Analysis

Nova Scotia budget will likely deliver more gain, less pain

More than halfway through its mandate, the McNeil government is shifting focus away from cutting and looking to invest in priority areas such as child care.

The government of Stephen McNeil may loosen purse strings

Premier Stephen McNeil has said Tuesday's budget 'will reflect the values of Nova Scotians.' (CBC)

Two years ago, in its first budget, the McNeil government angered university and college students by eliminating the popular and generous graduate retention rebate. At the time, finance officials said that cut alone would save $50 million.

In last year's budget, those who work in the film industry were shocked to learn the province was eliminating the film tax credit and replacing it with a much less generous film incentive fund. The potential savings were in the $15-million range.

In the past two years, the governing Liberals have also merged or reorganized departments, resulting in the elimination of hundreds of full-time and part-time government jobs across the province. 

But Premier Stephen McNeil is hinting of coming gain for all that pain. 

Last week, he said Tuesday's budget "will reflect the hard work that Nova Scotians have been doing over the last couple of years. And I believe it will reflect the values of Nova Scotians."

The details of this year's budget will be release this afternoon around 1:15 p.m.

More affordable daycare

In a speech before a partisan crowd at the Liberal annual general meeting on April 1, the premier promised to invest more money this coming year in child care.

"We will make daycare more affordable," he told Liberals. "And we will ensure our early childhood educators receive an improved wage for the important work they do." 

The promise came on the heels of a report released a day earlier by his minister of education, Karen Casey, which showed early childhood educators in Nova Scotia were the lowest paid in Canada and parents received meager provincial subsidies for child care.

Casey called that reality "disgusting and shameful."

There's no question public education and early childhood development has been a key focus for the governing Liberals. Restoring funding to the primary to Grade 12 system was the single most expensive promise the Liberals made in the last election. McNeil reiterated the $65 million pledge at the Liberal AGM earlier this month.

Revenue shortfall

In last year's budget documents, finance officials predicted the province was on track to post a razor-thin $22-million surplus in the coming budget, but that was well before a $135-million revenue shortfall was recorded in the last fiscal update in December.

Unless shipbuilding and construction work in Halifax or federal stimulus funding helps spur the Nova Scotia economy this coming year, it's unclear what might make up for that revenue shortfall and allow the province to post that surplus, and provide the promised extra funding to the premier's priority projects. 

More than halfway through its first mandate, the McNeil government is also keenly aware voters will soon get their chance to pass judgement on its decisions.

But both McNeil and his minister of finance, Randy Delorey, deny that the looming election played any part in planning for the 2016 budget.

"No, I had an eye on my mandate which is the fiscal health of this province and continuing that work that was started when we came into office," said Delorey.

About the Author

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.