Nova Scotia Provincial Budget

Nova Scotia Provincial Budget

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Contributors:

Kent Roberts
Vice President, Policy

With economic development in mind, and as advocates for Nova Scotia businesses––having seen firsthand the impact the pandemic has had on all businesses but particularly the hospitality and tourism industry––the Halifax Chamber of Commerce watched anxiously and hopefully as Finance Minister Kousoulis delivered the 2021/22 provincial budget last Thursday, March 25.

We knew the provinces finances had been hit hard in 2020 as revenues were down and the cost of COVID response pushed expenses 571 million dollars over budget. That trend was likely to continue in 2021/22 and it did. But how much of the pandemic cost was linked to supporting our local economy? While the province allocated $100M to support Nova Scotia businesses in 2020, that money came from the 2019/2020 budget year. In fact, total NS provincial supports for businesses and citizens in 2020 was only four per cent of the total support dollars provided by the Federal and Provincial governments and none of that money was aimed at economic recovery.

The PR lead up to the budget suggested the province was in good shape financially even while projecting a deficit, with four good years of balanced budgets behind us, a great credit rating and our debt being refinanced at record low rates.

So, what would 2021/22 budget hold for businesses in Nova Scotia? As just about the safest place to live and work in the world, we certainly hoped we would see a budget that incentivized a quick recovery for all businesses, but particularly helped our hospitality and tourism sector recover from a dismal 2020 and get us back on track to the $2.5 billion tourism delivered in 2019.

It started well, with “no new taxes and fees”, theoretically keeping more money in the pockets of consumers to support local businesses. The Government also set a new target to reduce government’s regulatory burden on business by $10 million in 2021, while increasing resources in the Office of Regulatory Affairs and Service Effectiveness. They also committed a further $1 million to continue to support businesses in rapidly adopting digital tools and innovations. The province also committed $1.5 million for the first year of a new five-year Aquaculture Expansion Strategy and $1.3 million to support the Nova Scotia Quality Wine Strategy.

Yet in a budget with $1 Billion in new “infrastructure and innovation” spending and $859 million in increased departmental expenses, of which $771 million is allocated to Health and Wellness, Community Services and Education and Early Childhood Development, this budget provides virtually no new money or supports for the businesses most impacted by the pandemic. In fact, the budget allocation for the only department tasked with economic development (IEG) and the Crowns that enable that work declined by $23 million.

While the Finance Minister and his senior staff used phrases like “Invest in Recovery”, “An economy where Business can Grow”, and the premier says “Small business is the backbone of the economy” they are going to have to do a lot more for small businesses that continue to struggle to survive. For businesses that were forced to close or were impacted by lockdowns and ongoing restrictions, having a budget that invests another $771+ million on non-economic measures is not putting the focus on economic recovery that is needed or promised.

What will it take for government to step up and provide the support they are promising? The Halifax Chamber of Commerce will continue to advocate on behalf of our members and the business community, to ensure their voice is heard and understood. We are in your corner!

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