Q&A

Premier Stephen McNeil talks Nova Scotia budget decisions, responsibilities

Premier Stephen McNeil discusses how his government's core responsibilities factor in as decisions are made for the upcoming provincial budget, expected in mid-April.

2016-2017 provincial budget is expected to be released April 19

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil spoke with CBC Mainstreet's Bob Murphy about how his government weighs the competing priorities of controlling spending and honouring core responsibilities. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

In his budget bulletin released last year, Premier Stephen McNeil promised his government's spending priorities would line up with its core responsibilities, such as health care, maintaining social services and being fiscally accountable.

McNeil wrote in the bulletin's cover letter that his government wants to make sure each person has an equal opportunity to succeed. 

With the next provincial budget less than two weeks away, McNeil spoke with CBC Radio's Mainstreet host Bob Murphy

Thinking of the people

Murphy: One of those core responsibilities is, in fact, protecting the most vulnerable and maintaining a social safety net. How do you square that with a decision to cut funding to organizations that help the blind, the deaf, people with AIDS, people with mental health issues and addiction issues? 

McNeil: Well part of that is, when you get to a point of funding that was coming — without specifically talking about one of them — you look at how that funding is being administered. Is it at a administrative level? Is it directly into core services? We've gone back and looked at all of the things we're doing.

At the end of the day, is the money getting to the client? Is it making a difference? And then the other question is, how do you get back to fiscal health? 

It's extremely difficult. I've said this many times to people. 

It's not hard for me to make a public policy position. But it does affect me when I'm impacting the lives of individuals. 

Picking and choosing

Murphy: Are there moments when you're looking at your core responsibilities, and you're making your decisions, and everything is on the table. You're deciding — are you going to give $22 million dollars to RBC, or are you going to give $19 million in payroll rebates and save $3 million of that for libraries, for example, which have had their funding frozen for six years?

McNeil: Right, through successive governments — of all political parties. Of course they are. That's the balance. That's the balance you go with.

How do I ensure that we fund the things that communities require and want and believe are an important part of the fabric of a community? At the same time, using what precious public dollars we have to incentivize employment opportunities.

Striking a balance

Murphy: So why was up to $22 million dollars in payroll rebates for RBC the right decision?

McNeil: Well, it's about providing opportunity to creating job opportunities here in Nova Scotia. So the rebate is about nine cents on the dollar for a job in our region that has to materialize, has to be here for a year, and pays a substantial salary.

So, you make that decision: Do you think in the short term, by making that investment you will receive back in taxes from those individuals, from that corporation, more money that you can then invest in the very things that we value.

That's the balance you strike and I believe that was a decision that will put more money into the ability of governments, and future governments, to be able to invest in the very things you talk about.

Infrastructure spending

Murphy: Will the infrastructure spending that's been announced by the federal government impact whether you're able to balance that budget by 2017/2018?

McNeil: It will have some impact. If we do see that the national government potentially is providing us with an opportunity to look at. We're not just going to spend for the sake of spending. It will be for what we think are important pieces of infrastructure. I think of high speed internet, broadband is a prime example.

How do we make sure we're the most connected province in Canada? Can we move up some of those important pieces of infrastructure? Highway twinning, working on highways, bridges.

Moving up some of the municipal sewer and water infrastructure. And of course we're moving forward and laying out a plan on how we're going to deal with the Victoria General Hospital.

With files from CBC's Mainstreet

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