NDP budget passes despite opposition
Premier says attracting immigrants key to Nova Scotia's economic success
The NDP passed a budget in the Nova Scotia legislature Friday projecting a deficit of nearly $400 million.
The Liberals, Progressive Conservatives and independent MLA Trevor Zinck opposed the budget, but the votes of the NDP — who hold a majority — were enough to pass it. The budget passed by a vote of 30 to 17.
Premier Darrell Dexter said it's a good budget despite the need to cut spending.
"It's a budget that is a necessary budget in the kind of economic times we're living in. We'd all like to have more money to be able to spend more on education and health care, but the reality is we don't have it," he said.
"At this point if you spend more, then your only alternative is of course to add to the deficit, which we don't want to do."
Despite Dexter's desire not to go deeper into debt, the budget includes a projected deficit of $389 million.
Liberal leader Stephen McNeil said his party is not convinced the government's numbers add up, pointing to the fact that the last budget was off by more than $600 million.
He said he is sure Nova Scotians are no better off with the new fiscal plan because they're still paying the highest consumption tax in the country — a 15 per cent harmonized sales tax — and 1,400 user fees have been increased.
"They've been unable to respond and wouldn't respond, there's nothing in this budget that helps them respond to the issues of higher energy costs, higher gas prices," McNeil told reporters.
"Nova Scotians are going to continue to pay, pay and pay."
Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie said while his party supports a modest tax break being offered to small businesses, it wasn't enough to win approval for the budget.
"We believe they should have brought in a balanced budget this year. We will not be voting in favour of any budget that has, at the bottom line, a deficit. So until that day comes we'll be voting no," Baillie said.
The NDP government has said it hopes to balance the books in 2013.
Department spending outlined in the budget was about the same as last year, with an extra $323 million to reinstate funding for universities. The budget for health — the biggest expense — remained at $3.7 billion. Education dropped slightly to $1.1 billion, which means school boards must absorb at least $17 million in cuts.
7,200 more Nova Scotians by 2020
On Friday, Dexter also announced a goal of attracting twice as many immigrants to Nova Scotia by 2020.
The premier also said he wants to bring 7,200 newcomers to Nova Scotia within the next nine years.
He said the province needs to keep at least 70 per cent of them in the province. He said many newcomers only use the province as a landing point before moving on to Toronto and Montreal.
Dexter said attracting newcomers to the province has worked well for the economies of other provinces.
"In Manitoba they have been successful in bringing in more than 5,000 nominees a year. They have the lowest unemployment rate in the country," he said.
"They have one of the best economic development rates in the country and when I was talking to [Premier] Greg Salinger just two weeks ago, he told me a big part of their economic success has been their success in immigration."
Dexter said Nova Scotia's economic success is likewise linked to attracting more immigrants to the province.