Budget process all about choices

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MLA Report, By Karen Casey

Liberals making budget consultation process an ongoing, year-round practice

It has been stated that the budget of any government is one of the most important pieces of legislation it can introduce. It paints a clear picture of the fiscal realities of the province and the priorities of the government.

The process of building the 2014/15 budget for the Liberal government in Nova Scotia is underway. The Minister of Finance, Diana Whalen, has begun a series of pre-budget meetings across the province, engaging Nova Scotians in a conversation about what’s important to them and what’s possible within the revenue of the province.

This is part of a tradition by finance ministers. However, the commitment by Whalen is that her engagement with Nova Scotians will not be just in the weeks leading up to the budget presentation. Rather, it will be an ongoing year-round discussion about challenges and opportunities that exist in this province.

This approach and commitment has been acknowledged and welcomed by the many organizations, groups and individuals who, in the past, have only been consulted pre-budget. The minister began the formal schedule of meetings with high school students at Sydney Academy on Feb. 7. This is another first… the first time this important demographic has been included in pre-budget discussions.

During these sessions, there are some basic questions that will focus the discussion. What public services do Nova Scotians expect government to deliver? Where will the money come from to pay for those services? Budgets are really about choices a government can make within the limited resources available. Asking those hard questions and listening to the responses can definitely help shape the budget.

If we think back to the recent provincial election (October 2013) campaign, we will recall the questions debated by the three party leaders. Two of those leaders were campaigning on a reduction in the HST. This was a vote-getting strategy. What both leaders failed to do was complete the story by telling Nova Scotians a reduction of two per cent in the HST means a loss of revenue to the province of $390 million.

The other leader, now Premier of Nova Scotia, Stephen McNeil didn’t promise to reduce the HST until the books of the province were balanced. When the other leaders were asked which programs and services they would cut, they chose not to respond. You can’t have it both ways. Nova Scotians weren’t fooled. They listened. They understood. Nova Scotia is in a deficit position. The fiscal plan we present must be one that balances the services we expect (such as health care, education, community services and roads) against our sources of revenue (taxes and fees).

Our government is committed to presenting a balanced budget during its current mandate. We’re committed to fiscal discipline. As individuals and families we must live within our means and strive to balance our revenue with expenses. Government should be no different. We’ve started by looking for efficiencies within government departments and making wiser choices about investing the limited resources we have in this province. These choices may not be easy, but they’re necessary if we’re to continue to provide the programs and services we all deserve.

Karen Casey is the MLA for Colchester North.

Organizations: Sydney Academy, MLA for Colchester North

Geographic location: Nova Scotia

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