Yesterday, the Liberals capped off the worst winter in Nova Scotia’s recent history by dumping another load on the province that sure as shootin’ wasn’t snow.
The government unveiled this year's budget, and Nova Scotia is expecting a $97-million deficit this year with total expenses topping out at a little over $10 billion.
Given that Snoop Dogg tweeted about it, there was maybe more interest than usual in this year’s budget. Certainly the apparent demise of the province's film industry caused roars of outrage, but there’s plenty of other things to hate in yesterday’s announcement. University tuition caps are running wild, entire departments have been wiped out and a lot of Nova Scotians found themselves unemployed.
While crowds were packing into Province House to get a glimpse of Finance Minister Diane Whalen's books, government employees a few blocks away at the World Trade and Convention Centre were being escorted out by security. Layoff notices were given to 163 full-time and seasonal government employees. More than 300 civil service positions were wiped out, though most of those workers were redeployed elsewhere.
Employees were told to hand in id and passes and given 5 minutes to grab essential items before being escorted out of the building. #nspoli— Carrie Campbell (@CarrieCampbell_) April 9, 2015
I worked with some of the best people who really wanted to do the best for the people of Nova Scotia. And I'll miss them terribly. #RIPERDT— Кrista Espu-rrrr (@krisp131) April 9, 2015
The Liberals argued in yesterday’s presentation that wage increases for civil servants have outstripped real and nominal GDP growth from the last three years. The McNeil government has previously announced a three-year wage freeze on non-union civil service employees and a permanent freeze on public service awards. Yesterday’s job losses were a further effort in addressing what they call “unsustainable labour costs.”
Who else is pissed off? We’ve already explained the devastating changes to the film tax credit—changes which were not met with quiet words.
“This drives a stake through the heart of the film industry,” Marc Almon, chair of lobbying group Screen Nova Scotia told reporters after the budget presentation. “There is no tomorrow. This is it.”
“I worry about what this will mean for jobs in Nova Scotia and keeping our bright young people here,” PC leader Jamie Baillie said in a release. “This approach is wrong. It won’t keep Nova Scotians here and it will not rebuild our economy.”
Speaking of bright young people leaving en masse, university students got screwed royal. The province has lifted the three percent university and NSCC tuition cap, allowing a “one-time market adjustment” that’s likely not going to be pleasant. It allows post-secondary institutions to charge similar fees for similar programs, and the schools have “carte blanche” to make that adjustment.
After the “one-time” change, universities can increase tuition for undergrads by three percent annually. The provincial tuition cap has been lifted entirely for all graduate students, and for anyone from another province studying in Nova Scotia. According to Students Nova Scotia, one-third of the province’s student population comes from away.
“Today’s announcement will further undercut Nova Scotia’s ability to retain youth and attract young people from elsewhere to settle here,” said Students NS vice-president Callie Lathem in a release. “The Ivany Report says we should make youth a top priority...What is this government doing?”
Lifting the tuition cap for out of province and grad students also seems .. counter intuitive. NS needs skilled immigrants (like students)..— Brenden Sommerhalder (@BSommerhalder) April 9, 2015
Grad Students, and International students yeah let them pay more we don't want to have those types in NS. WTF?— HalifaxReTales (@HalifaxReTales) April 9, 2015
One of the bigger changes yesterday in Nova Scotia's government came from the creation of the Department of Business. That Orwellian-named entity takes over from the now-extinct Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism. You can get an idea of some of the other changes in departmental expenses below.
So is anyone happy? Well, no one’s complaining about the $700,000 in additional funds to expand the sexual assault nurse examiner program. That’s to curb troubling events like the time a woman had to wait three days after a sexual assault for a nurse to show up.
The province is also staying up-to-date on its shots, increasing meningitis vaccinations and giving HPV vaccine to Grade 7 boys. The Affordable Living Tax Credit—which offers HST rebates on kid’s clothing, shoes, diapers and other items—thankfully remained whole. Smokers saw a small increase on cigarettes, but it’s a filthy habit. Don’t smoke kids.
Ultimately, the McNeil government may be cutting today to spend tomorrow. The province can just bring back whatever wacky programs they want in a couple of years—no matter how ridiculous the enterprise. By then, Nova Scotians’ outrage may have cooled just enough to once again vote Liberal. Depending on who among us is left.