Nova Scotia budget will be less contentious, says Randy Delorey
'I don't think we will see protests around Province House,' he said
After two and a half years of austerity and an election nearing, Nova Scotia Finance Minister Randy Delorey signalled Wednesday the Liberal government will deliver a less contentious budget on April 19.
"There will be things in the budget of a magnitude, but I think they will be things Nova Scotians will be happy to see," Delorey told reporters after delivering a pre-budget speech to the Halifax Chamber of Commerce.
"I don't think we will see protests around Province House."
The chamber address is often used to deliver advance notice of policy changes coming in the annual budget.
'The tide has turned'
This year, Delorey's speech focused heavily on claimed accomplishments, including a reduction in youth unemployment and a program to help recent graduates.
There wasn't any hint of tax changes or spending cuts in a retrospective address that twice claimed "the tide has turned."
In March 2015, Delorey's predecessor, Diana Whalen, used the same speech to signal the end of the Nova Scotia film industry tax credit.
Whalen was moved out of the portfolio after the prolonged backlash that followed the Liberal budget measure eliminating the tax credit.
The Liberals said taxpayers should not have to pay up to 50 per cent of production labour costs, but the industry argued it was a false saving, warning it would drive productions out of the province.
The fallout continues to haunt the Liberals. On Wednesday, the Atlantic region of the Directors Guild of Canada claimed salaries and work days dropped by nearly 50 per cent since the credit was eliminated. They say the replacement is ineffective.
"One devastating side effect of the reduction in production in Nova Scotia in 2015 is that many of our experienced crew have left the province in search of work." guild chair Jennifer Stewart said in a release.
Delorey did not directly address the claim, saying the budget will reveal how much money the government has saved by eliminating the credit.
Financial pressures still present
The government's last fiscal update forecast a $241 million deficit for 2015-2016, a jump of $118 million, primarily due to money put aside to pay owners of the Sable project for the pending decommissioning of their offshore gas platforms.
The chamber is urging the Liberals to keep focused on restraint.
"Our view is the budget could have been balanced last year had there been a more aggressive approach on spending. I am hopeful we will get there, [but] I haven't seen much information indicating that we will," said chamber president Rob Batherson.
The Liberals have yet to conclude a collective agreement with tens of thousands of public sector workers. A tentative agreement with teachers was rejected by the membership and that prompted the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union to withdraw its endorsement of the same wage package.
The NSGEU has yet to put the deal to its membership, despite a commitment to do so in February.
The Liberals passed legislation in December that gives government the right to impose a collective agreement on public sector unions.
On Wednesday, Delorey and Premier Stephen McNeil both repeated the need to control costs, while they talked up spending on programs they like.
"Government has shown it can protect the province's financial health while making smart, strategic investments to grow Nova Scotia's economy," McNeil said in a release.
"As for bracing for major concerns, I think Nova Scotians will be comfortable with the budget that is coming forward," Delorey told reporters.