HALIFAX - The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Nova Scotia released its ‘alternative budget’ today. The NS Alternative Budget Working Group, which is comprised of a coalition of academics and community representatives, developed an alternative budget that positions Nova Scotia to achieve greater social and economic equality, create a greener economy, and thus a more sustainable and healthy province.
According to Christine Saulnier, Director of CCPA-NS and Chair of the working group: “We need to have real democratic debate and dialogue in this province about balancing short-term crisis management, with long term crisis prevention. We need to get to a place where the focus is on getting at the root causes of the problems and sustainable solutions.” Instead, citizens are being told that the main role of government is to balance budgets. The government does have a responsibility to implement a debt management plan, but it must be one that is reasonable given its other responsibilities. During this economic recession the government has a big role to play –one that ensures that the recession is not prolonged and that its effects are alleviated as much as possible.
According to Economist and working group member Angella MacEwen, “As it stands there is no fiscal crisis and the debt is manageable and justified as is the current deficit. The government’s debt-to-GDP ratio does not justify making debt payments at the expense of adequately funding health, education and other social services.” Alarming the public over the deficit and debt detracts from discussions about what policies and programs the government should be pursuing in the best interests of Nova Scotians.
Nova Scotia needs a thriving, robust society, which requires a well-educated workforce. However, as pointed out by the working group member and Chair of the Canadian Federation of Students for Nova Scotia, Kaley Kennedy: “Straddling students with some of the highest debts in the country, while offering them some of the lowest wages, is an unsustainable approach.” As more people lose their jobs and seek re-training, a strong community college system will be important in stimulating the economy and ensuring long-term economic stability. It would cost the government $18 million dollars to eliminate college tuition in this province as is recommended in the Alternative Budget. In the end university tuition fees also need to be reduced – needs-based grants can be increased as a targeted measure to begin addressing this problem. “These priorities would create a steady flow of educated workers who are not battling large student debts and might consider remaining in the province even after the recovery when higher-paying jobs are plentiful elsewhere,” says Kennedy.
Success in post-secondary education and in the workforce also hinges on the foundations laid in the primary to grade twelve (p-12) school system as well as the early years (0-5 years of age). The P-12 system needs more funding to even maintain services let alone enhance them. With licensed child care spaces for only 10% of those who need them, a 50% staff turnover rate, and unaffordable fees for a majority of parents - clearly, child care is in crisis.
The Alternative Budget increases the education budget beyond what is needed to simply meet higher annual costs to pay for basic operational requirements. It also prioritizes creating more licensed spaces and more not-for-profit centres, phases in universal funding, and improves the wages of workers –some of the lowest paid workers in our province.
“Because the PC government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy fell short, what is needed is bold action if we are going to see real improvements,” says Christine Saulnier . “We call for a 30% increase in income assistance rates and a decrease in the claw-back of wages for those on assistance. With current rates falling far below the poverty line, this is a question of paying for the basics. The most effective strategy for breaking the cycle of poverty is providing enough resources for people to regain their dignity and confidence.”
The Ecology Action Centre’s Energy Coordinator and working group member, Cheryl Ratchford outlines the purpose of an alternative agenda that prioritizes environmental sustainability: “Instead of aspiring to be a conduit for imported consumer goods and an exporter of dirty energy as with the Atlantica agenda, the ‘Alternative Budget’ prioritizes innovative smart policies, which focus on greening our grid, research and development into clean energy options and sustainable transportation.”
As a blueprint for change, this Alternative Budget outlines the benefits of acting on these and other issues now.
The report, Nova Scotia Alternative Budget 2009: Responding to the Crisis, Building for the Future, can be downloaded for free from the website: www.policyalternatives.ca
For media interviews, contact Christine Saulnier, Nova Scotia Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Chair, NS Alternative Budget Working Group, at 477-1252 or 240-0926 (cellphone). Other members of CCPA-NS and the working group can be reached as follows to do interviews: Angella MacEwen 482-5355, Mike Bradfield 423-7706 and Andrew Biro (902) 585-1925.