POLITICS

Paul Davis says province will weather oil-price crush

11/28/2014 07:06 EST | Updated 01/28/2015 05:59 EST
Premier Paul Davis thinks while the Newfoundland and Labrador government may be in financial trouble, the rest of the province is doing well.

In an interview with the St. John's Morning Show on Friday, Davis addressed some of the challenges that sparked Thursday's spending and hiring freeze..

Davis said that his government may be struggling, but that the governing Tories aren't shrinking from the responsibility. 

"We haven't caught a break, that's for sure," said Davis, referring to a series of challenges he has faced since becoming premier in September. 

"Whoever is at the helm has to deal with these tough times."

Davis is dealing with declining oil prices, which has forced his government to look at areas to save money. 

On Thursday, he also announced a freeze on discretionary spending, and said positions will be filled from now on with an extra level of approval.

"It's not a good circumstance for us," he said.

"Our budget was set at [US] $105 this year, [so] every time the oil drops below that, it causes problems for our budget."

No need to panic: premier

The Newfoundland and Labrador government uses Brent crude for budgeting. On Friday morning, Brent was trading below US $73. 

Still,  Davis said it's not yet time to panic, as his government is focused on the long term

" [Oil] is going to be a stronghold for us for many many years to come," he said.

Davis thinks that the fact that companies are still looking at oil projects around the province proves that the industry is alive and well.

"I'm not [worried]," he said, referring to comments that officials with Norwegian oil giant Statoil made about deep-sea prospects off Newfoundland's east coast. 

"This was their largest find outside of their own jurisdiction," he said. "Oil companies look at this in the long term."

Iron ore struggling

Iron ore is also a problem for the government, with Wabush Mines shuttered and the rest of the industry in a tailspin. 

But Davis downplayed the impact that the drop in ore prices are having on government coffers.

"For iron ore, it's not nearly as significant as oil," he said.

Despite the problems with the volatility of natural resource prices, Davis said his government is working towards broadening the mix of the province's economy.

"We've done work, and continue to do work to diversify the economy, so that we're not as dependant on oil as we are today" he said.

Tough times

Davis doesn't think the government has been excessive with spending over the last ten years, and that investments were always made with the best interest of the province in mind.

"We came into government a decade ago, and the province was near bankrupt," said Davis.

"Our infrastructure was crumbling and falling, our schools were not fit in many ways ... there was a lot of work to be done."

He said it's not only the price of oil that is affecting budgeting. He said interest rates, the exchange rate of the dollar and other variables all contribute to the fiscal climate of the province.

Davis thinks that the government, under his party's leadership, has dealt with these problems before.

"We are the right party to lead us through these tough times," he said.

"We've waded through these times in the past, and came out better and stronger than any province in Canada."

Davis believes there are other ways to measure the success of his government than just looking at budgeting.

"You look at what's happening in the province, there's more people working — and wages are about 50 per cent higher overall than they were a decade ago," he said.

"We've got greater business opportunities, we've got the lowest tuition rates in the country, and great opportunities for young Newfoundlanders and Labradorians."

The premier acknowledged that his government is in financial trouble, but he thinks those issues are not reflective of the state of the province as a whole.

"Economically, outside of the walls of Confederation Building, our economy and our province is doing very, very well."

"It's government that's having the challenge because of our reliance on oil."