In the all-too-brief interregnum between Thursday’s bad-news federal budget and tomorrow’s more-bad-news provincial budget, it’s worth noting the across-the-board, cost-cutting Kool Aid fiscal policy makers in Ottawa and Halifax have swallowed is not the only—or necessarily best—way to slay the deficit dragon.
The Nova Scotia branch of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, for example, a progressive think tank, recently released its annual alternative provincial budget. Its “Forward to Fairness” document calls for “strategic investments” while finding “creative ways to save money and increase revenue.” Instead of rushing to balance the budget in 2013-14 “to fit the timing of the electoral cycle,” the CCPA wants the government to stretch the back-to-balance timetable to 2015-16 to “reflect the actual fiscal situation.”
“Austerity does not come for free,” says the CCPA’s Nova Scotia director, Christine Saulnier. The CCPA says the government’s decision to cut $772 million in public spending over four years will mean the loss of “well over 10,000 jobs.”
By contrast, the CCPA’s approach involves investing $492.5 million in social infrastructure and programs, including everything from $40 million to establish 10 new community health centres, fund 10 more nurse practitioners and 12 more midwives, to $45 million to phase in an early learning and child care system and $21 million for rural public transit.
Where would the money come from to pay for all of this. Primarily by shifting the tax burden, says the CCPA, from low and middle-income taxpayers “to the upper 45 per cent of income earners, especially the top 10 per cent,” those who have gained the most in the past decade.
Don’t expect to hear any of this on Tuesday. While the CCPA had what Saulnier calls “a serious and engaged exchange” with Finance Minister Graham Steeele, the finance department “has framed the problem and the solutions in a way that precludes our proposals. In other words, they see declining enrollment in P-12 as a way to justify cutting; we see it as an opportunity to finally catch up with the rest of Canada and begin to really address quality.”