N.S. on track to balance books, MacDonald says
Nova Scotia’s finance minister says the province is poised to balance its books by next spring, but the opposition parties are warning that doing so could jeopardize Premier Darrell Dexter’s populist promise to reduce the harmonized sales tax.
Finance Minister Maureen MacDonald announced Thursday the province ended the 2011-12 fiscal year in March with a $248-million deficit, a figure that is $141 million less than the original budget estimate.
The numbers are part of the province’s audited financial statements, which give the final numbers on the previous fiscal year.
“With strong fiscal management and leadership, Nova Scotia managed relatively well through the recession,” MacDonald told a news conference.
“We have continuously achieved better-than-expected financial performance as economic uncertainty continued to plague our nation and the world.”
The latest numbers are good news for Dexter’s majority government, which marked its third year in power in June.
The NDP government has committed to balance its 2013-14 budget and reduce the HST by one percentage point to 14 per cent in 2014 before cutting another percentage point in 2015.
Prior to the 2009 election, when the NDP assumed power for the first time in Nova Scotia, Dexter promised not to raise taxes, then followed up in 2010 by raising the HST by two percentage points.
Conservative house leader Chris d’Entremont said the premier appears poised to break another promise as the province prepares for an election as early as next spring.
“They’re going to have to be cutting (spending) a little deeper than they have in the past,” he said, adding that reducing the HST by one point will cost the government $175 million in foregone revenue.
“They’re not going to be able to make that promise to take that point back.”
D’Entremont also said there’s a darker side to the numbers presented Thursday.
With Nova Scotia’s population growing at a slow rate, the province’s per capita debt has increased to $14,000 for every person in the province. That’s an increase of almost $1,000 since the New Democrats were elected to govern.
“That is the showstopper that everyone sitting at home should understand,” d’Entremont said.
The province’s accumulated debt stood at $13.2 billion as of March 31, having risen $485 million over the previous year.
Liberal Andrew Younger said the only way the NDP will be able to keep its HST promise will be to slash spending.
“There are deep cuts coming,” he said.
“We know, based on the past three years, that those cuts will come in areas like education and health, which means larger classes, longer waiting lists at hospitals and poor service for Nova Scotians.”
Asked if the HST pledge was still solid, MacDonald said: “I believe that when we are in a financial position to provide some tax relief to Nova Scotians, then we certainly should do that.”
MacDonald followed up by saying the province debt-to-GDP ratio — a broad measure of the province’s financial health — continued its downward trend in the most recent fiscal year, dropping by only a tenth of a point to 35 per cent.
“That’s a very positive situation for our province to be in,” she said.