Why must we wait for a new budget?

Last week, Premier Stephen McNeil named a new cabinet, our 51 MLAs elected on May 30 were sworn in and the legislature briefly met to elect a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker.

This is an exciting period for all concerned – especially for those who are elected for the first time. It’s great to see a record number of women elected to the legislature and a record number of women elected to the Progressive Conservative Caucus.

It’s also encouraging to see Progressive Conservatives elected from the Halifax Regional Municipality for the first time since 2006. Of note is that Tim Halman’s win in Dartmouth East marks the first time a Progressive Conservative represented Dartmouth East since Richard Weldon was the MLA from 1978 to 1984. Meanwhile, Barbara Adams’s victory in Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage is the first time a Progressive Conservative represented these communities since David Nantes was MLA from 1978 to 1993.

I also congratulate Halifax Citadel-Sable Island’s re-elected MLA Labi Kousoulis on being named Minister of Labour and Advanced Education. With this constituency being home to such leading universities – along with the students, faculty and staff who make these institutions such critical parts of our community and our province – it’s a positive sign that Premier McNeil has so much confidence in Mr. Kousoulis to entrust him with this important portfolio.

Amidst all the positive feelings of a new Legislative Assembly coming together is one glaring disappointment: Premier Stephen McNeil not planning to recall the legislature until mid-September 2017.

Nova Scotians – including voters in Halifax Citadel-Sable Island – gave Premier McNeil’s Liberals a majority government mandate to get to work. One of the major parts of a government’s “annual work plan” so to speak is to introduce a budget, subject it to scrutiny by our elected MLAs and put it to a vote in the legislature.

So why are we waiting three more months to see a budget presented again in the Nova Scotia legislature?

The last time a sitting Premier called an election after introducing a budget was Rodney MacDonald on May 13, 2006. MacDonald called an election for June 13, 2006. His government was re-elected with a reduced minority government mandate. Despite being in a weaker legislative position than Stephen McNeil is in today, MacDonald recalled the legislature for June 29, 2006, and tabled a budget.

Stephen McNeil has a majority government. He has one of his most senior ministers – new Deputy Premier Karen Casey – in the Finance and Treasury Board portfolio.
All the key players who were responsible for developing the 2017-2018 budget tabled in late April 2017 are still in place.

With all the important issues debated in this recent election, there doesn’t appear to be any logical reason why our MLAs won’t be examining a newly tabled provincial budget.

I know MLAs work when the legislature isn’t in session.

I also know that the late Arthur Fordham, Assistant Clerk of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly, in his 2006 publication, The Nova Scotia Legislature: An Overview of its Procedures and Practices, wrote the following:

“The Legislature is the controller of the purse strings of the province because, under the laws of the province, the government may not spend any public money without the authority of an act of the Legislature. Section 20 of the Provincial Finance Act reads as follows:
“No payment out of the Consolidated Fund shall be made except under the authority of an Act of the Legislature.””

If Rodney MacDonald’s PC minority government could get to work on its budget in late June 2006, there’s no reason why Stephen McNeil’s Liberal majority government can’t to work on its budget in late June 2017.