Nova Scotia Liberals would cut HST if province makes up for $190M shortfall

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HALIFAX — Nova Scotia’s Liberal leader says he would only reduce the harmonized sales tax if the province reaches a surplus that would make up for the $190-million shortfall each percentage point cut in the tax would bring.

Stephen McNeil

Stephen McNeil released his election platform Wednesday, saying he would amend, if necessary, a law the NDP government passed that requires one percentage point cuts to the HST in 2014 and 2015. The tax stands at 15 per cent.

“Our plan is very reasonable, it’s prudent, it’s one that’s costed,” McNeil said in Halifax.

The Liberal platform also promises other measures the party estimates will cost $46.7 million annually over three years. Their commitments include implementing a classroom cap of 20 students for Primary to Grade 2 classes and a cap of 25 students for Grades 3 to 6.

McNeil said his party would reduce departmental spending except for Health and Education by one per cent annually, a cut he says would save Nova Scotia $28 million over three years. He is also promising to slash the number of health boards from 10 to two in a move he estimates would result in $13 million in savings.

“We do not see that there will be any layoffs in the public service other than the things that happen through natural attrition,” he said.

Earlier in the day, the Progressive Conservatives also released their platform for the Oct. 8 election. The document promises to reduce the HST to 13 per cent regardless of the province’s fiscal state, though Tory Leader Jamie Baillie said he would balance the books for the next four years.

Baillie also said a Conservative government would freeze electricity rates for five years.

“No more hikes, no more electric shock when you open your power bills every January,” he told a news conference in Halifax.

The Liberals have suggested Baillie’s plan won’t work in the long run because consumers and businesses will be hit with a big bill for deferred utility costs once the freeze is removed. But Baillie disputed that Wednesday, saying the rising costs faced by Nova Scotia Power to meet renewable energy goals would drop because the Conservatives would delay the deadline for those targets.

Baillie said his party’s commitments, which include reducing the size of the civil service by 10 per cent and cutting the number of health boards to three, would save Nova Scotia $200 million annually. The Tories would also implement a moratorium on rural school closures and set aside money for clinical trials of so-called liberation therapy for multiple sclerosis. They estimate their new program spending would cost $47.8 million in their first full year in office.

The NDP released their platform on Friday, a day before the election was called. In it, the party outlines seven broad commitments that they say would not cost the province more than $34.4 million annually. Those measures including making things like car seats and strollers exempt from the HST and maintaining a balanced budget.

Organizations: NDP, Progressive Conservatives, Nova Scotia Power

Geographic location: Halifax, Nova Scotia

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