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Nova Scotia budget to target key areas such as health care:finance minister

Nova Scotia Finance Minister Karen Casey arrives to brief reporters before she tables her budget at the legislature in Halifax on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia will table its fourth consecutive balanced budget Tuesday with room to spend in key areas including health care, says Finance Minister Karen Casey. 

In an interview Monday, Casey said the government’s past fiscal prudence has put it in a position to fund areas that are important to Nova Scotians.

She added there’s no question “health care is one of them.”

“If you look back to our capital plan and to this operating budget we have recognized that there are things that have to be done in the health care system and we are prepared to put our money there,” said Casey.

The Liberal government announced its largest capital plan since coming to power earlier this month, budgeting $691.3 million for hospitals, schools and highways in 2019-20.

The expenditures include $156.9-million for redevelopment of the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax and design work for new health-care facilities in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

Casey didn’t reveal details, but hinted there would also be more money for areas of the health budget like mental health and long-term care.

“We know that mental health is a priority for Nova Scotians, we recognize that,” she said. “A lot of those things that have been identified are things that we’ve recognized and we want to be able to fund those.”

Nova Scotia has been plagued by problems in its health care system from a shortage of family doctors to emergency room overcrowding and closures.

On Monday, the Nova Scotia Nurses Union called a news conference to say that its membership is “fed up” with the pressures affecting care in the province’s emergency departments.

Union president Janet Hazelton said the budget needs to include measures to improve primary care and to address problems in acute care including more beds.

“We have five busy, busy ERs,” she said. “If this is a chronic issue and every night there are people waiting, well then that tells me we need to increase the beds.”

On other fronts, Casey said the budget would also see increases for education and would focus on creating the conditions for economic growth while helping communities and people who are “less fortunate and vulnerable.”

She said the fiscal plan will be based on “modest assumptions” made with the best economic data available.

“It’s making sure that we watch the funding closely, manage the spending carefully and have a little bit on the right side of the balance sheet.”

In a December update of the 2018-19 budget, Casey warned the province’s projected budget surplus was being chipped away by falling income tax revenue and the rising cost of health care and ferry service subsidies.

Last week the province announced it would provide another $13.8 million to private operator Bay Ferries for its 2019-20 sailing season operations between Yarmouth, N.S. and Bar Harbor, Maine.

The figure is an increase over the $10.9 million spent on operations for the ferry’s 2018 season.

The Canadian Press