Nova Scotia Legislature spring sitting to be dominated by numbers
Budget figures, poll stats and seat counts will all play an important role in the spring sitting
Numbers almost always dominate spring sittings at Nova Scotia's provincial legislature.
That's because provincial budgets are traditionally tabled in the legislature in March or April. But those are not the only numbers of note. This spring, each party in the House has its own numerical challenge.
In December, the last time Finance Minister Randy Delorey reported on the 2015-2016 budget, the province was looking at a deficit of $241 million, of which $135 million was attributed to revenue that was less than expected.
The governing Liberals have promised to balance the books by the end of their mandate, which likely makes this their last deficit budget.
The challenge for Delorey as he tables his first budget is increasing revenue without raising the ire of taxpayers as the governing Liberals inch toward an inevitable day of reckoning at the polls. Delorey has ruled out an across the board increase in user fees, which leaves targeted increases for specific government fees.
In November 2014, Laurel Broten, the woman who now heads Nova Scotia Business Inc, delivered a report that recommended sweeping changes to the provincial tax system.
Her recommendations included creating a pollution tax, as well as eliminating point-of-sale rebates on books, children's clothing, shoes, diapers, feminine hygiene products, residential energy and first-time home purchases.
That would generate more revenue, but it's unclear if the governing Liberals have any interest in those ideas more than halfway through their mandate.
20 per cent
For the Progressive Conservatives — the Official Opposition — this spring is another chance to try to find an issue that will gain enough traction to pull the party's popularity above the 20 percentage points it has been mired in for almost five years.
That challenge is even more daunting for Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie, whose personal popularity has consistently been in the teens, according to successive surveys by Corporate Research Associates.
Except for a brief thaw in the spring of 2011, Nova Scotians polled remain chilly to Baillie and his party, which may explain the issues Baillie plans to pursue over the coming weeks.
"We are here to hold the Liberals to account for the mess-ups that have happened since we last sat," he told CBC News.
"We're going to hold them accountable for the missteps that have hurt real people over the last two years, like our seniors and pharmacare, like the film industry, like all taxpayers now who are offended by the Yarmouth ferry deal."
The challenge for the NDP is its shrinking numbers in the House, down to just four with the resignation of former interim leader Maureen MacDonald and the fact Denise Peterson-Rafuse is on sick leave.
During budget debates, it usually takes four MLAs to scrutinize the budget estimates of individual departments. Those 40 hours of debate happen both in the legislative chamber and in the Red Room down the hall.
Having just four members means NDP MLAs will be tied up almost exclusively with the work of the House during estimates and will have little time to tend to constituency issues.
It's also unclear just how deeply those MLAs will be able to delve into the numbers, given their numbers. It's a lot of work for just four people. The party has researchers, but only MLAs can question ministers. And that's on top of handling question period four days a week.
"This will be difficult for us," NDP Leader Gary Burrill said Wednesday. "But it's manageable."
Without a seat in the House, Burrill can't personally lend a hand, even if he wanted to.