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No help for the poor

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Lars Osberg
Lars Osberg

Friday November 13th was an unlucky day for poor Nova Scotians. That's the day four economists (three men and one woman) released their recommendations outlining the economic path the new NDP government should follow. The 94-page report had little to say about the perennial problem of poverty in Nova Scotia. It focussed instead on how the provincial government should balance its books --- not next year as the NDP promised during the spring election campaign --- but within the next four years.

"You cannot build progressive government on a mountain of debt," Donald Savoie, the panel's chair told reporters. His statement was in keeping with the report's focus on government deficits and debt, not the financial plight of the 48,000 or so Nova Scotians on welfare. Savoie claimed that reducing poverty rates is not "off the table" in the coming years, but he made it clear that the first priority for Darrell Dexter's government should be balancing the books by 2012/2013 with a mix of tax increases, government spending reductions and the creation of a "stronger business climate."

Plenty of pain

Panel member Tim O'Neill  told reporters that focussing on eliminating the provincial deficit would require hard choices.

"Whichever way you do it, a lot of people's ox is going to be gored," said the former VP at the Bank of Montreal. "There will be broad-based pain at least in the short run." 

O'Neill was referring to the panel's recommendation that the government consider raising personal income and sales taxes while reducing spending on health care and education. (Health and education together make up 64 per cent of provincial program spending while spending on community services which includes below-the-poverty-line welfare payments accounts for just 12 per cent.)

Making life "affordable"

It fell to panel member, Lars Osberg to try to rescue the NDP election promise of "making life more affordable for families."

The Dalhousie economist recommends the government consider such things as improvements in public transit; tighter regulation of auto insurance; better co-ordination of before-and-after school child care and amendments to labour legislation to guarantee workers unpaid time off to perform family duties such as caring for sick children.

Osberg argues that such measures would not cost the government a lot, but would ease the strains on limited family budgets. (The Dal economist is working in East Africa and was not available to answer questions about his proposals. It was not clear, for example, how significant improvements in public transit or a better child care system could be financed on the cheap.)

Obsessive focus on deficit, debt

The advisory panel's recommendations are likely to ease the pressure on the Dexter government to keep its campaign promise to balance the budget next year without raising taxes or slashing spending. The panel's report argues it would be impossible to carry out such a set of contradictory policies, especially during a deep economic recession.

Unfortunately, the panel's obsessive focus on reducing deficits and debt in order to balance the budget in four years, could give the self-described "conservative progressive" Dexter an excuse not to increase welfare rates significantly. (The Halifax Coalition Against Poverty is calling for a doubling of  rates to raise recipients up to the Statistics Canada poverty line.)

But why is it more important to balance the government's books than to make life more affordable for the poor? If we accept Donald Savoie's contention that a "mountain of debt" makes progressive policies impossible, then the NDP must continue to follow many of the policies laid down by the business-oriented Tories and Liberals.

Other choices

The 2009 Alternative Nova Scotia Budget from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives makes it clear that other choices are possible. As Christine Saulnier, director of the CCPA's Nova Scotia branch says: “We need to have real democratic debate and dialogue in this province about balancing short-term crisis management, with long term crisis prevention. We need to get to a place where the focus is on getting at the root causes of the problems and sustainable solutions.”

Saulnier is right. Balancing the budget in four years is not good enough. The NDP should "balance" its financial problems with its responsibility to the people who need it most. Otherwise, poor Nova Scotians will continue to be victims of right-wing deficit and debt hysteria.














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Explanation of NS government revenue

Is there any report out there that explains in simple language where the government gets all of its revenue? How much comes from business tax, how much from taxes from individuals, from government run projects and properties, etc?

Government revenues

Hi Steve: Sorry, didn't see your comment until today. The provincial budget gives details of revenue sources and spending. It's in a document called "Budget Highlights." Here is a URL that should take you there:



How do I find food for a few days urgent brucetop@yahoo.ca


Excellent! Thank you.

Excellent! Thank you.

how to get food and necessity help

We're living on 760.00 per month, and have a 5 year old. Rent is 600.00, plus have to provide own heating oil, electricity, and water. We haven't recieved child tax or universal since October because they put it on hold. They want proof that my husband and I lived apart in 2006 and 2007. I had to leave Canada, but, am now back as of July 2009. (I'm from the US, and am working on applying for permanent residence). You can only go to one food bank a month and they dont' give milk, meat, or even toilet paper or shampoo. Where can we find help surviving? Need help now. blessusthree@msn.com

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