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Nova Scotia releases largest-ever capital budget at over $1.5 billion

HALIFAX — Spending for hospitals, schools and roads in Nova Scotia is poised to hit its highest level at $1.5 billion for the 2022-23 fiscal year.
Nova Scotia Finance Minister Allan MacMaster provides an update on Budget 2021-22 in Halifax on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. Nova Scotia’s Progressive Conservative government is proposing the province’s largest ever capital budget with over $1.5-billion in spending for hospitals, schools and roads for 2022-23. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

HALIFAX — Spending for hospitals, schools and roads in Nova Scotia is poised to hit its highest level at $1.5 billion for the 2022-23 fiscal year.

The capital budget released Wednesday by Finance Minister Allan MacMaster has the province's building plan topping the $1-billion mark for the third consecutive year.

The plan, which is subject to the legislature's adoption of the yet-to-be-tabled 2022-23 provincial budget, is highlighted by $464.6 million for ongoing hospital redevelopment projects in Halifax and Sydney. That funding envelope is a large increase compared with last year, when the two projects received $178.2 million.

“This (plan) will ensure Nova Scotians have greater access to modern hospitals and medical equipment, schools, highways and other improved infrastructure,” MacMaster told reporters. “We have been clear from Day 1 that our government is committed to addressing health-care issues. Health and wellness funding in this year’s plan is $629.5 million.”

MacMaster said there is also $122.6 million for the construction and repair of hospitals and other medical facilities in Pugwash, Bridgewater and Yarmouth, as well as $32 million to replace medical equipment.

Finance officials did not give a funding breakdown for the two hospital redevelopments in Halifax and Sydney, saying both projects are in various stages of tendering and construction.

The capital spending plan includes money for the estimated $2-billion redevelopment of the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax. The province is planning to construct a new outpatient facility in Bayers Lake and a parkade facility and administration building near the Halifax Infirmary hospital site.

The more than $100-million Cape Breton Regional Hospital project will receive funding for initiatives including the expansion of the facility’s cancer centre.

“Those (projects) are really generational builds,” MacMaster said. “It’s intimidating to look at the price of these developments, but the investments need to be made.”

The budget includes $175.3 million to build and renovate 15 schools and $80.9 million to continue work at Nova Scotia Community College’s Marconi campus in Sydney and to start construction on new residences at two of the college’s campuses in Dartmouth and one in Pictou.

There is also $507.8 million for highway construction and improvements that were previously announced in January as part of the government’s five-year highway plan.

The minister said funding for affordable housing and long-term care would be included in the Progressive Conservative government’s first budget, which will be tabled next Tuesday.

Meanwhile, MacMaster warned that current inflationary pressures could push up costs associated with the overall capital plan. He pointed to the price of oil, which he said could affect such things as the transport of construction materials. He said asphalt mixtures for road construction could also rise in price because they contain oil.

“There are contingency (funding) amounts for a lot of these projects,” he said. “We don’t know exactly where inflation will go … but it’s certainly a cause for concern.”

Still, MacMaster said record capital spending continues to be possible because of historically low interest rates.

The government is regularly refinancing its debt at rates as low as two and a half or three per cent.

“That is one plus when it comes to spending a lot of money right now,” MacMaster said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2022.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press