McNeil government's March spending commitments top $65M

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McNeil government's March spending commitments top $65M

After telling teachers the province was in such dire financial straits he had to impose a contract on them, Premier Stephen McNeil is now defending millions of dollars in spending commitments his government made last month.

In March, there were 42 funding announcements by McNeil, his cabinet colleagues and backbench Liberals totaling $65 million. The announcements include money from Ottawa for various housing projects and an ongoing electronic health record initiative. 

"This is good fiscal management that allows us to plan for the next three or four years," McNeil said when asked about the amount of money his government was committing.

In February, the Liberal government passed legislation to impose a contract on the province's 9,000 teachers, after two previous tentative deals were rejected by union membership. McNeil had argued throughout the contract dispute that the province could not afford more than it was offering.

'Important pieces for communities'

The March funding announcements are fuelling talk that a provincial election will soon be called, speculation McNeil has dismissed.

The premier said his government's belt-tightening over the first three years of its mandate has put the province in a position to invest in the infrastructure and programs "Nova Scotians have told us they want."

"Nova Scotians have worked with the government to get into a point of fiscal health so that we can make the kind of strategic investments," he said. "As well as in some community infrastructure that we've been investing in. These are important pieces for communities and we just happen to be making these announcements at this time."

Those investments include:

- $13.6 million dollars for Nova Scotia's Action Plan for an Aging Population.

- $7.1 million over the next two years to put electronic public health system online.

- $7.5 million for home energy efficiency programs aimed at Mi'kmaq communities, renters and low income families.

- $7.8 million increase in funding for three federal-provincial affordable housing programs.

- $1 million for renovations to Lunenburg Academy.

- $1 million for Special Olympics in Antigonish.

'They're hypocrites,' says Jamie Baillie

The leader of the Official Opposition, Progressive Conservative Jamie Baillie, called it crass electioneering.

"They're hypocrites," he said. "They spent three years telling us there's no money for anything and now they're spending money like it's going out of style. Clearly they're trying to buy their way to re-election."

The leader of the NDP, Gary Burrill, offered a similarly harsh assessment.

"There's been a funding announcement about every 15 minutes for the last three weeks," he said. "I think it's hurtful and gross to have endless amount of money for all kinds of things in an election run-up when they haven't had anything for anybody for three and a half years."

​The amount of year-end spending this year eclipses previous March expenditures by the McNeil Liberals.

Last year was the previous high of $45.6 million, in large part because of a $32.7 million investment in the new Yarmouth-to-Maine ferry. 

In 2015, the McNeil government announced a meager $4 million worth of spending. During March 2014, the Liberals made $15.6 million in announcements.