“They politically packaged the new initiatives they wanted to undertake to give it some profile.” – David Coon
There’s little new in the government’s education and new economy fund – with more than three quarters of the $261.8 million pooled from across government departments being spent on the same things as past years.
But the Gallant government maintains the smart fund will co-ordinate new and existing programs across departments to boost the provincial economy, despite criticism from opposition parties that it’s a “back of a napkin” idea that’s no more than “political packaging.”
The new fund was announced by Gallant during his January state of the province address to emphasize education and training with more than a quarter of a billion dollars in spending across government departments.
“We need to become the smart province,” Gallant said at the time, indicating that the new program would “allow us to make record investments in education, training and innovation.”
A closer look at the smart fund find finds $28.7 million in new initiatives.
The remainder of the $261.8-million fund – some $233 million – will be spent on programs that already existed within departments in past years.
“The whole fund was just something that sounded catchy,” Progressive Conservative Opposition Leader Bruce Fitch said in an interview, believing it was an idea introduced by the premier in the wake of bad economic news with the PotashCorp mine closure in Sussex.
“‘The Education and New Economy Fund,’ who is going to say no to education and new economy? But now in estimate we find that no one knows who is in charge, no one know how it’s going to be spent, no one knows the criteria.
“When you connect the dots, it looks like they just did something on the back of a napkin.”
Green party Leader David Coon said the money can’t be called a fund.
“It’s political packaging,” Coon said. “They politically packaged the new initiatives they wanted to undertake to give it some profile.
“Some of it is new money, but lots of it is existing money that has just been brought in.”
He added: “It’s just a packaging exercise to put in the window the new initiatives that government is taking. To call it is a fund is a misnomer, it’s just a political package that has been put together.”
Finance Minister Roger Melanson confirmed in a statement to the Telegraph-Journal that new programs within the fund have a “total budget of $28.7 million.”
The largest single item in the fund is $115.8 million for labour market programs that “are not new.”
“This is continued funding for existing programs that have been in place for many years,” Melanson said.
The existing dollars are part of the fund for “better co-ordination.”
“Our government is proud of the efforts being made to provide better co-ordination of existing projects and new programs that will help New Brunswickers as we grow our economy,” Melanson said. “This new fund will support and co-ordinate new and existing programs in the areas of jobs and education.”
He added that the fund will begin to be administered for the fiscal year beginning on April 1.
Within the Department of Education, there’s $8.75 million earmarked toward the 10-year education plan, $2.5 million for a new literacy strategy, and $500,000 for “learning related to emerging industries.”
How that money within Education will be spent has yet to be detailed.
The fund also allocates $14.5 million for “strategic initiatives” within Post-Secondary Education.
Minister Francine Landry will be announcing how that money will be spent “pending the conclusion of consultations.”
Landry’s department also has another $2.4 million to spend on the new literacy strategy.
The fund allocates $130,000 in new money for a “local food and beverages strategy” within the Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries budget.
Together, that’s roughly $28.7 million.
Still, some of those programs have received additional dollars.
There is $16 million allocated for a daycare assistance program – up from $14.3 million.
An extra $2.9 million is slated for the youth employment fund, $1 million for student financial assistance, and $800,000 slated for the student loan program.
The Regional Development Corporation will also spend $32.8 million on “community initiatives” – $17 million more than last year, spending yet to be detailed.
Meanwhile, the fund also forecasts a $3-million decrease in the money spent on “labour market programs” within the Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour – slated to be $115.8 million.
Combined, funding changes to existing programs amounts to $20.4 million in additional spending.
All told, the $261.8-million fund introduces $49.2 million in new spending.