“It’s only been a few months since the election, but today’s budget shows us just how out of touch Tim Houston has become with the struggles people are facing to make ends meet,” said NDP Leader Gary Burrill. “It is simply alarming that there is nothing to help families deal with the rising cost of the necessities of life.” (Click here to read the Tueday’s article with a breakdown of the budget).

Although families will see an increase in the Nova Scotia Child Benefit of approximately $300-$400 a year, income assistance cheques were frozen for thousands struggling to pay higher costs for food and fuel. Instead, food banks will get more money.

“There are good things about this budget, like continuing with the Innovation Rebate Program our government created, and more money for recipients of the province’s child benefit program”, said Liberal leader Iain Rankin. “But to call this a ‘compassionate budget’ when it does nothing to protect the wallets of most Nova Scotians, is a complete misnomer.”

While the NDP praised the government for committing to hire more caregivers for residents in long-term care homes, the New Democrats were disappointed there wasn’t more action on mental health.

“Tim Houston promised that there would be universal access to mental health care, but today’s budget breaks that promise. We see no action on access to same-day/next-day mental health,” said Lisa Lachance, MLA for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island and NDP Mental Health and Addictions spokesperson.

A woman with a wavy bob haircut, dark rim glasses, wearing a denim jacket.
Lisa Lachance, MLA Halifax Citadel-Sable Island.

Both the Nova Scotia branch of Canadian Mental Health Association and the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers were hoping to see much bigger investments in mental health, as much as 10% of health spending, as recommended by World Health Organization. Instead of a $230-million investment — or even the $110 million for universal mental health care Tim Houston promised during the election campaign — the 2022 budget appears to contain only $20 million for mental health and treatment of addictions.

“That is not what the premier ran on,” said Alec Stratford, executive director of the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers. Stratford said he’s pleased to see the hiring of additional staff for community mental health clinics and increased access to “virtual” mental health services but added, “If the premier truly values the mental health of Nova Scotians, that money needs to flow and we didn’t see that today.”

Man in jacket and shirt, in a hallway smiling
Alec Stratford, executive director of the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers. Photo: Nova Scotia College of Social Workers

Stratford’s colleagues at the Nova Scotia branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association are also concerned the PC government didn’t allocate enough money to improve what social workers call the “social determinants of health.” These are basics such as a roof over your head and enough money to pay for food and electricity. An increase to the Nova Scotia Child Benefit is good, but an increase to income assistance rates would be better. According to Stratford, $50 million to build affordable housing this year and $17 million to help the homeless barely scratch the surface of the size of investment in co-op, non-profit, and public housing needed to make rent affordable for hundreds of thousands of Nova Scotians.

“Putting more high-end condos on the market doesn’t deal with the deep need for affordable housing”, said Stratford. “If ‘affordable’ is defined as no more than 30% of your income, for someone working full time for minimum wage, that’s rent of about $600 a month and we haven’t seen any proposed housing to meet that threshold.”

Stratford estimates it would take government investment in the range of $500 million a year over 10 years to adequately respond to the housing crisis.

Reaction from doctors, teachers, business groups

“We were happy to see a continued focus on the recruitment of all health care professionals, not only doctors”, said Alana Patterson, director of Physician Compensation/Practice Support at Doctors Nova Scotia. “It’s a highly competitive market and so a continuing effort is essential. Today we know 25% of our family doctors and 23% of our specialists are over the age of 60, so we have pressing needs right now, which will continue into the future.”

A row of school buses in a parking lot.
School buses are seen in the parking lot of a hockey arena in Dartmouth on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

“The NSTU is encouraged that public education funding levels are being maintained and that an additional $15 million is being invested to support inclusive education — something the teachers union requested in pre-budget consultations,” states a news release issued by the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU). However, NSTU president Paul Wozney said the budget fails to address the growing need for more substitute teachers to ease the strain on teachers burnt out after two years of adaptation and concerns associated with their students and their own health and safety.

“Many teachers have not had adequate prep time since December, because their days are spent moving from class to class filling in for people who are sick. Urgent investment is needed to recruit and retain teachers, including better pay for subs,” Wozney said.

A balding man with glasses wearing a pale blue shirt with blue tie
Patrick Sullivan, CEO of Halifax Chamber of Commerce.

Patrick Sullivan, CEO of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, applauds the Houston government’s $35 million investment in developing thousands more housing units in nine areas of the HRM. More housing of all types is needed to catch up with the population growth, Sullivan said, and funding for the Halifax Stanfield International Airport that will help it attract more domestic flights is also a good thing. Sullivan said the continued growth in the province’s revenues should support additional investments in health care, although he isn’t convinced the additional $142-million earmarked for nursing homes will be “transformative” unless more beds/places are found. He said he worries new tax measures in the budget that will impose higher costs on people moving to Nova Scotia or on non-residents who already own summer homes and property could have a negative impact.

“Anything that discourages investment in Nova Scotia is a worry for the Chamber of Commerce and I think that discourages investment,” Sullivan said. “I don’t know that is going to be a significant contributor to making more housing available or increasing tax revenue”.

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Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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