December 24, 2015 11:28 am

Balancing budget this year ‘more challenging’: McNeil

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil speaks with Global's Marieke Walsh in a year-end interview on December 22, 2015.

Alexa MacLean / Global News

HALIFAX – Premier Stephen McNeil says his goal is to get Nova Scotia’s books out of the red before the next election, however, it’s unlikely to happen in the next budget.

In a year-end interview with Global News, McNeil said balancing the books this year will be “more challenging.” However, he’s not ruling it out. “We’ll see… there’s no question that’s in a difficult position.”

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Last year’s budget projected a small surplus in 2016-17, however December’s update showed the province had dipped deeper into the red than expected. The deficit is more than double what was projected in April and sits at $241.2 million.

READ MORE: ‘Nobody wins’: Financial forecast shows increasing deficit, overspending by 8 departments

The point of trying to rein in government expenditures is so the Liberals “have the ability to make strategic investments,” McNeil said. “Even with all the decisions we made last spring we were still $100 million in deficit, which we now know is over $240 (million).”

Building a new hospital in Halifax to replace the beleaguered Victoria General Hospital is top of mind when McNeil looks at where more money is needed.

“We want to be able to invest in a new hospital. It’s not a question of whether we will or not, we have to.”

McNeil said his government has tried to cut strategically, and at the same time invested in programs that he thinks are the most important. As examples, he says his government is spending $44 million in home care and hiring 350 more teachers.

“Could we have gotten to balance this year? Sure, but it would have been a whole lot more painful, and its not what I believe is good government,” McNeil said. “Good government is strategically getting ourselves back to a level of balance and at the same time making sure we shore up and secure those programs that we expect to have.”

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