Legislation introduced yesterday will bring more accountability to budgeting and the costing of election promises in New Brunswick. The legislation will also outline strict provisions for returning to balanced budgets and addressing deficits.
"We need to remain focused on the goals of returning to balanced budgets and living within our means," said Premier David Alward. "We can help accomplish these goals by encouraging cabinet ministers to remain focused on eliminating the deficit and requiring political parties to fully cost their promises so New Brunswickers can decide whether it is worth the cost."
Under the Fiscal Transparency and Accountability Act, the government will set out a multi-year plan to return to a balanced budget. Each year, if a deficit is recorded by government, it must be reduced by at least $125 million. If a surplus is reported, a surplus is required in the following year. The current multi-year plan tabled as part of the 2014-15 budget complies with this provision.
Failing to reduce the deficit by the required amount, or to maintain the budget surplus, will result in the cabinet ministers paying an administrative penalty of $2,500.
The provisions of the act also account for extraordinary events such as natural disasters, wars, economic crashes, and other events which have a material effect on the province's finances in a particular year, provided that all of those extraordinary events have a combined effect of at least $20 million on the budget.
Under this legislation, each registered political party will be required to either publish the estimated costs of its election promises if they have an impact on the province's finances or publicly state that no estimate has been prepared. New Brunswick will be the first and only Canadian jurisdiction to require the costing of election commitments.
"Elected representatives must be accountable for taxpayers' dollars, not only when making decisions at the cabinet table, but also when making commitments to voters during an election," said Finance Minister Blaine Higgs. "Election promises which impact the province's finances will no longer be permitted without informing New Brunswickers of their costs or stating that no estimate has been prepared. Parties should be prepared to explain to taxpayers the financial consequences of the promises they make."
A cost disclosure that estimates the price of an election promise must also include validation from a chartered professional accountant to show that the party used a standard process to compile the estimate.
"This legislation, combined with the other accountability measures already introduced, will make New Brunswick one of the most accountable provinces in Canada," Higgs said.
A cost disclosure will be required for every election commitment made during the 90 days before an election. During the formal election period, the cost disclosure must be made on the same day a commitment is made.
The mandate of the Legislative Library will be expanded to provide information requested by political parties to help them calculate cost estimates for promises and a formal access to information protocol will be implemented to ensure the library is able to fulfill this mandate.
A political party that does not follow the requirements of the legislation will be subject to a legal procedure that could result in the loss of its annual operating allowance under the Political Process Financing Act.