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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Budget Bouquets

We know what the opposition parties are saying about Maureen MacDonald’s first Nova Scotia budget. They had their negative lines written before it was even introduced. But what about the independent observers out there? Here is a review:

Nova Scotia's NDP joins Saskatchewan and BC as the only provinces able to balance their budget this year.

Nova Scotia’s NDP joins Saskatchewan and BC as the only provinces able to balance their budget this year.

Valerie Payn, President, Halifax Chamber of Commerce:

The Chamber commends the provincial government for slaying the deficit. Eliminating the deficit was a cornerstone piece of the Chamber’s policy priorities for 2013, and we are pleased to see that the government is out of the red and back to black. Nova Scotia’s jobsHere Strategy has assisted small business through many incentives, and we are pleased that the government will continue to fund this strategy for Chamber members…

We commend the government for following through on its commitment to further reduce the small business tax from 3.5% to 3%.. We are also encouraged to see that the government remains committed to rolling back the HST by 1% in 2014 and 1% in 2015.

Jonathan Williams, Executive Director, Students NS:

Nova Scotia students are very pleased as the Province has invested $4.6 million to improve the student assistance program for the third year in a row, bringing the government’s total new investments in student assistance to almost $23 million over the past three years. StudentsNS understood that the government is working under significant financial constraints and so we made modest but important requests for this budget. The government listened and has delivered on two of our most important requests, and that’s a big win for us.

The new commitments include:

An increase in the grant to loan ratio from 35/65 to 40/60 for $1.9 million
An increase in the maximum weekly student allowance to $180—$2.7 million

Lisa Matte, Canadian Diabetes Association:

The Canadian Diabetes Association commends the Government of Nova Scotia for the recent 2013 budget announcement for improved support for children and young adults living with type 1 diabetes. New funding will be used to provide insulin pumps to individuals 19 years of age and younger, and supplies for insulin pumps to individuals under 25 years of age.

An insulin pump program will not only improve the health and quality of life for many Nova Scotians living with type 1 diabetes, but will also improve the sustainability of the province’s healthcare system.

Ken Chan, Cystic Fibrosis Canada:

Our advocacy efforts paid off! Nova Scotia’s Finance Minister announced this afternoon that they are expanding screening. Thanks to Premier Dexter for bringing in cystic fibrosis newborn screening for families in Nova Scotia.

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.

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