Dexter's budget tinkers at the progressive edges, but is that enough?


Did Darrell Dexter balance the budget?

Is the pope Argentinian?

Depends on which pope you mean.

And what you mean by balance.

Not to forget “the…”

The perhaps more relevant pre-election questions out of last week’s legislature exercise:

  • Would the other parties have done anything different in either the budget’s broad strokes or in its jiggery-pokery, see-we-kept-our-promise presentation?
  • And, setting aside for the moment everyone’s OCD-like obsession with balanced budgets, is there anything good, and/or different to be said about this NDP budget?

The answer to the first question is easy. No.

One of the lessons learned from electing our first “democratic socialist” government four years ago is how little party labels matter.

This NDP has continued the dream-big-or-go-home Tory-Gliberal tradition dating back to at least Robert Stanfield, doling out wing-and-a-prayer pots of taxpayer dollars to multinational corporations—can you say Dae Woo?—for jobs that never seem to materialize.

And, like governments of all stripes everywhere, the NDP claims to worry about deficit and debt while implicitly subscribing to reality-discredited tax-cutting-to-prosperity theories. It continues to cut corporate taxes that help fund programs it then has to cut in order to pretend to bring down the deficit.

Throw in the uncontrollable constraints of a high Canadian dollar, an aging provincial population, declining federal transfers, corporate non-re-investment and the torrent-down joblessness of the global non-recovery… and you end up with an NDP budget that, in its broad outlines, probably resembles what Stephen McNeil or Jamie Baillie would have presented.

And McNeil and Baillie would almost certainly have engaged in the same reality-adjusting, future-finessing, Pollyanna presentation as the NDP to peddle it.

Which brings us to the tinkers. Is there anything good, and/or different to be said about this NDP budget?

Even in the current slice-and-dice-to-balance atmosphere, the NDP did play at its progressive edges.

There were minor increases for those on income assistance, more funds for low-income housing, an upped age limit for free kids’ dental care, modest tax breaks for low-income seniors and laudable, targeted new spending from insulin pumps and newborn screening to head-start education programs for poor children.

It’s not much—maybe $12 million in a $9.5 billion budget—but, from a progressive point of view, it’s probably more than we could have hoped for from the Liberals or Tories.

As we head into an election, is it enough?

  1. Spot on in every regard. A single-minded fixation on debt, deficit, and various optical devices to try and make the budget balance, are in large measure a red herring. Debt to GDP ratios are a much better metric and in this regard Nova Scotia is in a good economic position.

    For a much better vision of what the province could have done see the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives NS, alternative provincial budget “Strengthening Connections, Connecting Communities” (full disclosure: I was one of a large number of contributors to this document) [link below]. There are some good elements of the current NS government’s budget (and Stephen Kimber didn’t even mention Support4Culture which will bring an additional $2 million in funding to the province’s creative economy sector), however, there are many other excellent measures that could have been taken. Furthermore, scaling back on HST will produce no measurable benefit and will only hamstring the province’s ability to undertake progressive measures.

    Strengthening Connections, Connecting Communities


  2. While the April 4th Nova Scotia budget was widely anticipated to be a balanced budget, there is more than just financial balance at stake. Balance must be reflected in the priorities the government sets that will enrich its citizens and ensure that fairness in all social, economic, and environmental aspects of living are maintained. I will admit it’s a tough game, and none of the three parties in the Legislature play the game any differently.

    Budgets by their nature are short-term documents with a brutally finite shelf life. But budgets can also be a window into the future, a guide to how the 21st century will treat this province and its citizens. Continuing on in the patterns laid out in our past are no longer relevant in the ever changing economic and social climate of present day Nova Scotia.

    New patterns must emerge and be streamlined, malleable, and resilient, to swiftly and easily adapt to changing circumstances both at home and in the world. Old style partisan politics, by nature, tends to restrict its vision to election cycles and treat emerging issues with a well stocked supply of bandaids.

    The Opposition opposes, no matter what. Party Whips ensure that there is never anything good said about the government. They must be opposed; however silly it sounds. It is imperative that party spokespeople sound decisive and unyielding, and firm in their commitment to the talking points that have been worked by a communications committee in the backroom.

    Question. If the government is so wrong on everything, then how did they get elected? Do opposition parties believe that the citizens who voted for the governing party are stupid or just victims of a clever and evil hoax? When was the last time an Opposition Leader went before the cameras and said, “This is a great initiative on the part of the government and we wholeheartedly support it.”? At best they will damn with faint praise, “It’s not bad as far as it goes, but we would have done blah blah blah, which would have benefitted the poor, the hard-working families, small business, rural dwellers, unemployed youth, municipalities…”pick the correct target audience.

    We, as citizens, must educate ourselves about the distinction between what the province can do and those things over which it has little or no control, and adjust our expectations accordingly.


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