Last week the Nova Scotia Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released the 2010 Nova Scotia Alternative Budget.
The Nova Scotia Alternative Budget is a policy tool presented to the public and all political parties to read, think about, and use as they can. It presents alternative ways to govern the province and its finances. Ways which will lead, not only to economic prosperity, but also to securing basic needs for Nova Scotians.
The thing that makes the Alternative Budget so alternative is its focus on people being the economic drivers of society, rather than the free market. From this premise we argue that taxpayer money should be reinvested in the people, rather than the in free market. The Alternative Budget does present a deviation from the status quo way of doing things. But that’s what we are all looking for… right?
If we look at the deficit beyond the ballooning social expenditures, we see hundreds of millions of dollars be loaned and given to private, transnational corporations, with the promise of economic growth to follow.
So have we grown? Are we prosperous?
After 10 years of surpluses, instead of finding Nova Scotia prepared for the current economic, political and social storms (the recession & the “age-quake” to name two off the top of my head) we find Nova Scotia in an extremely difficult situation. The Government says it is going to bring Nova Scotia’s finances “Back to Balance” in the next few years, but it must not stop at finances.
We need to bring the whole province Back to Balance… we need to balance investments in the private sector with direct investments in our communities… we need to balance our urban consumption with our rural production… and most importantly, we need to balance the needs of Nova Scotians with all of our other financial pressures.
What often gets lost in a discussion about the government’s finances is that at the end of every single one of our social expenditures is both a job and need. Our social deficit is expressed in our program expenditures, mostly in health, justice and community services. This is where we see the costs of the status quo way of doing things. If we make strategic investments in the social elements which influence the amount of money we spend in these Departments, we will reduce the amount of money we have to spend in them.
The Finance Minister, and many others, are sceptical of the actual returns we get from social investments. They say the research doesn’t exist to support this “alternative” model of governance, and that it has failed in other jurisdictions.
This scepticism, however, is never taken with risky business investments and public-private partnerships which are unmonitored, unregulated and operate on profit-motivation rather than human compassion and cultural values. While the government is willing to invest taxpayer money in risky business ventures, it is much less willing to take the risk of investing money in new initiatives in health care, education, and communities. They say that investing in the free market is a much more sound approach to growing the economy and securing Nova Scotia’s prosperity. And that ultimately, service delivery is too costly for the government and best left in the hands of the private sector.
This is the approach government takes with our education, with our natural resources, with our long-term care facilities, with our housing, and more and more, with our health care. Our government hands over exorbitant sums of money to the private sector to carry out their mandate to the people with no types of accountability or evaluations in place to see whether or not those investments and loans have meant a significant difference in the lives of Nova Scotians, and even in the government’s financial statements. This is the status quo and this is one of the practices the CCPA-NS would like to see curbed.
Because the private sector begins and ends with profits, not people.
All of Nova Scotia’s programs and services should be guided by a fluid, integrative and focused provincial strategy which is relevant and beneficial to the actual functioning of our communities and our citizens, rather than trying to “pick winners” among private interests and enterprises.
So what is the plan for the province? One year into a majority mandate and there has been no vision, no strategy presented, no plan in place to secure Nova Scotia’s future.
The status quo is, indeed, not an option, but it is likely what we will get when the budget drops on April 6.