FREDERICTON – Major transfer payments from Ottawa to New Brunswick, specifically for health and education — the province’s highest spending departments — won’t be cut as detailed in yesterday’s federal budget.

New Brunswick Finance Minister Greg Byrne said maintaining those federal transfers was amongst the highest of his priorities.

“We’re pleased there’s no indication that equalization will be cut and that health and education certainly won’t be cut,” he said yesterday. “Again there are other issues we’re going to be keeping an eye on.”

“As you can appreciate the costs associated with (health and education) are going to continue to grow. So certainly that’s going to be a challenge to the province.”

The provincial budget for health in New Brunswick led all others in the budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year, at $2.45-billion.

Spending for education in New Brunswick followed at $994.62-million.

New Brunswick received almost $1.7-billion worth of equalization payments from the federal government in 2009-10.

Byrne said the federal budget held no real surprises for him because he was anticipating restraint.

“Overall it seems to be a fair budget and not unexpected,” he said.

New Brunswick Progressive Conservative leader David Alward, who was in Ottawa yesterday, also said he was happy about the guarantees made about no transfer payment cuts in health and education.

“It allows New Brunswick to maintain an equitable level of programming (funding) important services that other provinces, having more resources, are able to,” he said.

But Brian Murphy, the Liberal MP for Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe, said more questions need to be asked in Ottawa about transfer payments in the days to come. Murphy noted that a guarantee was made in the budget not to cut large transfer payments, and specifically not to cut payments to health and education. He said some payments not considered ‘large’ might be in jeopardy.

“If I was a province right now I’d be wondering if there’d be changes on other transfers,” said Murphy last night.

Charles Cirtwill, president and CEO of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a Halifax-based public policy organization, said the issue of transfer payments will become a bigger issue in 2013 when those payments enter negotiations again between the provinces and federal government.

Cirtwill said there could be some conflict between the ‘have-not’ provinces (New Brunswick is one of six) and the ‘have’ provinces.

“There’s not going to be a common front,” he said. “Not all the provinces are going to be standing there saying we want more money.”