by Chris Morris

The Canadian Press


New Brunswick‘s recently elected Liberal government is promising that its first budget will be balanced, despite the challenges posed by a declining workforce and an aging population.


Premier Shawn Graham’s government will present its first budget Tuesday since winning the provincial election in September. Finance Minister Victor Boudreau said Monday the budget will be workmanlike, focus on the basics, and lay the groundwork for more transformational budgets in the future.


“All I can tell you is it will be a balanced budget,” Boudreau said. “No one wants deficits again.”


An independent review of the government’s books by accounting firm Grant Thornton projected a possible $400-million deficit by the end of the fiscal year unless steps were taken to reduce spending.


Boudreau has raised the spectre of possible tax hikes in addition to spending cuts, but critics have slammed the idea of hitting New Brunswickers with higher taxes.


The province, like its neighbours in Atlantic Canada, is hemorrhaging young workers to such high-pay, low-tax jurisdictions as Alberta.


“Raising taxes wouldn’t be helpful,” said Ian Munro of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, an economic think-tank based in Halifax.


Munro said New Brunswick should move ahead with spending cuts and broad-based tax reductions for business and individuals.


“Targeting specific industries for tax cuts would be the wrong way to go,” he said.


“There should be personal tax cuts. That would help to increase take-home pay in New Brunswick and help keep workers in the province.”


A recent study by the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies reported that Alberta alone had attracted nearly 13,000 Atlantic Canadians in the year ending July 1, 2006.


Graham has promised to reverse the population exodus. He has set a target of attracting 5,000 immigrants a year by 2015.