Nova Scotia’s finance minister Allan MacMaster gave a fiscal update to reporters at Province House on Thursday, Sept. 29. The province is facing a higher-than-projected deficit this year, up $48 million. MacMaster says this deficit is due to things like $59 million less from personal income tax (AKA low wages) and cancelling the out of province house buyer tax, which cost the province $65 million.
The surprise statutory holiday for the death of the Queen cost the province roughly $8.3 million. When asked what value the province got for the $8.3 million in spending on the Queen’s death MacMaster said, “I know there'd be many Nova Scotians who would have felt that was the right thing to do.” In 2020-21 the budget for the Office of L'nu Affairs was $4.3 million.
In good news, the government revenue from tobacco continues to drop in a year-over-year trend showing Nova Scotians are giving up their darts.
But MacMaster pointed to things that are good in the forecast: People are spending more money, so the province is getting $45 million more than expected from the Harmonized Sales Tax (AKA our spending), and the GDP is going up. “We remain focused on making investments that have lasting value and advancing solutions that improve the lives of Nova Scotians,” said MacMaster.
One of the big pressures facing the province is the increased cost of rising expenses due to what is colloquially known as inflation. Although it is worth pointing out that inflation is just the term for increased costs of goods and services. What is causing inflation is a combination of factors, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine, corporate greed and climate change.
“We know real challenges still exist, such as skilled labour shortages,” said MacMaster in the press conference. He pointed to the struggle companies are having to find workers as a reason for the delays and increased costs of infrastructure spending. The fact that working sucks so bad these days is not new to workers. In fact, when workers decided to take some of their lives back, their bosses called it “quiet quitting.” For those who don’t know what quiet quitting is, in the 1990s, it was called “doing your job.”
“I take a different view towards work,” said MacMaster, whose salary is $138,806.41 a year and includes an expense account for travel, a pension, medical insurance and job security for the next three years. “I do think it is critical for young people in the province to feel positive about going to work. They deserve to have good opportunities in this province,” continued MacMaster. He said that because there are so many labour shortages, workers have a lot of freedom to switch jobs. “We need everybody who can be out there helping to pull the cart.”
Workers are helping to pull the cart. The pandemic highlighted the fact that workers, especially low-paid minimum wage workers, are doing the bulk of the pulling. But even though MacMaster wants young people to feel positive about going to work, the reality is the labour shortages and associated budget pressures will likely continue as this government has no plans to rein in employers’ power over their workforce.
Susan Leblanc, the NDP house leader, said that workers shouldn’t be forced to switch jobs if a workplace is bad. One of the assumptions policymakers tend to make is that switching jobs is easy, and in white-collar office jobs—like policy-making—that is often true. For minimum wage or hourly workers, it often requires taking a sick or vacation day to apply to and interview for a job. It doesn’t take many job interviews before workers run out of days off.
“We need wages to go up. We need better working conditions for workers. We need to allow workers an easier road to unionize,” said Leblanc. “There's lots of changes to the labour code that need to be made so that workers see Nova Scotia as a place that they want to be.”
MacMaster wants workers to keep pulling the cart. But his government has no plans to make the harnesses more comfortable for the workers doing the pulling. Although this government not being worker friendly is not too surprising as premier Tim Houston, who was name dropped in one of the largest tax evasion schemes for the world’s richest people: the Paradise Papers. A man who doesn’t think minimum wage work is a “real job.”
In this fiscal update, the class divide between Nova Scotia and its leaders was laid bare as the PC government demonstrated that it is more concerned with the stability of the cart than the health and well-being of the workers who pull it.