Opposition parties criticize the PC government’s spending spree at the end of the financial year
The first full week of March was a heavy week for Nova Scotia taxpayers, who will foot the bill for a total of $152 million in new spending from the PC government.
Premier Tim Houston personally announced two of the largest pledges – $58.9 million to help Cape Breton University establish a medical school at Cape Breton University in Sydney and $37.4 million to establish a new one Institute for Healthcare Innovation at St Francis Xavier University in Antigonish.
Education Secretary Brian Wong announced that the province would spend $25 million to develop health data analysis and management programs at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax.
Not only the universities have promised money this week.
The Westville Miners Sports Center, located in the Houston District, received $2 million for rink renovations and upgrades. Forest landowners have been promised $5.7 million to help them repair damage from post-tropical storm Fiona and manage their land. Fruit growers will receive $15 million in aid to help those who will suffer losses as a result of last month’s cold snap. Transitional homes, women’s centers and associations were also promised an additional eight million dollars in grants.
“Nova Scotians deserve more transparency”
The Treasury has confirmed that all of these expenses will be accounted for in the current 2022-23 budget. With Treasury Secretary Allan MacMaster set to present a new budget in two weeks, it’s likely that much if not all of this new spending will be added to the long list of additional funds. That’s cabinet-approved spending in excess of the budget approved by lawmakers last spring.
This cabinet power has been criticized by Nova Scotia’s Auditor General Kim Adair as a lack of transparency and accountability.
“I think it’s about time,” Adair told reporters when she released her report last December. “Nova Scotians deserve more transparency.”
Adair’s report revealed that for the past 10 years, successive provincial governments have used vague cabinet orders to authorize $4.7 billion in over-budget spending.
In the last budget forecast update in December, Treasury Department officials reported that the cabinet had already approved nearly $1 billion in additional funds this year. A final figure will be available when the Houston government presents its next budget on March 23.
All this extra spending is ringing alarm bells for opposition leaders.
“We’re certainly seeing some March madness when it comes to this government’s spending and the worst part is we don’t see things getting better,” Liberal leader Zach Churchill said. “We’re seeing a lot of spending and certainly in healthcare we’re seeing things getting worse.”
“That tells you that money in healthcare isn’t the answer to everything.”
Liberal track record
When in power, the Liberals also spent more than the budget allowed, including just over $1 billion in additional appropriations in fiscal 2020-21.
During the 2017 budget debate, before he became PC leader, Tim Houston ridiculed the McNeil administration for this kind of year-end spending spree.
“Isn’t it ironic, Mr. Speaker, without a March madness spending spree, without spending all that money — they probably wouldn’t even have had to go to Ottawa to get the money,” Houston said, taunting the Liberals for no money have to spend more on highway twinning.
During the budget debate three years ago, he was similarly negative about additional funds.
“Mr. Speaker, this liberal spending spree amounts to $400 million more than departmental spending under the NDP,” Houston said.
NDP Chairwoman Claudia Chender was also critical of this year’s additional spending.
“Tim Houston can spend all the money he wants, but if it doesn’t make a difference, at some point he’s going to have to be responsible for asking why?” Chender said.
“We’re on the verge of a budget process where we’re going to spend weeks and weeks and weeks talking about the government’s budget, their priorities, whether it fits at the moment, and in the end they can do what they want and what we do.” have very little supervision.”
“So the question is, does this spending work,” she said. “And so far, the people I speak to clearly say no.”
Premier defends spending
Houston did not apologize for the money his government had allocated to health projects.
“I will invest in healthcare today, I will invest in healthcare tomorrow, I will invest in healthcare every day that counts,” he told reporters after St. FX’s announcement on Thursday.
Houston said this week’s announcements were developed after department officials were asked what potential projects universities in the province might be willing to move forward with.
“Investments in healthcare are long overdue,” he said. “We’re not waiting. We’re not waiting for tomorrow, we’re not waiting for next week.”
“We are making these investments today and will account for them accordingly.”
MORE TOP STORIES