Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston’s Progressive Conservative government remains firm in its promise to fix the health-care system by spending more taxpayer money on health than any previous government.
The PCs will spend $6.5 billion on health care this year — an increase of more than $1.2 billion over last year’s budget.
The numbers were released Thursday, during a budget briefing, when Finance Minister Allan MacMaster tabled what the Nova Scotia Tories are calling the “More Healthcare. Faster” budget.
“Budget 2023-24 is built with all Nova Scotians in mind,” said MacMaster in a press release. “It reflects where we are today and where we are headed.”
This is the PC’s second budget since coming to power, and their mission all along has been to fix the province’s health-care system.
The PCs campaigned on an election promise that they would fix the health-care system, which helped them win a majority government in 2021.
The budget predicts revenues to the tune of $14.2 billion, but planned for $14.4 billion in expenses, creating a deficit of $278 million.
The province says it plans to increase the deficit annually during its first four years in office before reducing the deficit in the 2026-27 budget.
MacMaster says Nova Scotia’s economy proved more resilient and has rebounded stronger than anticipated during the pandemic.
“This has meant increased revenues for the provincial government, giving us the capacity to make the significant investments we are making to fix health care,” said MacMaster.
The PCs have broken the budget down into three key spending areas: “Action for Healthcare,” “Healthy Economy,” and “Healthy Communities.”
Health-care spending highlights include:
- $110 million for the second year of retention incentives for nurses who commit to staying in the publicly-funded system and sign a two-year return of service agreement
- $46.6 million more to perform more surgeries and continue to address the backlog, including increasing hours for operating rooms
- $22.2 million for new health-care workforce strategy initiatives under “Action for Healthcare,” the government’s plan to improve the health-care system
- $66.3 million in ongoing funding for increased wages for continuing care assistants
- $34 million for patient movement initiatives to help improve access to care
Health-care department expenses are up $1.4 billion, or 11.5 per cent over last year’s budget.
When it comes to capital projects the budget has allocated $1.6 billion in spending — the largest single-year spending on capital projects in the province’s history.
The bulk of capital spending includes $498.5 million, which will go towards building and fixing roads, highways and bridges.
The province will spend an additional $60 million on secondary highways, and $15 million on gravel roads.
There’s been a lot of debate around affordability, housing and inflation during the spring sitting at the Province House already and in previous sessions of the government.
The opposition Liberals and NDP have been pressing the Houston government to do more, to help everyday Nova Scotians who they say are struggling to deal with inflation and the rising costs of living.
The PCs said they would spend $21.6 million to create new rental support supplements while spending $2.5 million for initiatives to accelerate housing developments in the Halifax Regional Municipality.
As for education, the province is committed to spending $40 million to pay early childhood educators more and to help grow the workforce.
Growing enrollment in schools means more teachers are needed to meet the population growth, so an additional $47.1 million will go toward recruiting and hiring more teachers.
The province will spend $240.8 million to build and renovate schools, to create more learning spaces for the growing student population.
As for the environment, the PCs will put $41.4 million into Nova Scotia’s Climate Change Plan for Growth, which includes:
- more energy efficiency and clean energy projects with a focus on energy poverty and equity
- further efforts to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and move from coal to renewable energy and green hydrogen
- community-based climate change projects
The province says Hurricane Fiona cost Nova Scotia $117.4 million, with costs absorbed across several departments.
It will also spend $1.5 million this year to introduce the Nova Scotia Loyal program, another campaign promise made by the PCs to create an incentive program that would award Nova Scotians for their support in buying local.