Nova Scotia has tabled its final books for fiscal 2017-18, posting a net surplus of $120-million – even after nearly $479-million in extra spending.
The province said Thursday it had registered a surplus of $230-million, but ended up in the net position after putting a one-time payment of $110-million toward the debt of the new Halifax Convention Centre.
Finance Minister Karen Casey said the surplus and extra spending was mainly possible because of higher tax revenue and an offshore petroleum royalties award and equalization from Ottawa.
The additional appropriations were the most registered since then-premier John Hamm’s Tories spent $658.7-million in fiscal 1999-2000.
“We were fortunate to have those awards this year but it’s something you can’t plan for and you can’t spend more than once,” Casey told reporters.
The biggest extra costs included $82-million for the remediation of the Boat Harbour effluent lagoons in Pictou County and nearly $73-million for a trust fund aimed at expanding rural internet service.
The top ups in both cases means the Boat Harbour cleanup originally estimated at $52-million has now ballooned to an estimated $217-million, while the internet trust fund stands at $193-million.
Casey was asked whether the province was building up large surpluses on the backs of a public that has made it clear they want more spent on priority areas such as health and education.
The province said it did spend an extra $14-million to meet rising demand for health care services and higher costs for long-term care.
“Each year there’s been more money going into health care and education,” Casey said before defending how the extra spending was allocated.
“You have one-time spending when you have a prior year adjustment. It would be irresponsible to develop a program that you could only fund for one year, because the next year you might not have that positive prior year adjustment.”
The latest figures indicated the province’s net debt at the end of the year was about $15-billion, although the net debt-to-GDP ratio for 2017-18 was down 1.2 percentage points from the previous year at 34.6 per cent.
Casey said that keeps the province on track towards the goal set out in One Nova Scotia report of 30 per cent by 2024.
Progressive Conservative house leader Chris d’Entremont questioned the Liberal government’s priorities given the large surplus that was registered.
“At the end of the day with $230-million to work with, what other investments could government have done when we are looking at a doctor (shortage) crisis, and looking at education and questioning how we are going to go forward,” d’Entremont said.
NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the figures show the Liberals are continuing to neglect issues around long-term care including new nursing homes and improving the ratio of staff to patients in facilities.
“We could have opened up a lot of nursing homes if we had taken this kind of a surplus and moved it toward this kind of investment,” Burrill said.
The surplus was the second consecutive registered by the Liberal government of Premier Stephen McNeil.
In March the government tabled its 2018-19 budget, which projected a third consecutive surplus of $29.4-million.