N.S. finance minister says focus on legal weed revenue to balance budget is overblown

Click to play video: 'Education Minister talk Budget 2018'
Education Minister talk Budget 2018
Nova Scotia Finance Minister Karen Casey stops by after tabling the 2018-19 provincial budget – Mar 21, 2018

A day after tabling Nova Scotia’s newest budget, Nova Scotia’s Finance Minister Karen Casey says a focus on the government’s plan to use cash from marijuana sales to help deliver a balanced budget is overblown.

“It’s unfortunate that in a $10-billion budget somebody is grabbing onto a $10-million projected revenue … We don’t know what the revenue is going to be and that’s the challenge. We don’t know what consumption is going to be and that’s also a challenge,” Casey told Global News Wednesday.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia’s 2018 budget projects $29.4M surplus boosted by cannabis sales

Tuesday’s budget had projected a $29.4-million surplus on a $10.8-billion budget with a chunk of the estimated surplus — roughly $20.8 million in fresh taxes and duties from projected sales of about 12 million grams of recreational cannabis — depends on Ottawa getting the legalized marijuana system underway across the country.

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Casey said that the province is not looking to make money from cannabis sales.

“We put the projection in there because we recognize that there will be a shift from the illegal market to the legal market,” she said.

Casey responded to complaints raised by the opposition and Nova Scotia General Employees Union (NSGEU) about a severe backlog of ambulances at the province’s hospitals.

According to NSGEU president Jason MacLean, on March 12 at least 12 ambulances were forced to wait hours at the Halifax Infirmary emergency room to deliver their patients.

READ MORE: Halifax Infirmary emergency department has reached ‘dangerous tipping point’

Casey says new funding in the budget for health care — an additional$103 million over the previous budget — was not a reaction to the complaints, but rather a response to something they’ve heard in consultations with doctors and citizens.

“We know that the lineup of ambulances is a symptom of the need within hospitals to transfer patients effectively and efficiently,” Casey said.

“What this is looking at is improving Nova Scotians access to a family doctor… we have, in this budget, put some incentives to retain and attract doctors.”

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The province has committed nearly $40 million to a multi-year plan to recruit and retain more doctors, with a $150 bonus for every new patient that a doctor takes on who was on the province’s wait list.

The budget projects a $15.1-billion debt, about $15,851 per resident of the province. However, that represents a steady decline in the debt relative to gross domestic product.

That’s down two percentage points from last year to 36 per cent of GDP, causing Casey to comment, “We are a stronger province and we are in a positive financial position.”

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