HALIFAX – The government of Nova Scotia launched a website Monday encouraging people to offer feedback as it tries to trim its deficit – a move the Opposition said was a “diversion” from the grim economic realities the province faces.
Finance Minister Graham Steele declined to elaborate on what measures the government is considering as it tries to steer its finances back into the black from a projected deficit this year of $319 million.
Instead, Steele announced the launch of a website that allows people to create their own provincial budget. The site encourages users to adjust revenues and expenditures to show what impact their choices would have on the province’s bottom line.
He said the website and upcoming public consultations are a chance for people to come up with new ideas that could be examined as the government prepares next year’s budget, likely to be presented in early April.
He said whichever path it chooses, the government intends to remain on track to balance the budget as promised in 2013.
“The plan is that for every dollar in new revenue there will be between three and four dollars of savings in expenditures,” Steele said. “But that can be efficiencies, it can be reductions in appropriate spots.”
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Steele said the government has rejected implementing “across-the-board” cuts, but added that it would seek savings in areas it deemed appropriate.
“We are still on that plan, but this pre-budget consultation tour is a chance for Nova Scotians to tell us whether that is still what they want us to do with their money or whether they have other ideas,” Steele said.
Liberal finance critic Diana Whalen said she has no problem with the government gathering public input for the budget, but she called the new website a “diversion.”
“There are some urgent questions that need to be asked today about jobs and the economy,” Whalen said. “I think that’s the comments we are going to see at the end of the whole exercise.”
Steele said the website has cost $32,250 to develop and maintain.
The government has already announced a three per cent cut in health spending last month, and the Transportation Department is reviewing snow-clearing operations with the aim of saving about $2 million.
The recent closure of the NewPage Port Hawkesbury paper mill in Cape Breton dealt a blow to the province’s economy, and the pending layoffs at the Bowater Mersey paper mill on the South Shore will do the same. But Steele wouldn’t comment on the specific economic impact those would have on Nova Scotia’s finances.
He said his department was still gathering data that would form the basis of a budget update, expected in mid-December.
The consultations will also involve a series of public meetings that will be held across the province during January and February.