By Ashley Fitzpatrick and David Maher
Newfoundland and Labrador Finance Minister Tom Osborne said officials in his department are still digesting the federal budget, but the possibility of a national pharmacare program is of particular interest, even if it’s not happening this year.
“The pharmacare program, the fact that we’re getting closer to that possibly becoming a reality is good news for this province, especially with our demographics, our aging population,” Osborne told reporters outside the House of Assembly Tuesday evening.
“We look forward to further collaboration with the federal government on the pharmacare program, to see exactly what it means and how it will benefit the people of this province.”
He said the cost to the province of the provincial drug program, put in place well over a decade ago due to the absence of a federal program, is “significant.”
“A federal program may ease some of those costs,” he said.
Apart from pharmacare, the provincial Liberals are generally supportive of the federal approach to housing, for example, and new efforts to promote gender equality.
Osborne did not comment on the Phoenix pay system, but said the province is watching the cost of cannabis legalization closely, even with new federal money for education efforts.
The Department of Finance is still reviewing how all of the federal budget measures might affect the province.
Asked about a “full gender analysis” for the provincial budget, as with the federal budget, the minister said he would be interested, but also that time is running short for further reviews and edits of this year’s provincial budget.
No date has yet been set for its release.
As for what’s specifically for Newfoundland and Labrador in the federal budget document, $77.2 million over four years will go toward expanding unified family courts in Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia and this province. The money will create 39 new judicial positions, spread throughout the provinces.
Ottawa will spend another $250 million over two years for upgrades to small-craft harbours across the country. The document specifically identifies the harbour in Charlottetown, Labrador, as a priority. No amount of funding for that project is identified.
Railway access to remote communities will see $11 million funding in 2018-19. A portion of those funds will go toward upgrades to the Sept-Iles-Shefferville to Labrador line.