New Brunswick fiscal update projects $135.5 million surplus for the first quarter of 2022/23 – $100 million more than original estimates

by | Aug 30, 2022

President of Medical Society urges finance minister to spend more on health care; minister says it’ll be up to cabinet to decide if and where they’ll spend the money
New Brunswick Finance Minister Ernie Steeves delivered his quarterly fiscal update via Zoom on Tuesday, Aug. 30, announcing an estimated $135.5 million surplus for the first quarter of this year. The number is $100.3 million more than was projected.
When asked if the surplus to go toward trying to fix the healthcare system in New Brunswick, Steeves noted that the provincial cabinet would decide what to do with the extra funds.

“Money alone doesn’t fix the system; certainly, if there’s nurses out there that want a job, we’ll get them a job. If you’re graduating nursing school, we’ll get you a job. We put systems in place to increase the number of R.N.s, but it takes four years for an R.N. to graduate from university. We put people in place to bridge the gap between LPN and becoming an R.N., but that’s still going to take from two to two and a half years. It’s hard to overcome the lack of bodies, and it isn’t just us,” said Steeves, noting that nearly every province is dealing with a lack of employees in healthcare.

Steeves expects some of the surplus will help with the healthcare crisis but didn’t provide details except to say cabinet will focus on a few key areas, including healthcare and lowering taxes.
“If it works, if it makes sense, if it’s going to be sustainable in the future, then yeah, we’ll spend the money,” said Steeves. “We lowered taxes the first year, we lowered the basic personal exemption, we’ve lowered more throughout the years we’ve been in power. We’ve tried to recycle the carbon tax; we tried to get money back into the pockets of New Brunswickers the best we can while maintaining the budgets and hopefully lowering net debt.”
Dr. Mark MacMillan is President of the New Brunswick Medical Society (NBMS).
He says New Brunswick already has the lowest public health spending per capita among the Atlantic provinces and said it’s time the province focused on reducing the burden on the healthcare system with targeted spending.

“Urgent care, primary care access, surgical wait times, and retention and recruitment of health care professionals remain top concerns for New Brunswick physicians,” said MacMillan. “Investing in health care is crucial.”

NBMS recommends a three per cent increase to the annual 2022-23 health budget to address the impacts of COVID-19 on the healthcare system, including delayed surgeries, testing backlogs, challenged bed capacity, and routine patient care.
“We also call for an additional six per cent: two percent to help cover the costs of inflation, three percent to support the increasing need for senior care, and one percent for overall system growth,” said MacMillan.
MacMillan noted the healthcare system is under great strain, with patients suffering, requiring an urgent need for investment.
“We need to work together to develop strategies to address healthcare’s urgent and immediate needs,” he added.
The surplus calculations also included the $41 million healthcare grant from the Federal Government to help the province deal with surgery backlogs.

When asked why it was showing up on the surplus ledger instead of being put into healthcare spending, Peter Kieley, Assistant Deputy Minister, Treasury Management and Fiscal Policy Division, said those funds are in general revenue until the Department of Health spends the money.

“We received that money post-budget, so it wasn’t explicitly part of the budget,” explained Kieley. “The budget, of course, includes operations for the year. As the year progresses, if the department has spending pressures related to that or anything else, they will come to the government and seek additional funding. It could be that (operations), or it could be another service.”
When asked whether federal funding could be spent elsewhere, Kieley noted it would be ongoing on health as needed.

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