's response to the recommendations of the Report of the Select Committee on Local Governance and Regional Collaboration, tabled in 2003.

* Bill 22, An Act to Amend the Legal Aid Act, introduced by Justice Minister Brad Green (Fredericton South), will establish a New Brunswick Legal Aid Services Commission to administer criminal and domestic legal aid services to ensure that New Brunswickers eligible for legal aid will continue to have access to the court system. The commission, which will report to the Legislative Assembly through the Minister of Justice and be audited annually by the Auditor General, will be governed by a board of directors appointed by the provincial Cabinet and will operate at arms length from the Minister of Justice and Attorney General.

* Bill 36, An Act to Amend the Liquor Control Act, introduced by Public Safety Minister Wayne Steeves (Albert) provides that if a liquor licence holder does not comply with the provisions of the Smoke-free Places Act, and is convicted of an offence, the minister will be able, without a hearing, to suspend or cancel the liquor licence.

On April 12 the House adopted a motion recommending the appointment of Patrick A.A. Ryan as Conflict of Interest Commissioner for a term of five years. Mr. Justice Ryan has had a distinguished career as a Judge of the Court of Queen's Bench and as a Justice of the Court of Appeal of New Brunswick. The House also expressed its appreciation to retiring Commissioner Stuart G. Stratton, New Brunswick's first Conflict of Interest Commissioner, for his professional and dedicated service.

On April 26, Speaker Bev Harrison (Hampton--Belleisle) drew the attention of Members to the return of the magnificent chandeliers after a two-year restoration project. Both the north and south chandeliers were restored after the latter crashed on the Chamber floor in November of 2002 during annual maintenance.

On April 26, the Standing Committee on Law Amendments, chaired by Jody Carr, (PC, Oromocto-Gagetown) recommended that two opposition private member's public Bills referred to the Committee- Bill 2, Volunteer Protection Act; and Bill 5, An Act to Amend the Workers' Compensation Act--not proceed.

* Bill 2, introduced during the previous session by Opposition Leader Shawn Graham (Kent), attempts to protect volunteers from being personally liable for damages caused by them and attempts to provide legal protection to people who give their time free of charge to worthwhile causes. The committee agreed with the intent of the Bill but recommended that it not proceed in its current form.

* Bill 5, also introduced last session by the Opposition Leader, proposes to create loss of earnings benefits for all volunteer firefighters, whether employed in another profession or not. It would also create a presumptive provision stating that if full-time firefighters are diagnosed with certain types of cancers, it would be deemed to be an occupational disease. The committee recommended that the Bill not proceed as it did not adequately accomplish its objectives.

The Select Committee on Health Care chaired by Claude Williams (PC, Kent South) had under consideration Bill 60, Health Charter of Rights and Responsibilities, introduced by Health Minister Elvy Robichaud (Tracadie-Sheila) during the Fifth Session of the 54th Legislature.

* Bill 60 attempts to balance the rights and responsibilities of New Brunswickers within the health care system and to accord a number of rights, among them, the right to timely access of health care services, the right to make informed decisions on health care, the right to receive relevant health care information and the right to the investigation of complaints. After careful consideration and public input, the Committee recommended the introduction of a revised version of the Health Charter of Rights and Responsibilities Act.

On April 27, Speaker Harrison gave his third casting vote of the session, negativing a motion for second reading of Bill 38, An Act Respecting the Regional Health Authorities Act, introduced by Roly MacIntyre (Liberal, Saint John Champlain). The Bill proposes that the CEOs of Regional Health Authorities report to the boards rather than to the Minister of Health and Wellness.

On May 10 the Minister of Finance introduced Bill 45, An Act Respecting a Fair Deal for Cities and Communities in New Brunswick, stating that New Brunswick is committed to ensuring equity between incorporated areas and unincorporated areas in the allocation of gas tax funding when an agreement is entered between the governments of Canada and New Brunswick under the Fair Deal for Cities and Communities and that gas tax funding will provide incorporated areas and unincorporated areas with a source of funding for environmentally sustainable infrastructure projects.

For two successive weeks, question period was dominated by opposition calls for the Minister of the Environment and Local Government to resign. Opposition Members claimed that the Minister had violated the Protection of Personal Information Act and her oath of confidentiality as a member of the Executive Council in disclosing certain information regarding a sitting Member of the House. At the request of the Official Opposition, the matter is currently before the province's Ombudsman who acts as a watchdog under the Act.

The House is scheduled to adjourn on June 10, 2005, in accordance with a sessional calendar adopted in December 2004.

Standings in the House remain at 28 Progressive Conservatives, 26 Liberals and 1 NDP.

Diane Taylor Myles

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Title Annotation:Legislative Reports
Publication:Canadian Parliamentary Review
Geographic Code:1CNBR
Date:Jun 22, 2005
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