Nova Scotia launches spending spree after unexpected $240M windfall
Fiscal year-end spending to go toward high-speed internet, research and home efficiency
The Nova Scotia government is going to spend more this March on an end-of-fiscal-year spending spree than it has for the last four years combined: Nearly $245 million.
Premier Stephen McNeil called it "a real privilege" for his government to find itself with "a substantial size of one-time revenue" to invest, the result of recalculated offshore royalty revenues dating back to 1999.
Nearly half — $120 million — is being placed in yet-to-be-created Nova Scotia Internet Funding Trust that seeks to expand high-speed internet service to 95 per cent of the province's homes.
"The $120 million that we're putting aside in [the] internet trust is dealing with what we believe — in many ways, in many parts of our province — is holding back the entrepreneurs, holding back an opportunity for our children to get the education and experience the global world … This investment will allow us to keep pace," McNeil told reporters at a news conference packed with bureaucrats and representatives from organizations that will benefit from the spending.
The rest of the money is being doled out to a variety of projects, including:
- $20 million added to the Research Nova Scotia Trust.
- $18.2 million in primary-care investments.
- $12.2 million to the HomeWarming program, which offers energy efficiency funds to low-income families.
- $11.8 million to projects related to the Offshore Growth Strategy.
- $11.1 million to try to lure air carriers to establish new routes to Halifax.
- $11 million contribution for a new building at St Mary's University to house the Entrepreneurship, Discovery and Innovation Hub.
Since many of the projects receiving funding are partnerships, McNeil said he expects the money the province is providing will be matched by private companies, the federal government and others.
"It will leverage, I think it's safe to say, that the dollars that we're putting in, by minimum, we'll receive back another dollar on behalf of citizens to make these projects go forward," the premier said.
Dal and SMU both getting funds
The $11 million that Saint Mary's University is receiving to build its hub will be "a game-changer" for the university, said president Robert Summerby-Murray.
"It means we can move forward on this exciting project," he said. "A project on which we've been working for a number of years, a project that provide opportunities for entrepreneurial education, to advance learning for our students, research for our faculty and engagement with the business community."
Summerby-Murray said SMU was still reviewing plans and trying to determine the best site for the new building at its south-end Halifax campus.
Dalhousie University vice-president Alice Aiken was just as excited about the $5 million her school will get to help fund its DeepSense Big Data Initiative, a data collection and analysis project tied to ocean research.
"The ocean health pertains a lot to climate change, it pertains to sustainable food sources, it pertains to health in general. So I think a lot of people are looking for this [and] Canada has positioned itself, in particular Halifax, has positioned itself as a world leader in ocean science," said Aiken.
The Dal project will process data collected by sensors located along Canada's East Coast, as far north as the Arctic.
"As you can imagine, that generates a ton of data and it has to be brought into a platform that makes it usable. So DeepSense will do all of that."
The extra spending announced Thursday wouldn't have been possible without the recalculated offshore revenue, said Finance Minister Karen Casey.
Even with the extra spending, the government expects to end fiscal 2017-18 — which ends March 31 — with a balanced budget.
Progressive Conservative MLA Eddie Orrell said he didn't have any problem with any of the projects receiving funding, but he wondered why some of the province's most-pressing issues, such as mental health programs, weren't also getting extra funds.
"We have other problems we do have to deal with," he said. "We've got people waiting 360-odd days [for mental-health treatment] in Cape Breton."
With files from The Canadian Press