The province will release its official budget in April. The Finance minister’s office is currently holding pre-budget sessions in various parts of Newfoundland and Labrador to discuss what may or may not appear in the books for the next fiscal year.
Maurice Simmonds, president of the St. Anthony Chamber of Commerce, is asking why the Northern Peninsula has been left off the list of regions hosting sessions with Finance Minister Jerome Kennedy. He said his town held one last year, as did Corner Brook, Rocky Harbour and Stephenville.
Simmonds said the area wants a pre-budget session for the same reason as any other area of the province — to have its ideas put forth and to be heard regardless of the location.
“Maybe he (Kennedy) thinks we’re not worthy of getting our five cents’ worth in when it comes to talking about the budget. Maybe he thinks we’re still (financially) unstable, we don’t have anything constructive to add or any ideas to put forth,” said Simmonds. “We feel like we’re being discriminated against and that leads to the idea of discriminating against our right to make political decisions that he doesn’t agree with.”
Simmonds called it a political game, pointing to the fact that the area has a NDP MHA, Christopher Mitchelmore, and a Liberal MHA, Jim Bennett. With no Conservative representation in the area, Simmonds raised the possibility that the Northern Peninsula may not be on the government’s radar.
“We feel like we’re being discriminated against and that leads to the idea of discriminating against our right to make political decisions that he doesn’t agree with.” - Muarice Simmonds, president of the St. Anthony Chamber of Commerce
That’s something Mitchelmore doesn’t agree with.
“I don’t see how politics should be playing into the pre-budget consultation process,” he said. “There are many other areas represented by (all three parties) that won’t have an actual session in their community, even some larger areas, so I don’t see this as being political.”
Mitchelmore, a proponent of using Internet technology for more efficient governance, said using the web for conferencing with various areas could be a way to reach more people on budgeting issues and save money.
“They could look at partnering with (a local college) so residents could have the ear of the finance minister,” he said. “In the current situation where they’re looking at austerity measures, (government) should be looking at technology as a means of reaching out to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.”
The budget consultations started on Feb. 14 in Carbonear. A session was slated for Thursday in Rocky Harbour but was cancelled late Wednesday afternoon because of a lack of presenters.
Neither Kennedy nor his office were available for comment.