Government spending way up as Nova Scotia budget picture improves
Nova Scotia’s December budget update forecast a cash storm.
Treasury Secretary Allan MacMaster released the 2022-23 provincial budget update on Tuesday. Revenue has increased by $1.35 billion since March when the budget was presented, thanks to general tax increases and a growing population.
The largest contributor is a prior-year adjustment of $620 million. This represents a revision of federal source income compared to what was estimated at the time of the budget.
“It’s nice to see revenue increasing because we know there are areas where we can spend that revenue to help people,” MacMaster told reporters at a news conference in Halifax.
And issues they are.
The deficit decreases by $363.3 million
The update shows spending has increased by nearly $769 million since September.
This includes recent announcements such as:
The numbers add up to an improved fiscal position for the province, with the deficit down $363.6 million. It is now expected to be $142.6 million compared to the budgeted $506.2 million.
MacMaster said the government learned of the favorable numbers in November. But he said the government has not waited to help those in need. He referred to targeted programs such as increasing care allowances.
“We recognized that while there are no quick fixes to our challenges, we stand by Nova Scotians and will make the necessary investments to move this province forward.”
Opposition MLAs did not buy this statement. While welcoming fresh spending to help those in need, finance critics from the Liberals and NDP said the help could have come sooner.
Liberal MLA Fred Tilley accused the government of a spate of spending last month to bury a surplus.
Tilley said that when the opposition urged the government to help people with living expenses in the fall, MacMaster suggested such action could have unintended consequences and increase inflation.
“So if they have to spend the money now, they will spend it on their cause,” he told reporters.
“So I think it’s not going to increase inflation now.”
New Democratic MLA Lisa Lachance said the increased earnings show people have been paying throughout the year to help provincial finances and that help should have come to them sooner.
Lachance said spending would be even more effective if it were targeted to those most in need through improved rent controls, the elimination of co-payments for pharmaceutical care, increasing income support and raising the minimum wage earlier.
“It’s pretty hard living in a livelihood crisis when you’re making so little money,” they said.
Earlier this month, Auditor General Kim Adair drew attention to the fact that Nova Scotia is the only province in the country where additional spending can be authorized by the government without debate and a vote in the legislature. She said the accountability and transparency that should accompany such spending is lacking.
Combined with the additional departmental spending in this update, the provincial government has now approved nearly $990 million in additional funding since the budget was presented.
MacMaster said he had no problem training while in opposition and he has no problem with it now. He said the spending would be debated in the media, with reporters covering announcements and speaking to ministers and opposition members, and likely to be debated when lawmakers resumed their session.
“Someone has to be the captain of the ship and it’s the government,” he said. “In that case, I disagree with the Auditor General.”
“We’re not actually pirates”
But Tilley and Lachance both said the government should follow the Court’s recommendations.
While there will be times when the government needs to act quickly, such as after a natural disaster, other instances of spending should be discussed.
Lachance also questioned MacMaster’s characterization of the government as the ship’s captain.
“We’re not actually pirates, so we have a legislature for a reason.”
MORE TOP STORIES