Nova Scotia's debt has grown to $13,138 for every person in the province.
The net direct debt is $12.3 billion, up $208 million from that projected by the previous Tory government, according to financial statements released Thursday.
The NDP government blames the Tories, saying they didn't have an alternative plan for when the recession hit.
"This was a government without a plan B," said Finance Minister Graham Steele. "Their expenses were outstripping revenues."
Finance officials say there was a surplus of $19.7 million because money earmarked to pay the debt was used for everyday spending.
But Steele wouldn't say whether the 2008-09 books are balanced.
"If you go on generally accepted accounting principles, there's a surplus. If you go to the different definition that's contained in the Provincial Finance Act, it isn't," he said.
Under the act, brought in under John Hamm, all offshore revenues must go to pay down the debt. However, under generally accepted accounting principles — also brought in by Hamm — the money can be used for day-to-day expenses.
Had the act been applied, Steele said, the province would have overspent by $86 million.
The finance minister isn't saying which set of rules he will follow.
"Our response to that — what we're going to do, whether we're going to change it, if we are going to change it, how we're going to change it — is, frankly, an essential part of the budget. And for that we'll just have to wait for budget day," he said.
The New Democrats, who brought down the minority Tory government while in opposition for spending offshore revenue, are expected to table a budget later this month.
To Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil, the situation is clear: there is a deficit.
"There's no doubt according to the law of the province of Nova Scotia that we are in deficit. And the reason Nova Scotians should care about that is because if the government is not going to live by the law, how can they expect its citizens to do that?" said McNeil.