Upcoming provincial budget won't include program cuts or layoffs

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Finance Minister Labi Kousoulis will table his first budget later this month. (CBC - image credit)
Finance Minister Labi Kousoulis will table his first budget later this month. (CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia may be facing a massive pandemic-related deficit but when Finance Minister Labi Kousoulis tables his first budget later this month, it will include no program cuts or staff layoffs.

Although a date has not been finalized for the budget introduction, Kousoulis told reporters on Thursday he's aiming for the week of March 22.

Just before leaving office, former premier Stephen McNeil told reporters the provincial deficit had decreased to about $500 million. While he wouldn't provide details about where things are now, Kousoulis said he's pleased with the province's financial position.

"I'm actually very comfortable with the budget and I'm comfortable with the future of Nova Scotia," he said.

"When you compare us to other provinces across the country, I think many of them would much rather be in the position we're in versus the one they are in."

Cuts would send the wrong message

Kousoulis said the province's strong financial position going into the pandemic has helped it respond better than some areas. Noting that the deficit is not structural, the minister said the upcoming budget would not include program cuts or staff layoffs because it would "push the economy down even further."

"If we started cutting our spending, then that exacerbates the problem we're facing and it sends the wrong message to the private sector," he said.

"We are funding departments to move their programs forward. We're not sitting back and pushing against programs and items that are important to Nova Scotia."

The budget process usually takes two months, but Kousoulis, Premier Iain Rankin and the rest of their team have only had two weeks since being sworn in to put their stamp on the document.

Despite the quick turnaround, the minister said they've been able to incorporate priorities from Rankin's Liberal leadership campaign platform into the budget. Rankin and his leadership rivals, Kousoulis and Randy Delorey, each met with Finance Department officials during the campaign to broadly outline their hopes for the budget, should they become leader and premier.

The budget document will be finalized Friday before going to the office of the auditor general for review, said Kousoulis.

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