Provincial Budgets: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

With the all provincial governments except the struggling Ontario Liberals having introduced budgets, we thought it important to review and place the Dexter government’s budget in context. What jumps out as good political gunslinging budgets? And which government’s hit innocent bystanders with their stray bullets?

The Good: 

While Joe Ghiz’s Liberals in PEI announced their three-year path to a budget balance will be extended by one year – they now expect to post a small surplus in 2015-16 – they are not acting conservatively. They are open to new ideas and Atlantic Canadian co-operation to solve problems. Specifically, PEI will partner with Nova Scotia for the 811 service and establish a Collaborative Emergency Centre, based on Nova Scotia’s model. His Liberal counterparts in Nova Scotia are against CECs, but clearly PEI Liberals do not have blinders on when it comes to improving health care.

In a year when only three other provinces were able to introduce balanced budgets, Darrell Dexter’s NDP in Nova Scotia was able to make strategic investments to improve children’s health. Nova Scotia’s Liberals slashed dental care coverage for kids when they were in power. The NDP has restored that funding. The move to reverse cuts will affect about 40,000 young patients. On the tax side, the Dexter budget also helps out seniors and small businesses.

The Bad:

When B.C. Liberals took power in 2001, the provincial debt was at $33 billion. That number has topped $66 billion. With cuts to federal transfers started by the Chretien/Martin Liberals and the federal axe coming down again on jobs under Harper’s Conservatives, it is a tough time for all provinces including Christy Clark’s to make their way out of the red and into the black. But no province has seen numbers jump like BC’s debt.

Alberta combined it’s district health authorities into one super-board, and it has been a disaster: allegations of queue-jumping for cancer screening tests, a legacy of top-heavy bureaucracy, reduced hours in operating rooms, canceling free hospital parking for veterans…

Now, Allison Redford’s conservative government is slashing $52 million, or five per cent, next year from its budget for the nursing homes. Alberta’s Conservatives have run a deficit for the last six years, which is understandable given the state of the world-wide economy. But a $3 billion deficit and cuts to health care for seniors? That hurts. And helps the Wild Rose Party.

The Ugly:

David Alward’s Conservative government inherited an awful mess from the Liberals. Like most other provinces, New Brunswick hiked cigarette and booze prices. But the mess the Liberals created meant more drastic action for New Brunswick – personal income tax rates will jump by up to 33 per cent.

Even with the tax hike, New Brunswick is still projected to run deficits for at least the next 4 years and is poised to slash health care spending in a way that would make Nova Scotia Liberals blush. All of this will make for ugly politics when the next election is called.

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34 Nova Scotia Firsts

Darrell Dexter’s introductory speech to the new session of the legislature provided a good list of Nova Scotian firsts. Presented all together, they show how well the NDP have done on a variety of fronts.

We have cut his speech down to this list of firsts, and divided it into categories.

NDP Health Minister Dave Wilson

NDP Health Minister Dave Wilson

Nova Scotia Firsts – Health

  • Canada’s first Emergency Department standards
  • Nova Scotia’s Collaborative Emergency Centres – CECs – a national first, greatly minimized emergency room closures while providing same-day or next-day appointments for medical care.
  • for the first time ever, Nova Scotia’s highly skilled paramedics are delivering clot-busting drugs that save lives before a patient reaches the hospital.
  • Canada’s first-ever mobile emergency department will open this year as part of the New Waterford CEC.
  • Nova Scotia’s program of paramedics providing urgent care in nursing homes is another Canadian first, providing better care sooner without a stressful trip to Emergency.
  • for the first time, there is a strategy with funded action to provide real care and understanding to Nova Scotians with mental health issues and addictions.
  • Nova Scotia is the first province to adopt a physician resource plan. For the next 10 years it will influence decision making to make sure Nova Scotians have the doctors they need in the right place. The plan’s first step is the new ER coverage program, which matches doctors with ERs that would otherwise close.
NDP Finance Minister Maureen MacDonald

NDP Finance Minister Maureen MacDonald

Nova Scotia Firsts – Jobs and the Economy

  • the first-ever wide-ranging budget consultation, Back to Balance
  • for the first time in Nova Scotia, my government has taken action to ensure the protection of temporary foreign workers from exploitation.
  • the first province to sign a memorandum of understanding with the federal government that formalizes and strengthens the co-operative working relationship between Nova Scotia and Canada regarding consultation with the Mi’kmaq.
  • for the first time ever, Nova Scotia has a five-year roads plan, updated annually so citizens can see for themselves the immediate, mid-term, and long-term plans.
  • Nova Scotia’s first-ever flood mitigation plan is in development.
  • my government will soon announce Nova Scotia’s first-ever sustainable transportation strategy.

    NDP Culture Minister Leonard Preyra

    NDP Culture Minister Leonard Preyra

  • for the first time ever in Nova Scotia, my government will provide a steady and reliable source of funding to support the wealth of talent in our cultural sectors.
  • Nova Scotia will become the first Canadian jurisdiction to offer Social Impact Bonds, encouraging investors to support innovative, socially responsible projects by charitable and non-governmental organizations.
  • in partnership with universities and the private sector, my government will launch Nova Scotia’s first Innovation Summit to spur commercialization of research and move Nova Scotia into a leadership position as a competitive and innovative force in the global economy.
  • my government developed Nova Scotia’s first comprehensive immigration strategy. Last year, for the first time, Nova Scotia exceeded expectations and surpassed its immigration targets. As a result of this success, the federal government has increased Nova Scotia’s allocation under the immigrant nominee program by 20 per cent.
  • my government, in partnership with the farm community, is undertaking the first ten-year strategy for agriculture, called Homegrown Success.

    NDP Labour Minister Frank Corbett

    NDP Labour Minister Frank Corbett

  • to show clearly that provincial departments and agencies serve all of the people, my government now locates new and consolidated departments and agencies outside the Halifax area. This is the first time ever for this fairer policy.
  • for the first time Careers Nova Scotia centres are able to provide increased access to career training and job-search opportunities across the province, ensuring that more Nova Scotians have the right skills for good jobs.
  • for the first time, Nova Scotian students can get academic credit for real-world, community-based experience.
  • as outlined in Nova Scotia’s first aquaculture strategy, my government will develop comprehensive regulations and set the highest standards for fairness, efficiency, and environmental safeguards in Nova Scotia aquaculture.

Nova Scotia Firsts – Energy

  • NDP Energy Minister Charlie Parker

    NDP Energy Minister Charlie Parker

    for the first time, local and community-owned renewable power projects are financially feasible and viable as a result of Nova Scotia’s Community Feed-In Tariff Program, COMFIT. COMFIT has been hailed as a global first and a model for other nations.

  • my government was the first in North America to place a firm cap on greenhouse gas emissions from power generation, making Nova Scotia a global leader in environmental responsibility.
  • for the first time in history, Nova Scotians can secure a power supply that comes with a 35-year guarantee of price stability.
  • Nova Scotia and the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador are undertaking the single greatest step in Atlantic Canada’s regional co-operation: the Muskrat Falls development and the associated Maritime Link. All four Atlantic Provinces and the federal government have supported this environmentally progressive project, which will transform basic elements of our regional economy while ensuring the lowest, fairest power rates.

    NDP Environment Minister Sterling Belliveau

    NDP Environment Minister Sterling Belliveau

  • this is the first time ever that two Atlantic Provinces have co-operated in this way to stand proud and improve the destiny of this region for generations to come, by making Atlantic Canada much more of a contributor to Canada’s prosperity and progress.
  • Nova Scotia was the first government in North America to mandate LED street lighting.
  • for the first time ever, Nova Scotia law protects power-rate payers from the cost of high corporate salaries and bonuses

Nova Scotia Firsts – Social Justice

  • Nova Scotia’s first Domestic Violence Action Plan, developed in partnership with dozens of community-based groups, is now being implemented. Nova Scotia’s first domestic violence court, located in Sydney, is part of the action plan.
  • Nova Scotia’s Affordable Living Tax Credit and Poverty Reduction Tax Credit are the first significant new investments in living memory that reduce poverty and help lower income Nova Scotians make ends meet
  • Nova Scotia will soon have its first-ever housing strategy.

    NDP Education Minister Ramona Jennex

    NDP Education Minister Ramona Jennex

  • Nova Scotia’s first ever action plan to address bullying and cyberbullying is now underway across the province, backed up with new laws to deal with behaviour that can have tragic results whether it occurs in person or on-line.
  • starting to turn the corner must mean a better start for Nova Scotian children, so that from the first months of their lives they have every opportunity for success. My government is establishing a Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, to better coordinate and improve the many ways that the province supports infants, young children, and their families in the first years of life.

Open House

And so it begins. The last session of the legislature before the September election.

Back to work, for the last session before the election.

Back to work, for the last session before the election.

While it won’t receive much attention in the media, the NDP have to believe that balancing the budget in such troubling economic times will have a positive affect on voters’ opinion of Darrell Dexter and his government. Gaining slightly in the last opinion poll, the NDP hope to close the gap a few more points before the writ is dropped. The NDP have stuck to their 4 year plan to get back to balance, and Nova Scotia’s economic prospects continue to brighten.

At the start of last fall’s session, Stephen McNeil pledged to clearly explain Liberal policies for journalists, saying they would “lay out their vision and plan.” So what, dear readers, is their plan and vision? Do you know?

We know McNeil’s Liberals are against helping IBM and Projex move jobs here. But what are they for?

We know they are against the NDP’s highly successful Collaborative Emergency Centres. But what are they for?

We know they are against reducing the HST by one point in 2014 and another point in 2015. But what are they for?

Stephen McNeil has failed to say what his Party’s plan is. His vision, if he has one, is hidden by a fog of negativity.

Expect the Liberals to continue to give Nova Scotians no answers. Their strategy is to lie in wait, run commercials, and say as little as possible. Journalists are the only ones who can demand answers from Stephen McNeil, but so far members of the press gallery have been reluctant to ask any questions.  Questions such as: why are the Liberals against job creation investments, and what would they do instead? Why are the Liberals against Collaborative Emergency Centres, and what would they do instead? Why are the Liberals against reducing the HST, and what would they do instead? Alas, we may never know.

The Conservatives will continue to try to introduce Jamie Baillie to Nova Scotians, and preach their gospel of balanced budgets, lower taxes and program cuts. It’s a strategy that has worked well for them before. The Liberals provide weak leadership, and make such terrible decisions when in power, that a promise of strong fiscal discipline sways many a voter outside of the capital. The problem for Baillie is that the NDP are poised to deliver a balanced budget – a significant feat only one other province (Saskatchewan) is likely to match.

The Spring Session is always dominated by the budget. But the NDP, which has more than their share of policy wonks, also likes to talk vision.  That is why they do Throne Speeches, which the two older parties hate. They hate them because it shines a light on the fact the opposition do not have any fresh ideas. And it drives them nuts having to confront, yet again, a party that shop-talks on the floor of the House.

Legislation you should expect to see:

– help for at-risk seniors
– help for at-risk children
– help for at-risk puppies and kittens
– a significant step forward for municipalities to provide services
– changes to improve consumer protection

Enjoy the session. Keep on sending in your tips.

The Best in Nova Scotia Legislation

In our last look-back post on the year that was, we reviewed the 70 bills passed by the NDP government and made this list of the five best.

1. The 2012 Budget.

Nova Scotia is a very poor province, partly due to the lack of interest previous governments had in beginning to tackle chronic poverty, especially in small town and rural Nova Scotia. Thanks to the 2012 budget, low income Nova Scotians saw:

• an increase of 5% in the Nova Scotia Child Benefit, helping 24,000 families and almost twice as many children. Progress on reducing child poverty stalled under the Conservatives. Steps like this will ensure that trend is reversed.
• the fastest expansion of affordable child care Nova Scotia has seen.
• for the second year in a row, the Income Assistance Personal Allowance went up. It increased by $9 per month. This comes on top of last year’s $15 increase, the largest boost people on Income Assistance had seen in a decade.

2. The Tommy Douglas Legacy.

Sackville- Cobequid NDP MLA Dave Wilson, Nova Scotia’s new Health Minister, introduced legislation to replace the 39-year-old Health Services and Insurance Act.

One of the core beliefs of the NDP has long been its desire to provide and protect universal health care.

Now, fundamental pieces of the Canada Health Act are no longer missing from Nova Scotia’s legislation, things like prohibitions against extra billing and user fees and safeguards against queue jumping. These protections are now a part in Nova Scotia’s health-care system.

3. The Wheels on the Bus.

Antigonish NDP MLA Maurice Smith had his first important piece of legislation, as Transportation Minister, passed last year. The Inter-city Bus Service Act will make sure students and seniors have a sustainable replacement to Acadian Lines in the new Maritime Bus Company. Towns across Nova Scotia  benefit enormously from a permanent bus service.

4. Feminism: the radical belief that women are people.

The NDP’s changes to the Residential Tenancies Act helps victims of domestic violence move on with their lives without without worrying about financial penalties from breaking an existing lease.

“Victims of domestic violence are already suffering enough without having to worry about the financial implications of getting out of an abusive relationship. They shouldn’t feel trapped in a lease or be held financially liable for a home they were forced to leave to escape a violent situation.
– John MacDonell

5. The Green Economy Act.

NDP Environment Minister Sterling Belliveau passed amendments to the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act. From a goal of increasing the number of Nova Scotia farms and the amount of local food we eat, to tougher targets on a host of other environmental concerns from energy efficiency to climate change, this act was one of Canada’s environmental highlights of the year.

“Nova Scotians have clearly told us that they want their environment protected for future generations. As a fisherman who lived through the cod moratorium, I know the importance of balancing economic prosperity with environmental protection to ensure opportunities exist for future generations. That’s what this bill is about.” – Sterling Belliveau