Newfoundland and Labrador’s finance minister released her 2024-25 budget Thursday, after sleeping at the legislature the night before following a chaotic demonstration by fish harvesters that had prevented officials from entering the building.

Siobhan Coady was scheduled to deliver the budget on Wednesday, but the crowd forced the government to call it off and reschedule.

The budget reveals the province does not plan to meet its earlier target of balancing its books by the end of the 2024-25 fiscal year, which begins on April 1. Thursday’s budget instead forecasts a deficit of $152 million, down from the $433-million shortfall recorded in the current fiscal year.

“We’re very near balanced,” Coady told reporters, adding that the missed deadline to be in the black was largely due to “affordability measures” her government introduced amid high inflation.

Newfoundland and Labrador will carry a net debt of $17.8 billion in the coming year, which works out to more than $33,500 per capita in the province of about 530,000 people.

Part of that will come from borrowing worth $2.8 billion, which is more than the government will spend on education and transportation and infrastructure combined.

Coady said she arrived at the legislature at about 8 p.m. Wednesday, after a raucous protest earlier that day had dispersed. During the protest Wednesday, two Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers rode horses into the crowd of angry fish harvesters who had blocked government officials from entering the building.

The fishers lined up and pushed back, and the officers ultimately steered their animals away.

A judge awarded the province an injunction against the demonstrators on Wednesday afternoon, forbidding them from blocking anyone from entering the building. But on Thursday morning, the harvesters were back, demanding more free market conditions in the fishery, which they allege is dominated by a small number of large seafood processing companies that operate like a “cartel.”

Coady’s budget allocates $3 million to the provincial Association of Seafood Producers for “increased marketing of the seafood sector.”

A record $4.1 billion — nearly 40 per cent of the entire budget — will go to health care, as the province struggles to recruit and keep doctors nurses and other specialists.

Budget documents show the unemployment rate sat at about 10 per cent last year, which officials said was an all-time low since it has been recorded.

The government expects its population to increase by more than 4,300 people next year, but it forecasts only about 1,300 new homes will be built. The provincial public housing corporation will be folded into core government operations, and its budget will more than double to nearly $162 million.

The budget projects record revenues for the 2024-25 year, but officials confirm its spending is also set to be higher than ever. The government will spend $1.15 billion paying interest on its debts in 2024-25, which represents about 11 per cent of the year’s expenses.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 21, 2024.