The rising cost of living and health care will be top of the agenda for Nova Scotia’s opposition parties when the legislature returns for its spring sitting on Thursday.
During a news conference Tuesday, Gary Burrill, leader of the third-party NDP, pointed out that Nova Scotians are seeing costs rise on everything from gasoline and home heating to housing and groceries.
“People are in a moment when they are looking to their government to do everything it can to improve the security of their financial situations,” said Burrill.
He said the lifting of the ban on so-called renovictions when the province’s state of emergency expired on Monday along with the pending cessation of the paid sick leave program at the end of the month is only adding to the hardships people are experiencing.
“The government is out of touch from the intensifying financial pressures related to the escalation in the cost of living,” he said.
The Progressive Conservative government has promised some relief, but is yet to announce what measures it will take.
Following a March 10 cabinet meeting, Finance Minister Allan MacMaster said the government was “close” to determining what kind of help it could offer to assist people with the cost of living.
“We want to target those most in need using existing programs if we can,” MacMaster said. “We want it to happen quickly and we want it to be meaningful.”
Meanwhile, Burrill also highlighted a proposed 10 per cent rate hike by Nova Scotia Power, saying his party would introduce several pieces of legislation aimed at the utility during the sitting. He said the idea is to assist Nova Scotians who struggle with some of the highest power bills in the country.
The first NDP bill would revise the regulatory powers of the Utility and Review Board to give it the authority to address rate affordability for lower-income residential customers.
In an interview, Liberal Leader Iain Rankin also said the effects of inflation would be a main focus of the official Opposition.
“We will be pressuring for investments for Nova Scotians, especially those who need it most,” said Rankin.
He said his party will also hold the government to account on its promise to pump over $400 million into the province’s ailing health system.
Rankin said he expected to see significant health spending in the budget, anticipated soon after the sitting begins.
“Health care is what they promised to fix and we haven’t seen outcome improvements yet,” said Rankin.
In his December fiscal update, MacMaster said the government was in a surplus position of $108 million for the 2021-22 year thanks to one-time tax revenue boosts and a stronger-than-expected economy due to the province’s response to COVID-19.
However, Premier Tim Houston warned on Monday that the books won’t remain on the plus side of the ledger for the near future as the government moves to bolster areas such as health care.
“During the (election) campaign, I was pretty clear that Nova Scotia is facing deficits and significant deficits for a couple of years,” said Houston. “I think our first budget will be consistent with that messaging.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2022.