Amid a public outcry over inappropriate expense spending by legislative members, Nova Scotia’s NDP government signalled it’s ready to move ahead with its agenda during the spring session of the legislature that opened Thursday with a throne speech.
Read by Lt.-Gov. Mayann Francis, the throne speech hinted at fiscal pain to come but outlined few specifics about any pending cuts to programs or services as the province grapples with a $13-billion debt and $525-million deficit.
“The heavier our financial burden grows, the more it threatens government’s ability to deliver vital public services like health care and education,” said Francis.
“The challenge is undeniable: Tough decisions must be made today if Nova Scotia is to seize the moment and reshape its future.”
Premier Darrell Dexter’s political blueprint said a key priority will be health care, which takes up an estimated 48 per cent of the province’s overall budget.
Although no details were released, the government also said it will not balance the books this year, and will outline a multi-year fiscal strategy to help get its finances back in shape when it tables the budget on April 6.
Last fall, an economic panel recommended hiking the provincial portion of the harmonized sales tax by two per cent, but the speech did not make any mention of tax increases.
Finance Minister Graham Steele said the ambiguity was intentional.
“Tax measures are never revealed in advance for good reason. Obviously people are interested in the government’s direction, but for that they’ll have to wait for budget day to get the details,” Steele said.
In an effort to tighten spending controls, the government committed to introduce legislation to establish an open and accountable system with clearer guidelines for appropriate constituency expenses.
Both opposition parties said they were underwhelmed by a speech they said contained little detail and nothing new.
“Most Nova Scotians are looking for some vision, for some looking beyond, and there wasn’t any in this speech today,” said Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil.
The Nova Scotia government will unveil its spring budget early next month. Finance Minister Graham Steele says the budget will be delivered April 6. The budget is expected to address the province’s $13-billion debt and $525-million deficit. Premier Darrell Dexter has not said whether he would hike taxes or slash spending. But Dexter has warned of fiscal pain to come.