A report released Wednesday says it’s possible to be fiscally responsible while also addressing Nova Scotia’s most pressing problems and ensuring no one is left behind.
The alternative budget report was published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Nova Scotia (CCPA-NS) on Wednesday, a week before the Progressive Conservative government tables its March 23 provincial budget.
Released during an online press conference, Nova Scotia Alternative Budget 2023: Leave No One Behind is a collaborative project involving multiple stakeholders ranging from non-profit and frontline service organizations to academics.
Dealing with the province’s health care crisis, addressing social and economic inequalities, transformational climate funding, and spending on the next generation are the alternative budget’s top priorities.
“It really is about ensuring that we hold our government to account for the choices that they do make and that they will make next week,” CCPA-NS director and report co-author Christine Saulnier told reporters.
“Our alternative budget really does raise that bar. It shows what we could expect from them. We could expect them to actually reduce poverty in a very significant way. Including for children, but not just. These are the expectations that we want to lay out in a way that’s very pragmatic.”
‘Fearful of the future’
Describing the alternative budget as the most comprehensive document released by CCPA-NS, Saulnier said it doesn’t stray far from other reports they’ve released over the last year. Those include the Child Poverty Report card released last week (reported here) and the living wage report (reported here).
“The path we have been on for decades has left many of us depleted and even fearful of the future. Generations of young people are trapped under the weight of student debt and are now facing multiple crises: climate, housing, health care, to name a few,” Saulnier said.
“We really can no longer focus on economic growth for growth’s sake. We need to consider who shares in that growth and whether it is beneficial or harmful to human health, our planet, and our well-being as a society.”
Stressing that the province not only can but must implement an alternative vision, Saulnier said governments have long neglected addressing the structural inequalities and systemic inequities that prevent Nova Scotians from reaching their full potential.
Fundamental changes are required to lift everybody up in the province, she told reporters.
“If we don’t move the needle on this, we will stay stuck where we are, which is continually in crisis. And then we maybe solve that, and then we’re into another crisis next time,” Saulnier said.
‘We need to raise our expectations’
Saulnier co-authored the report with Mount Saint Vincent University economics professor James Sawler and the Nova Scotia Alternative Budget Working Group.
She said their alternative budget shows that the province is in a strong economic and fiscal position to address the most pressing problems while also maintaining a fiscally responsible approach.
The alternative budget lays out costs and ways to pay for key expenditures. It includes an additional $1.5 billion in net operating expenditures. Saulnier said while they’d project deficits for the next three years, the debt to GDP ratio remains sustainable and manageable.
“Underestimating Nova Scotia’s fiscal strength is actually common and problematic. Especially when it’s used to justify spending restraint or hide what is possible, thus lowering our expectations,” Saulnier said.
“I say we need to raise our expectations. We know the impact that reducing poverty has on those living it.”
‘Poverty is a political choice’
Alec Stratford, executive director of the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers, also addressed reporters during Wednesday’s report launch.
He described poverty as a “political choice.” He said it’s created by “chosen policy approaches to social welfare” that underfund or refuse to fix inadequate social programs that would bring families and people above the poverty line.
Stratford said the fact poverty has a profound impact on child development is undeniable. He pointed to family income as a key factor in dictating development. He also highlighted the importance of access to supportive services for children and families.
“If we want child and family well-being, as the province of Nova Scotia has indicated, we have to invest in kids and their families, and the alternative budget does just this,” Stratford said.
The alternative budget outlines income supports and significant expenditures in collaborative health care, child care services, post-secondary education, public transportation, and affordable food production and distribution.
‘That future is now’
“I hope you join me over the next month as the budget process unfolds on holding governments to account as to what could be, and to push through the rhetoric that we don’t have enough, we can’t afford it, or these are tough choices,” Stratford said.
“Those are all myths…Together we can create a future in which no one’s left behind, and ensure that we’re not allowing children to wait for some future where they can reach their full potential. That future is now.”
Stratford said besides providing some hope, the alternative budget is a reminder to Nova Scotians that they elect government representatives to serve their interests. He added:
Their primary goal is to make sure that we create systems and structures that work for all of us. The alternative budget represents what that could be. If I were talking to government, particularly this government, I would say that if their goal is to fix health care, as they have been elected on, that a failure to implement the measures in this budget will ensure that they fail in their mandate as well.
We cannot talk about fixing health care without talking about the aberration that is poverty in our province and what that represents to our overall health, our services, and our quality of care that we receive if we do not address income inequality.
It’s been proven time and time again that jurisdictions that have greater economic equality do better in almost every outcome, whether it be health, crime, education, a productive economy. As income inequality grows, it takes us further away from those markers.
Alternative budget offers another vision for health care
Nova Scotia Health Coalition coordinator Alexandra Rose also addressed reporters during Wednesday’s event.
Rose said achieving a quality, equitable, and sustainable health care system must include expenditures in community-based, multidisciplinary, collaborative teams and providing additional support to existing community health centres while spending on new ones.
“(It’s) not by continuing to invest in a patchwork of for-profit delivery methods that are unable to fill the gaps within our system. Private, for-profit services cost more and deliver less,” Rose said.
“This crisis will not be fixed by the provincial government’s continued investment in private, for-profit services and private-public partnerships. We have seen a pattern of increased for-profit clinics as well as private-public partnerships when it comes to our health care infrastructure.”
Rose said the alternative budget offers another vision for the province’s public health care system and a way to fix the crisis that doesn’t include further spending on private, for-profit delivery methods.
“I hope the alternative budget, especially the health care section, is used to make people more aware, especially of privatization. We’ve seen a lot of that in our province,” Rose said.
“There’s a lot of misinformation about it, so hopefully this provides a little bit of clarity to some people. So educate and spread it.”