All three parties in Nova Scotia Legislature agree — people need a break

Nova Scotia's opposition parties and the Houston government are on the same page when it comes to Nova Scotians struggling as a result of inflation.

All three parties said it was a major problem and they agreed people need a break. But while the Liberals and the NDP have put forward their suggestions, the governing PCs were not tipping their hand about whether relief is coming in Thursday's budget.

"There will be a large lens on affordability," said Government House Leader Kim Masland on Monday, "so stay tuned."

Surrounded by a slightly reduced caucus at Province House, Liberal Leader Zach Churchill laid out measures he and his team plan to pressure the governing PCs to enact, including:

  • cutting the HST by two percentage points from 15 per cent to 13 per cent.

  • ending so-called bracket creep on income tax rates.

  • indexing social programs to the cost of living.

  • creating a school lunch program.

"Nova Scotia has gone from being one of the most affordable places to live in this country to one of the most expensive,  in the last two years," said Churchill. "We've seen the highest inflationary costs on goods and services, we've had the highest rent increases in the country, power rates have gone up 14 per cent.

"It's never been more expensive to live here in Nova Scotia."

Liberal Leader Zach Churchill (at podium) laid out what he and his team plan to pressure the governing PCs to do.
Liberal Leader Zach Churchill (at podium) laid out what he and his team plan to pressure the governing PCs to do.

Liberal Leader Zach Churchill, at podium, laid out what he and his team plan to pressure the governing PCs to do. (Jean Laroche/CBC News)

NDP Leader Claudia Chender also painted an unflattering picture of the province's economy, speaking to reporters after the Liberal news conference.

"We hear from people across the province that it's becoming more and more challenging," said Chender, who has spent the last few weeks on the road talking to people about housing and their attempts to make ends meet. "Everybody notices the price of groceries, everybody notices at the end of the month that they have less money and we need this government to start to address that as a real issue."

Among the ideas being proposed by NDP:

  • increasing income assistance rates.

  • creating a school food program.

  • eliminating fees for seniors and families on pharmacare.

The legislative sitting, which begins on Tuesday, is expected to focus on choices being made by the Houston government in its third budget. Previous fiscal plans, introduced by Finance Minister Allan MacMaster, have been centred almost exclusively on the PCs key election promise to fix health care.

The PC house leader is hinting this one will be different.

"We'll be looking at affordability measures," said Masland. "We know Nova Scotians are struggling."

The defection last Thursday of Liberal MLA Brendan Maguire to the PCs means 33 people are now sitting on the government side of the House. That leaves 22 opposition members — 15 Liberals, six NDP and one independent.

Maguire, newly appointed community services minister, will take his seat as a PC caucus member in the second row, over the right shoulder of MacMaster, giving him a visible supporting role when the finance minister reads his budget.

Although new to the portfolio, his former opposition seat mates don't plan to go easy on him.

A sometimes harsh critic of the PCs and particularly the premier, Maguire can expect Liberal MLAs to question him about his sudden about-face and heckle him mercilessly about how he used to say the PCs are uncaring and the premier is part of the elite.

Churchill summed up the defection as a simple "quid pro quo" deal — crossing the floor in exchange for a cabinet post.

"It seemed to have been, not a decision based on values or issues, but it seemed to be transactional," said Churchill who suggested Maguire's decision would have no impact on his team's efforts to hold the Houston government to account.

The newly minted cabinet minister should also not expect kid glove treatment at the hands of the NDP.

"He has spent years railing against this government for their inaction," said Chender.  "As far as we're concerned, he's a minister of the Crown, he's absolutely responsible for what that government puts forward and we're going to be looking for big changes [within Community Services] because Nova Scotians are looking for big changes."