By Nancy Kelly
Public feedback continues to be an important and useful tool in the provincial government’s efforts to gets its finances under control.
Finance Minister Maureen MacDonald was in Kentville Nov. 26 to speak at a Annapolis Valley Chamber of Commerce luncheon, where she gave an account of the government’s fiscal plan, the direction it was now going and where the people want them to go.
A one-time resident of eastern Kings County, MacDonald is familiar with the climate of the Valley business community and aware the Annapolis Valley possesses one of the province’s unique, regional economies. As finance minister, MacDonald said one of her priorities is “to ensure government is supportive of these local business communities and do what they require to remain healthy.”
While a “precarious” economic recovery has created challenges for rural areas of the province, MacDonald said the Valley has repeatedly demonstrated as “the bread basket of the province and Maritime region, it is a significant economic engine for the province.”
Now into the final stretch of a four-year mandate, MacDonald conveyed the NDP government is “on track” to fulfill its fiscal plans by staying true to what she referred to as the “three legged stool” formula. By temporarily increasing the provincial tax rate by two per cent, instituting some income tax changes and controlling government spending, MacDonald believes the government has created a balanced approach to managing the province’s $1.4 billion deficit, projected at the outset of the NDP term in 2009.
“Front-end budgeting and living within our means has been important. We wanted no surprises at the end of the (fiscal) year,” said MacDonald.
That is one of the reasons why the NDP ended the practice of end-of-year spending, also known as “March madness.” Instead, government and public sector administrators were tasked with developing budgets and sticking to them.
“People in administrative roles have a responsibility to live within their budgets. I believe that has occurred and I commend people in making the shift.”
The other half of the story of the NDP’s financial planning has been about transitioning to new operational models that balance savings with meeting need, said MacDonald. Using health care as an example, she said the health department adopted a model designed to facilitate faster response times in a team environment.
“It was about being more efficient with the same resources.”
As a former provincial health minister, MacDonald believes she brought a unique perspective on spending to the government’s top finance job.
“Forty per cent of the provincial budget is devoted to health care spending. For a budget to be successful, you have to have full participation from the Minister of Health.”
MacDonald “feels good about” her government’s efforts to meet fiscal targets while keeping health care as a priority. She indicated the government is committed to reducing the provincial sales tax increase over a two-year period and continuing its practice of encouraging public input. As part of her luncheon presentation in Kentville, MacDonald planned to distribute a feedback card that will soon be available on the government website.
“If you have one good idea about keeping the government’s priority to keep Nova Scotians moving forward, we want to hear it,” she said.
“You never know what other good ideas are out there unless you ask.”