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Fiscal report gives New Brunswick political parties pre-election fiscal guidance

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FREDERICTON - New Brunswick's Progressive Conservative government has released a pre-election fiscal outlook aimed at giving the political parties and the public guidance as they prepare for the Sept. 22 provincial election.

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs said the document details New Brunswick's fiscal situation, projected growth, and the factors that affect the bottom line.

"It's a reality check," he said.

The 27-page document was mandated as part of the recently enacted Fiscal Transparency and Accountability Act. It provides detailed information on New Brunswick's economic and fiscal situation including a net debt that's expected to hit $12.2 billion by March 2015.

New Democrat Leader Dominic Cardy said the document doesn't offer any surprises.

"Those numbers paint a really bleak picture," he said. "They are underpinning why we're having so many problems with outmigration and under performance."

The government released an $8.4-billion budget in February and is counting on a recovery in the natural resource sector to fuel the economy in the coming years.

The government is forecasting a balanced budget by 2017-18.

However, it says there are some key expense risks that could affect the multi-year projections, such as increased borrowing costs and unexpected events like major floods or other natural disasters.

Under the new act, political parties must cost out all their campaign promises. All new announcements require the costing to be verified by an independent source.

The document provides figures on the impact of increasing various taxes and the cost of building new infrastructure, such as roads, schools and nursing homes.

"Political parties should be responsible for providing realistic estimated costs for the promises made during an election campaign," Higgs said.

He said political parties should not add hundreds of millions of dollars to provincial spending in their election promises. It's also important, he said, to educate the public on the real cost of election promises and the services the public demands.

"The idea is, let the public be aware of what it's going to cost them and at the same time let them realize who pays for this at the end of the day," Higgs said.

Liberal Leader Brian Gallant accused the Tories in a news release of burying election promises in government announcements to avoid the law that requires promises to be costed.

However, when reached for an interview, Gallant couldn't give any specific examples, but questioned the timing of recent announcements.

"They have been preaching fiscal responsibility saying they had to cut services and raise taxes and yet we find ourselves a few months before the election and they seem to have found money for all these announcements," Gallant said.

"It is clear this government is focused solely on spending announcements to help their election campaign."

Higgs defended his party's spending record, saying: "Every announcement that's been made to date, to my knowledge, have all been included in our budget."

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