The provincial government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to help people and businesses affected by the disruption to work and family life caused by the pandemic.

Today’s report from the province’s acting auditor general Terry Spicer is not a commentary on policy decisions or a performance audit that tracks how much of taxpayer money went out the door or where it ended up. The auditor says that type of performance audit is underway and those facts will be reported early in 2021. Spicer says the goal of today’s report is to highlight the impact COVID-19 has had on the finances of the province itself.

Spending highlights

The province spent $120 million on COVID relief measures last year and projects spending of $460 million for 2020-2021. Here are the highlights as outlined by Chapter 2 of the auditor’s report which you can find at

The province introduced significant COVID-19 relief measures in 2019-20, including:

• Providing Dalhousie University $100 million in 2019-20 to administer COVID-19 relief on the province’s behalf

• Offering $151 million in government loan payment deferrals

• Deferring student loans for six months

The province forecasts significant COVID-19 relief measures for 2020-21, including:

• Municipalities loan program projecting to provide $380 million

• Universities receiving $270 million in cash advances

• Infrastructure stimulus funding of $228 million projected to stimulate the economy

In additional to relief spending, dealing with the COVID-19 virus has put pressures on the entire health system. Costs have increased by an estimated $331 million this year. That includes spending by the IWK Health Centre and the Nova Scotia Health Authority. The Department of Education has also spent more to hire substitutes and beef up online learning, an additional $60 million. Costs at the Department of Business have increased by $46 million.

As previously reported in a fiscal update last summer, the relief afforded through new spending has transformed a projected $55 million surplus next March into a projected $853 million operating deficit — a nearly $1 billion swing to the bottom line.

The auditor-general’s report lists these follow-up questions to consider:

1. What oversight exists to ensure that COVID-19 allocated funds will achieve government’s intended outcomes? 

2. How does the Province intend to fund the spending related to COVID-19?

3. When will the Province release an economic recovery plan?

4. What portion of the Province’s COVID-19 spending is provided directly to individuals and households? 

5. How are undisbursed funds from the $50 million Tourism Sector Financing Assistance program, administered by Dalhousie, to be spent?

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

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