Liberal budget trying to make up for past mistakes, says opposition

Premier Stephen McNeil says it's about following a plan, while opposition leaders say it's about trying to make amends.

Whichever way you cut it, Thursday's budget was notable for certain funding promises in areas that have caused the Liberals grief in the past.

Decisions related to the film industry, seniors pharmacare, long-term care homes and education have all sparked protests the Liberals have had to address during their mandate. On Thursday, all of those areas were highlighted in the budget.

Increases in areas once cut

There is a $12.8-million increase for the film industry, bringing the level of support for the year to $22.8 million. There's $7.9 million for seniors pharmacare, which will allow rates to stay the same as drug costs and system usage increase. And there's $3.2 million in targeted increases for the food and recreation budgets for residents in long-term care homes.

The three areas are linked because at some point in the last 3½ years, the Grits either cut or thought about cutting funding from them.

McNeil downplayed that connection Thursday. His government has put money into programs as they've been able to, he said, and this year is no different.

'Part of the long-term plan'

"These announcements today and the ones that were part of our government have been part of the long-term plan of making sure that we could make life more affordable for Nova Scotians [while] at the same time improving the infrastructure and programs Nova Scotians rely on," he told reporters.

Tory Leader Jamie Baillie had a different view.

"All we got was basically damage control about all the mistakes they made in the last 3½ years," he said, drawing particular attention to the fact funding for the film industry is now almost the same as it was before the film tax credit was replaced in 2015.

Lots of boosts for education

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the very fact the government is putting more money toward food and recreation in long-term care homes suggests they saw a problem with the previous funding levels.

Education was front and centre for the Liberals in the last year as they eventually imposed a contract on public school teachers and faced a tidal wave of criticism about increasingly challenging classroom conditions and not enough support for students.

Thursday's budget includes money for new school psychologists and speech-language pathologists, 30 new early learning centres, more apprenticeship programs and mental health support, further expansion of reading recovery programs and a provincewide breakfast program.

Budget items 'could' help

Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Liette Doucet said the items in the budget could make things better for students and teachers, but she's still waiting to see a final report expected Friday from the council on classroom conditions. 

She noted there's no guarantee the promises will hold up if an election is called before the budget is passed and none of it changes the fact help should have come much sooner, she said.