Premier Iain Rankin applauds Finance and Treasury Board Minister Labi Kousoulis as he gives the budget address in Province House on March 25.

HALIFAX: A local opposition MLA says he doesn’t see the recently tabled budget as bringing Nova Scotia to a fair and prosperous future, or on a path to balance, as the Liberal government claims.

Inverness MLA Allan MacMaster told The Reporter he acknowledged the Rankin government’s first budget included the single largest increase in income assistance in the province’s history, pandemic relief for small businesses and other investments in sectors that will benefit Eastern Nova Scotia and Western Cape Breton, but it wasn’t enough.

“I’m not seeing any solutions for these more serious health-care problems, and for that I’m disappointed,” MacMaster said. “There was nothing more for local roads, and that’s something that matter to a lot of people; its important infrastructure and I know there are a lot of people out there that feel their road should be in a better condition.”

Finance and Treasury Minister Labi Kousoulis tabled the 2021-22 budget in the legislature on March 25 that estimates a deficit of $584.9 million, with revenue of $11.8 billion, and expenses of $12.4 billion.

“Our government strives to improve the lives of all Nova Scotians and defines progress through economic growth, as well as well-being and quality of life,” Kousoulis said. “The province’s next chapter is being written right now and it tells the story of a modern Nova Scotia on the path to balance.”

A media release from the province states the budget will lay a solid foundation for a strong economy in which business can grow, while setting out a path to balance in four years.

“One thing I’m not seeing in the budget, I’m not seeing how revenues are supposed to grow under this government,” MacMaster said. “And that is a concern. If revenues aren’t growing, then it’s going to be a while before the province will get back to having a balanced budget.”

Highlighted in the budget is the largest mental health budget in the province’s history at $336.5 million, including a $12.3-million increase for new programming and $1.5 million to establish the Office of Mental Health and Addictions.

Also featured is $8.6 million to begin a multi-year plan to replace or renovate seven nursing homes and add more than 230 beds across the province by 2025; $26 million for new Green Fund programs to address climate change; $7.6 million for active transportation and public transit; a $2.4-million increase to the Land Titles Initiative to address the legacy of systemic racism relating to land ownership; $46.7 million more for programs that support adults and children with disabilities; and a $15-million increase to support a more inclusive education system for all students.

“In this budget, we’re spending over $700 million this year in interest payments on the debt,” the Progressive Conservative MLA said. “That would have put a lot of people into nursing home beds.”

Capital projects total $1.17 billion and will reach every region of the province.

There is $467 million earmarked for Nova Scotia’s roads, highways and bridges and equipment, including continued construction on Highway 104 from Sutherlands River to Antigonish; funding to purchase the P-3 Antigonish Education Centre; along with upgrades to the Port Hastings Rotary.

A representative with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development advised the renovations at East Antigonish Education Centre are for the previously announced skilled trade facility, while the renovations at École acadienne de Pomquet is to construct the new Centre culturel et communautaire de Pomquet.

Also, the province is set to purchase Antigonish Education Centre, as one of four remaining P-3 schools.