I am listening

Darrell Cole
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Finance minister brings Back to Balance hearings to town

I am listening

AMHERST - Graham Steele is not going to turn a deaf ear to taxation concerns raised in Amherst and Cumberland County.
The finance minister took his Back to Balance tour to Amherst last night, the 14th of 18 stops in the province, and heard loud and clear worries people have hear about a proposed two per cent hike in the HST.
"We're very conscious of the border issues and I want to make sure we have the right information. If there's issues that can be dealt with, we'll deal with them," the minister said.
"The cross-border issue has been going on for a long time and it's not any one item. I'm not about to say we can change the tide on cross-border shopping, but what I can say is we're going to try awfully hard not to make it worse."
During the meeting, attended by more than 100 people, the minister asked for a show of hands with two-thirds of those in attendance indicating they are against increasing the HST.
Steele said that goes against what he's hearing in the rest of the province, but added he understands how complex the issue is here.
Following a number of group discussions, several suggestions were made on how to balance the budget with streamlining government operations and reducing the number of school boards, health boards and municipal units among the most popular.
Others suggested increasing personal income tax instead of the HST while reducing the number of universities and rationalizing the post-secondary system was another popular suggestion. It was also suggested the province place tolls on all the 100-series highways to fund maintenance and construction.
Among the things Steele has heard from Nova Scotians is a general acceptance that the deficit problem can't be solved in a year or two while he has also heard most are in favour of an increase in the HST.
"People understand it wouldn't be advisable to bring things back to balance too quickly, but they also understand you can't run deficits forever," he said. "A consensus is emerging that three to five years is about the right time frame for coming back to balance."
Another show of hands indicated most at last night's meeting feel balancing the budget is something that should be accomplished within five years, although there were several who feel it's a 10 or 20-year commitment.
Steele said the province is on an unsustainable economic path and if nothing changes Nova Scotians could ultimately end up paying a very high price.
"We're in for some very big deficits that weakens the government," Steele said. "The thing is there is not just one path forward. That's what I want to hear from Nova Scotians - what path is most acceptable or least objectionable to them."
The minister said the format used to gather input and the response from those who have participated has been very positive. The tour is more than most can remember being done and the turnout at every session has been very strong.
"People are very engaged in the process," he said. "People want to take part in moving forward."
Steele said it's important the province act on its debt because the longer it puts the issue on the backburner the less chance it will have to deal with a budget item that at $1 billion is only surpassed by health and education.
"It's slowly and steadily going to crowd out everything else. If I run deficits every year the choices we have as a province would run out in 10 or 20 years," Steele said. "We should not expect our children to make decisions we are not prepared to make ourselves."

Geographic location: AMHERST, Cumberland County

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Recent comments

  • Darell
    February 24, 2010 - 23:46

    I think if we really need more money it's time to seek or push federal funds for the province. Is this not a posibility?

  • HB
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    @Rick - The problem with bonds is that it's still debt. Just shifting the debt from one creditor to another, similar to paying off your credit card with a line of credit. You still owe the money, except this time it's to NS residents.

    It's important to note that while Mr. Steele liked to paint the deficit at 1.4 billion, that's actually not the case. That's only what happens if things continue on as they are, i.e. they keep increasing spending. As of right now, and if they stop increasing spending, the deficit is actually 700 million. That's not to say they stop spending, just stop increasing spending. A 700 million deficit is not that difficult to reduce through some restraint on spending and efficiency gains in bureaucratic levels of government. A few less MLAs, elimination of non-productive departments, amalgamation of other departments that are duplicating services, elimination of waste and reduction in government in general would probably get us most if not all of the way there.

    The reason Mr. Steele is painting this gloom and doom picture of our finances is so that it makes it easier to swallow a 2% increase in the HST, which he appears to be hell bent on implementing. This little show is just a way of softening people up.

  • Melanie
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    If you were unable to make the meeting last night, I suggest seeing the presentation Minister Steele made online at:


    This was a great presentation and there were some great discussions had last night!

  • Rick
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Reading the article gives me the impression that the public meeting and Minister Graham Steele focused more on the annual operating budget and bringing it back to 'Balance'. Yes, this is important and good management of funding and resources will inevitably produce positive results.

    The deficit that worries me the most is the 12 Billion that has been growing for the past several years and will continue to grow if immediate action is not taken to pay it off. The interest payments alone are sufficient enough to create hundreds of jobs and construction projects for schools, etc. Whether the citizens are prepared or not, it is time for a fast money river to start flowing into the provincial treasury, dedicated specifically to pay down the 12 Billion Dollar Debt.

    If the decisions rendered by our NDP government are going to be based upon politics and re-election issues then the job will not get done. Kissing butt will not remedy our financial deficits.

    During WWII governments issued War Bonds for the citizens to purchase. The money raised was dedicated to the war effort. Perhaps Bonds could once again be sold to the public to raise funds for eliminating our 12 Billion Dollar deficit.

    Good Luck Minister Steele!

  • WTH?
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    The rest of the province is in favor of a tax hike? What kind of snake oil is this guy trying to sell us! I don't believe for one second that the majority of the people of Nova Scotia are good with an increase in HST, and the only way anybody would ever convince me otherwise is to hold a plebiscite and prove it.

    I don't know whether to be more pi$$ed off over the BS spewing out of his mouth or the fact that he thinks we're so backward and gullible that we'd believe it!

    • John Webster
      February 25, 2010 - 13:05

      WHT? - Just read the online reports from previous meetings held across the province. They are available at www.gov.ns.ca/finance/backtobalance. You'll see that most people are in favor of a HST hike. You and other people need to realize that we pay for the services we get. The only way the government is going to reduce taxes is if we tell Mr. Steele and others to reduce spending OUR money. Is that what you want? If so, let him know or stop complaining. You can't have it both ways.

  • Greg
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    I had planned to attend but due to family commitments I was unable. I am very happy to see that there was a strong turnout, and it appears that Mr Steele understands that Amherst and surrounding areas face issues that are very different from the rest of the Province. I just hope he can see that it is not going to be effective to paint the whole Province with the same brush, and that our region is going to need some special tools to survive. Now we wait and see what happens next!

  • Fuzzy
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Lets start by saying we heard many proposals in last nights meeting but basically it boiled down to Mr. Steel trying to sell an HST increase.
    Before all of you get on this wagon as the only alternative I'd like some of you who may not be in the know to do a bit of research using Google as I did.
    Using Google... type in Nova Scotia Governmental Departments. You will then see in the first finding is a Government Directory of the 19 Gov. Departments and an alphabetical listing of the 104 Agencies that report to them. Once you open that you can click on to any of these departments or agencies and go directly to their website. That will give you a source of extremely valuable information about how big and out of control our provincial government has become. I will bore you for a moment with a few that I personally consider to be extremely frivolous and wasteful especially when we are in the financial state we are in.
    There is a a Sydney Tar Ponds Agency listed that I decided to review. I found there were 2 P. Eng.'s, 6 Managers, 2 Officers, 1 OH& S expert, 3 Directors, 1 Supervisor, 1 Administrator, 1 Finance, 3 Administration Assistants and 1 Co-ordinator for a total staff of 22. What I was able to find in the short time I spent looking was that they have a budget of over $120 million given to them by the provincial gov and another $180 mil from the feds. All this expense to monitor a pond full of sludge and toxic waste. Put a BIG FENCE around it and seal it till we get our finances under control and then address it. I just saved $120 million. Twenty two people in one agency to monitor this...unbelievable and if you check the employees pictures on this site I can safety bet over 50% of them will never be out around the sludge ponds getting their hands dirty.
    I won't bore you anymore with details but did you know we do have a Acadian Affairs Agency, Gaelic Affairs Agency *lol*, 2 Nova Scotia Gaming Agencies (?), A Queens Printer Agency *a what?...now we know where Mr Steele's Pamphlets came from*, and finally the Voluntary Planning board..if it's voluntary why do we need a board. How many people and how many tax dollars is hidden here? If NS is a cake then someone convince me that we do not have too much frosting on it! I am quite sure there could easily be another 5 to 10 million a year saved by eliminating these agencies.
    To those who will be affected I am sorry but tough times demand tough measures. And I also know it will mean unemployment will increase, it will mean some of us will lose agencies we have been dealing with, and yes it mean an financial impact to people and communities. However GM and Ford made thousands of these decisions when the economy went bad and they had to do their massive layoffs to taxpayers. But all throughout this recession our Gov. trudged on to where we are today!
    If this is our provincial boondoggle can you just imagine whats up there in Ottawa??