Mr. Speaker, here at home we saw evidence of the economic downturn in the last months of 2008. While employment did grow, it was in the first nine months of the year … with no growth in the last quarter. The same trend was evident in retail sales, Mr. Speaker, where we saw negative growth for the last three months of the year. While exports grew by 1.4 per cent, due mainly to natural gas, shipments of lumber, shell fish and gypsum fell. The slower economy is evident when we look at projections for the coming year, Mr. Speaker. RESILIENCE We expect a 0.2 per cent growth rate in our real Gross Domestic Product for 2009 and a growth rate of 1.8 per cent next year. We are fortunate since Nova Scotia is only one of two provinces expecting a positive growth rate, according to the Bank of Canada. One of the things that will contribute to this growth is our economic stimulus package, Mr. Speaker. Without it, the GDP could be expected to drop, again reinforcing just how important this spending is to our economy. Some of this growth will also be spurred by activity in our petroleum sector. Through our offshore strategic energy agreement, the new supply vessel being built at Halifax Shipyards is expected to create 200 jobs with a payroll of about $20 million. We also expect the Sable and Deep Panuke projects to generate about $700 million in capital and operational expenditures this year. Exxon Mobil also intends to drill a new production well in the Alma field this year. Our onshore resources also continue to attract interest, with a drilling and seismic program expected this year, which are encouraging signs in these challenging times. Mr. Speaker, some critics have suggested we went shopping for the best economic forecast when we put our numbers together. I would like to address that. The methods we use for calculating our forecasts are consistent year over year. Our numbers include the impact of both the provincial and federal stimulus package, while many private forecasts have not. We have faith in our forecasts. Employment is expected to grow by 0.8 per cent while personal income is expected to rise by 1.7 per cent. The Consumer Price Index will remain stable at 0.2 per cent while retail sales will grow by 3.2 per cent. Corporate profits will decrease by 21 per cent and the export of goods and services will drop by 13 per cent. Understandably, the sluggish economy is also affecting our revenue sources, Mr. Speaker. In 2009-10, Nova Scotia’s total revenues are estimated to be $8.537 billion, up $71 million or 0.8 per cent from our budget estimate last year, Mr. Speaker. But, we expect a 23 per cent drop in Corporate Income tax, and a one per cent drop in personal income tax. Provincial source revenues are expected to decline by $318 million, mainly due to the decrease in prices for natural gas, and slowing production, both of which affect our royalty revenues. Equalization revenues are estimated to be $1.465 billion for 2009-10, the same level as last year, Mr. Speaker. The change the federal government made to the equalization formula last fall has proven to be extremely challenging for all receiving provinces, Mr. Speaker. Nova Scotia is no exception.] The fact is, equalization provides 20 per cent of our revenues and this change, which reflects the demands on the federal purse, also puts us under a great deal of financial pressure. This challenge will continue in the coming years, Mr. Speaker, as transfer payments are expected to remain flat. In 2008-09 we estimated revenues of $8.466 billion, expenses of $8.276 billion and a surplus of $189.7 million. We are now forecasting revenues of $8.513 billion, due mainly to the crown share adjustment payment, with expenses $8.491 billion and a surplus of $22.3 million. For 2009-10, we are estimating revenues to be $8.537 billion, which is a very slight increase over last year, Mr. Speaker. A decline in provincial revenues is being offset by planned cost-shared capital projects, and funds that will be transferred from the federal government relating to labour programs. Our total expenses are estimated to be $8.533 billion with a surplus of $4 million for 2009-10. While program spending is up by just over four per cent, the increase in actual program spending is quite modest. Part of the increase can be attributed to the transfer of some federal programs to the province and federal dollars which must be directly transferred to others, such as municipalities. TAX MEASURES Tax Relief We know it’s important to put money in the hands of Nova Scotians, particularly in this economic climate. That’s why we are providing a significant amount in tax relief. Basic Personal Amount and Credits The basic personal amount exempted from personal income tax and other associated credits continue to increase, Mr. Speaker. This year the exemption rises to $7,981 from $7,731 and on Jan. 1, 2010, it will rise to $8,231, an increase of $1,000 over 2006 amounts. Since that time, Mr. Speaker, this measure has returned $51 million to Nova Scotian taxpayers and we expect this year it will return another $19.1 million more than last year to taxpayers. Graduate Tax Credit The time limit on using the graduate tax credit has been extended from three to five years. This credit was first introduced in 2006, Mr. Speaker and provides savings up to $2,000 on provincial income tax payable for those who stay and work here at home. To ensure every eligible student can use this credit, Mr. Speaker, students can now carry unused credits forward to reduce their taxes even further. This means graduates can claim tax credits in the year of graduation as well as the four subsequent years. Volunteer Firefighters Tax Credit As planned, we are increasing the tax credit amount from $375 to $500 for both volunteer firefighters and members of ground search and rescue teams. Seniors Property Rebate The Seniors Property Rebate tax will see a rise in the cap from $400 to $600 this year, Mr. Speaker. Large Corporations Tax Mr. Speaker, we continue to reduce the large corporations capital tax. Effective July 1, the rate will fall to 0.15 per cent, saving business $9.1 million this year. This tax will be completely eliminated by 2012. Small Business Tax To assist the 12,000 small and medium sized businesses in Nova Scotia, we intend to cut the small business tax rate in half. Beginning Jan. 1, 2011, and over a three year period, the small business tax rate will fall from five per cent to 2.5 per cent. When fully implemented, the cut will return $25 million annually to business. Tobacco Tax Effective midnight tonight, the tax on tobacco will increase by five cents per cigarette, per pre-proportioned tobacco stick and per gram of fine-cut tobacco. This will provide an additional $29.5 million in revenue. Mr. Speaker, while we do expect to see an increase in revenue we also know that price increases negatively affect consumption, particularly among young people. Given the health risks associated with smoking, and the success we have seen through our tobacco strategy, we hope to continue to reduce the number of smokers in the province Mr. Speaker. Healthy Living Tax Credit Last year, we unveiled our intention to extend the healthy living tax credit to all Nova Scotians by January of 2009. Mr. Speaker, we are deferring the extension of this tax measure. The tax credit for children’s sport and recreation fees continues however, with up to $500 available for eligible expenses. Transit Tax Credit The tax credit on public transit planned for implementation in 2009 has also been deferred. Equity Tax Credit and Labour-Sponsored Venture Capital Tax Credit The Equity tax credit and the Labour Sponsored Venture Capital Tax Credit were both scheduled to expire on Dec. 31, 2009. These credits will be extended by one year and will be reviewed as part of our ongoing tax review, Mr. Speaker. Comprehensive Tax Review And, our examination of the tax system is well underway, Mr. Speaker. Our intention is to examine the system from top to bottom … to ensure it is fair, balanced and competitive. We have completed a good deal of research to date, Mr. Speaker.This will help to inform our long term strategy. As will the input we will seek from business, from other jurisdictions and taxpayers in general … because we believe those who are most touched by the system should have input into how it is shaped over the long term. RECOVERY Mr. Speaker, with every challenge, comes opportunity. Like every other jurisdiction in the world, we recognized that an economic stimulus package is vital to the health of the economy. That’s why we are investing an additional $800 million over three years, along with the $1.1 billion we would normally spend on capital projects, under our Building for Growth Plan. Our spending is strategic, designed to position us well on the road to recovery and on our path to 2020. Better Roads and Infrastructure These investments mean jobs in the short term, and vital infrastructure which is key to our future prosperity over the long term … like the $354 million we’ll be investing to improve our highways, including highways 105, 101 and 103, Mr. Speaker. For several years now, we have increased budgets for highway construction and improvements. This year is no exception. In fact, Mr. Speaker, the entire capital budget will increase 95 per cent over last year, creating or maintaining about 11,000 jobs.We will also exceed our goal of paving 2,000 kilometres of roads over four years. We are also ensuring that municipalities are able to take advantage of stimulus funding, and will provide them with $28 million over two years so they can match federal funds for capital grants. As a result, the three levels of government will provide new capital grants of $84 million for much needed infrastructure projects and jobs … in municipalities around the province. We realize that our ability to compete in an increasingly competitive convention marketplace requires a new, larger, state-of-the-art facility. Today, we signed a memorandum of understanding with the Halifax Regional Municipality to work together to have a new convention centre up and running by Jan. 1, 2013. We know this sends a strong signal that Nova Scotia is open for business, Mr. Speaker. We also know that infrastructure for our tourism sector is vital, Mr. Speaker. We must modernize and upgrade our facilities in order to be successful in this very competitive sector. We will be investing $14.4 million over two years to upgrade Nova Scotia’s sailing ambassador, the Bluenose II, in partnership with the federal government. We are also making additional investments through our operating budget. Again this year, local provincial museums will receive an additional $2.3 million, because we know these heritage resources provide lasting social and economic benefits, Mr. Speaker. We are also adding close to $1 million to funding for culture. While this does slow the pace of our intention to double the budget over three years, the fact that we are adding funds in these challenging economic times demonstrates our ongoing support and commitment to this important sector. Through the national Community Development Trust Fund, we will invest more than $1 million in our tourism sector to develop niche products and marketing. Under our Building for Growth plan, we estimate that $40 million will be spent on tourism related projects through our provincial stimulus plan. We’re also investing in our traditional industries, Mr. Speaker. Through the federal Community Development Trust, we will spend $500,000 for agriculture industry revitalization. Over three years, $3.7 million will go to the revitalization of the seafood processing sector, and $2.5 million will go to aquaculture development. We also know the importance of our local producers, and will provide $2.3 million over three years to support farmers markets, and direct marketing for local trade and food system development. Our Strategic Infrastructure Investment Fund will double to $1.5 million. This program will see $6 million invested over four years to enhance and diversify our agricultural infrastructure.And, the clean up of the Sydney tar ponds site is now moving to implementation, Mr. Speaker. Spending from the provincial and federal governments will triple, going from about $20.5 million last year, to $64.9 million this year. This project is bringing hundreds of jobs, as well as significant economic benefits to the area. GROWTH Mr. Speaker, despite the challenges we face in the economy, we have seen positive growth in our job numbers. More Nova Scotians are working today when compared with the same period last year. There are a number of reasons for that. One is the climate our government has created for business. Earlier this year, we doubled our commitment to economic development through the Industrial Expansion Fund … increasing the fund by $175 million. The fund is an important economic development tool, Mr. Speaker.Simply put, it’s a proven success story. It returns $1.89 to the taxpayer for every dollar invested.Some might suggest this fund is new. Let me set the record straight, Mr. Speaker. The Industrial Expansion Fund has been in existence for over 50 years, and has been effectively used by successive governments since its inception. And, like others before us, we have used the fund very wisely indeed, Mr. Speaker. We’ve invested in companies like Apple Valley Foods, Nova Scotian Crystal and Michelin, to name a few, Mr. Speaker. The companies we have assisted are well established, with long records of investment, and profitability. They have been good employers and many are located in rural Nova Scotia. Many are coming to us for loans, Mr. Speaker, because the current economic climate has dried up other sources of funding. Government will not turn its back on these companies, Mr. Speaker. In fact, we will look for even more innovative ways to assist business … as we have with our Community Economic Development Investment Funds, or CEDIF’s. In the past year, $6.5 million was invested or re-invested by 5,000 Nova Scotians … with about $32 million raised since the fund began in 1999. These funds provide much needed capital for new business and a down home solution for those wishing to support local business. We’re also providing loans for commercial fishermen, to help young people get their first licence or help current holders who may wish to fish a new species. Our productivity and innovation voucher program will see an investment of $500,000. The program is designed to help small and medium sized business build capacity. We are also seeing some major success with our Credit Union Small Business Loan Program, Mr. Speaker. The program has approved over 400 loans, created over 800 jobs and maintained another 1,775. We are also proud of the efforts of Nova Scotia Business Inc., Mr. Speaker. In the past year, NSBI generated more than $22 million of investment in communities around the province with forecasted new job creation and retention of about 1,400. NSBI’s trade team helped business with 24 trade missions, ensuring Nova Scotia takes maximum advantage of the changing global marketplace, proving that we’re a small province with big opportunities … perhaps none bigger than in the financial services sector, Mr. Speaker. As more companies make Halifax their home, the demand for office space increases, that’s why downtown development will continue to be a key priority for us. Mr. Speaker, we intend to continue to use every tool available to create and maintain jobs. Broadband access is just one way we’re helping business compete on the global stage. This $75-million project is on track, and will provide broadband access to every corner of the province by the end of the year. We also intend to advance Nova Scotia as a gateway to commerce through the strategic use of our transportation infrastructure. Under the Building Canada Fund, and in partnership with the federal government, $86 million will be invested in gateway projects to ensure we take maximum advantage of this emerging trade opportunity. We also know that red tape can strangle business. Our Better Regulation Initiative is giving business room to grow. Since 2006, the paperwork burden for business has been reduced by 8.3 per cent, saving business $1.2 million … with more cuts coming this fall. Put another way Mr. Speaker, the paperwork burden is down 51,000 hours in just two years. We are also turning around most licences and permits in 10 days, Mr. Speaker. We have more work to do. We want to make it even easier to do business in Nova Scotia. One of our biggest selling features in attracting investment is our skilled and educated workforce. That’s why education remains such an important priority for us, Mr. Speaker. EDUCATING FOR GOOD JOBS Mr. Speaker, we’re investing over $307 million to build eight new schools and upgrade another 41 as part of our Building For Growth plan. While we improve the physical infrastructure our students enjoy, we’re also concentrating on making the changes that matter in the classroom. Mr. Speaker, we plan to invest close to $1.3 billion in public education this year. In a time of declining enrolment, our funding to school boards has increased, so even more resources can be put in the classroom. We continue to raise the bar with our Learning for Life program. To date, we have invested over $48.1 million to help students realize their potential. Our Options and Opportunities program continues to focus on career development and hands on experience for students.The program is offered in 44 schools, and will see an expansion to additional grades in sixteen schools with a $759,000 investment. We continue to build on the initiatives of the Black Learners Advisory Committee with an investment of $4.1 million this year.We are putting in place a modern, provincewide information system that will help track student data. Our $14 million Student Information System will focus on measuring student achievement and school performance, with tangible benefits for the classroom. We will invest $2.4 million this year to begin putting the system in place. Our math and literacy mentors will remain an important part of the education system, as will our International Baccalaureate or IB program, Mr. Speaker with an additional $700,000 investment. More than 800 students are registered in our IB program, Mr. Speaker. This program is widely recognized by the world’s leading universities. Nova Scotia will be among the pioneers when it pilots online IB courses, beginning in September. Regional Library Boards will receive an additional $1million in grants. STRENGTHENING SKILLS Mr. Speaker, this economic climate means that it is more important than ever to ensure we have a skill-ready workforce to meet the demands of a changing marketplace. Through the Labour Market Agreement, we will receive approximately $85 million from the federal government over six years to design and deliver training and skills development programs. Through this fund, Mr. Speaker, we have been able to form a number of important partnerships. We’re working with industry associations to address skills and training needs and we’re focused on providing programs and services for youth, for aboriginal communities and for immigrants. Similarly, the Labour Market Development Agreement will transfer $81 million this year in federal funds to the province for training and skills development … for individuals eligible for Employment Insurance. ACCESSIBLE EDUCATION Along with skills development, we want to make post secondary education more accessible. I am pleased to advise that our commitment to bring university tuition levels to the national average by 2010 is on track. Our $180 million investment over three years freezes tuition rates, and provides stable funding for universities, because access to education remains our priority. Nova Scotian students continue to benefit from our $66 million Nova Scotia University Student Bursary Trust, Mr. Speaker. Students will receive a maximum benefit of $1,022 in 2009-10 and $1,283 for 2010-11. Additionally, out-of-province students will benefit from a $261 bursary in 2010-11 as well as the freeze in tuition rates. Our students still enjoy one of the lowest loan rates in the country, thanks to our direct lend initiative, Mr. Speaker. In partnership with the federal government, we will invest an additional $114 million for maintenance and upgrades to university and community college campuses. We also continue to expand seats at the Nova Scotia Community College through our growth plan. And, we are doing so strategically, keeping in mind the needs of tomorrow’s labour market. We will invest $22.6 million to add 2,000 more seats by 2013, for a total of 12,400 seats across the province. This is in addition to our earlier investment of $123 million, which has provided upgrades to existing facilities and constructed the new campus on the Dartmouth waterfront. The first building is very, very impressive, friendly to both the environment and students. Phase two of this expansion is now underway with The Centre for the Built Environment under construction, Mr. Speaker. We expect this facility, which again will provide a world-class learning environment, to be complete by next year. SAFER HOMES, SAFER STREETS State-of-the-art learning facilities are adding to our quality of life, Mr. Speaker, which is the envy of many around the world. So are our safe communities. Decreasing crime rates are a result of our increasing police presence. We are above the national average in the number of police officers we have on the street, Mr. Speaker. And, they’re having an impact. Increased enforcement has taken more than $200 million in drugs off our streets in the past year. Mr. Speaker, we intend to invest another $3.5 million this year to bring the number of additional officers to 183, well on our way to reaching our target of 250 additional officers on the street by 2010. We are also moving ahead with the construction of a new forensic science facility. We’re investing $6 million over the next three years to design and construct the new facility. Mr. Speaker, I am particularly proud of the strides we have made in enhancing the Medical Examiner’s Office. Since 2000, we have seen the budget increase from $1.1 million to $3.2 million today.In a time when forensic pathologists are scarce and in very high demand, we have three of these highly qualified people on staff. It’s a major accomplishment, Mr. Speaker and certainly enhances our ability to enforce the law. We are also providing funds to get at the root causes of crime, and will invest $500,000 for crime prevention in communities around the province. Our increased law enforcement efforts are impacting our correctional facilities, Mr. Speaker. That’s why we intend to have the most modern infrastructure in corrections in the country, Mr. Speaker. Last week, we announced our intention to invest $18 million to construct a new correctional facility in Springhill. We will also spend an additional $4.4 million in corrections for training, additional staff and for equipment to improve safety and security. We are moving forward on implementing the Deloitte report on corrections. GENERATIONS OF NOVA SCOTIANS LIVING WELL Mr. Speaker, we are investing more than $3.4 billion in our health-care system this year. These funds will improve access, help to reduce wait times and will help us to realize our vision of a patient-centred health system that supports the well being of Nova Scotians. We are making progress in reducing wait times, Mr. Speaker. We are adding new technology, streamlining processes, purchasing new equipment, and recruiting and retaining more health care providers. In fact, this year, we have allocated an additional $22 million for equipment and $10 million for emergency repair and renewal to our physical structures. Our Scotia Surgery Demonstration project is one example. This project is helping us to better manage some of the longest wait times in the province, Mr. Speaker. We are doing more hip and knee replacements across the province, and wait times for these surgeries in Capital have dropped by two months. We are also freeing space for more complex surgeries, Mr. Speaker. And, patients are very satisfied with their care. In fact, they are showing satisfaction rates in excess of 99 per cent. It doesn’t get much better than that, Mr. Speaker. Given this success, we intend to continue our partnership with Scotia Surgery. This year, we will invest an additional $1.7 million for orthopaedic services at Capital Health, which includes support for the Orthopaedic Assessment Clinic, which has reduced assessment wait times from 18 months to as low as four. To date, we have accessed more than $33.2 million in federal funding to help reduce wait times. Compared to just two years ago, twice as many patients are having bone density scans, MRIs and mammography screening. To help meet our wait-time guarantee for radiation therapy for cancer patients, we now have one CT simulator operating in Cape Breton and another will soon become operational here in Halifax. We’re also investing $27 million in IT projects that will reduce wait times and will improve the delivery of health care, Mr Speaker. Our Electronic Health Record system will allow quick access to patient information, leading to better decisions about diagnosis and treatment. As well, the Health Administrative Systems project will streamline administrative and financial systems within district health authorities. We’re also improving our physical infrastructure, with an additional $87 million this year to upgrade our hospitals. And, we’re changing the way we deliver health care, Mr. Speaker. This summer, our new Telecare system will be operational. We are investing $5.9 million to make health information and advice more accessible, giving Nova Scotians access to a registered nurse 24-hours a day, seven days a week, just by calling 8-1-1. The service will help them make informed decisions about their health … and whether they should seek additional medical attention–potentially saving unnecessary visits to the ER. When patients in metro do go to the ER, Mr. Speaker … they will soon enjoy the new $20 million emergency department at the QEII.This new facility will offer upgraded equipment, more beds and staff and will be better designed to meet the anticipated 70,000 annual visits. CONTINUING CARE In 2006, we outlined our Continuing Care Strategy, Mr. Speaker. When our strategy is fully implemented, it will represent an annual investment of $310 million that will provide 1,320 long-term care beds by 2015. We’re well on our way, Mr. Speaker. We expect that 240 beds will be ready by the end of this year, with another 564 to follow in the fall of 2010. We’re also helping seniors by helping their caregivers. We’re investing an additional $900,000 to provide a monthly allowance of $400 to caregivers of low income seniors because we understand and appreciate their very important role, bringing our total commitment to $2.7 million. HEALTH TRANSFORMATION Mr. Speaker, increasing demands and rising costs are placing huge pressures on our health-care system. In order to sustain the system, we must find new ways to deliver the service. That’s what health transformation is all about, Mr. Speaker. In a province where every month 700 Nova Scotians turn 65, we must prepare for the future, and we must do it now, Mr. Speaker. Our operational review produced 103 recommendations, which have all been accepted, Mr. Speaker. These recommendations have been clustered into 25 initiatives. Work is already underway on six, and another six will begin next year. To monitor progress, we now have a health transformation office in place that will provide support, evaluate and report on all aspects of health transformation. INTEGRATED LEARNING CENTRE Mr. Speaker we know that the recruitment and retention of health care professionals is vital to the system. That’s why we have continued to add seats to our medical and nursing schools. This year, we’re investing $1.2 million for additional seats for physicians. These additional seats have put pressure on our physical structures. We are now in need of a new facility. We intend to invest $700,000 annually over the next 20 years to create a new Integrated Learning Centre for health professionals in partnership with Dalhousie University. This centre will allow team-based learning for doctors and nurses, which is in keeping with our health transformation agenda. GENERATIONS OF HEALTHY NOVA SCOTIANS One of the most effective ways to decrease demands on our health care system is to increase the health of Nova Scotians. We are targeting all age groups, Mr. Speaker. And, it has meant a number of firsts for Nova Scotia. We were the first province to put in place a department dedicated to Health Promotion and Protection. This has proven to be invaluable, as we have seen most recently in dealing with the H1N1 human swine influenza, and the outbreak of the mumps last year, Mr. Speaker. Our very effective public health system has ensured we have the dedicated resources and the proper network to deal effectively with these public health issues. To further augment these efforts, Mr. Speaker, we are investing $2.5 million in the Panorama IT system, a health information system being developed nationally. We have also been very effective in putting the first Healthy Eating strategy in Canada in place and one of the first school food and nutrition policies. And, we have just celebrated the first year of mandatory physical education. These “firsts” are having lasting results. And, we expect to see some very positive results from our $500,000 social marketing campaign to promote breastfeeding, which is set to begin this spring, Mr. Speaker. We know that healthier babies means healthier adults, and we want to help Moms find community support services and help others understand the realities of breastfeeding. Our Enhanced Home Visiting Program helps parents build skills and confidence and strengthens the relationship between parents and children. More than 700 families are benefitting from the program, Mr. Speaker. Our school food and nutrition policy remains one of the strongest in the country. Since the policy was first released in 2006, it is now the norm for schools to provide fresh fruit and vegetables, water and healthier snacks. Along with healthy eating, we’re addressing physical activity, youth sexual health, tobacco reduction, addiction and injury prevention to promote a happy and healthy future. An additional $1.6 million in federal funding will provide the HPV vaccine to even more young women. BE FIT! To help Nova Scotians stay fit and active, we’re investing $60 million over five years in 35 projects under our Building Facilities and Infrastructure Together or B-FIT program.It’s the largest commitment to sport and recreation infrastructure in the history of the province, Mr. Speaker. And, it will continue to help restore and construct sport and recreational facilities that will become centrepieces in their communities, Mr. Speaker. We’re also looking forward to hosting some of the biggest sporting events in the world. We have committed $11 million to the 2011 Canada Winter Games, which will bring some of Canada’s best athletes to our province and will leave a legacy of sport infrastructure that will benefit generations of Nova Scotians. We will also welcome the world senior canoe championships in August of this year. Our $650,000 contribution is expected to generate $10.2 million in economic benefits and nearly $5.7 million in wages for Nova Scotians. As well, Mr. Speaker, the largest sailing event in Canadian history will take place this summer. We’re investing $300,000 in the 2009 Laser World Championship … which is expected to bring $1.9 million in economic benefits to the province, and support $1.6 million in wages. This July, we will also welcome up to 50 ships from 30 counties and over 2,000 seafaring visitors for Tall Ships 2009, and will continue to welcome the world to world-class events like Celtic Colours, the Canadian International Military Tattoo and the Yarmouth Air Show. PREVENTING POVERTY, PROMOTING PROSPERITY Mr. Speaker, in early April, we marked another milestone for Nova Scotia with the release of our poverty reduction strategy. We’re investing $155 million this year to improve the standard of living for low income Nova Scotians. This builds on the initiatives we have put in place over the past three years, totaling almost $200 million. Mr. Speaker, our Family Pharmacare program, Low Income Pharmacare program for Children, increases in the minimum wage and child care investments have all been designed to help those who need us most. Some of our initiatives are targeted to our youngest citizens. We’re investing $2.5 million to expand the Nova Scotia Child Benefit so more families can qualify and take advantage of our children’s low-income pharmacare program. We’re also investing heavily in affordable and social housing, the scale of which has not been seen in decades, Mr. Speaker.We will invest $133 million over two years to create homes for seniors and persons with disabilities and to renovate and retrofit our social housing portfolio. For the sixth year in a row, we will increase the employment support and income assistance rates for the personal allowance, Mr. Speaker. This represents an additional investment of almost $1.6 million this year, and $19 million over the past five years, Mr. Speaker. We’re also helping Nova Scotians stay warm this winter. More than 280,000 Nova Scotians will continue to benefit from the Your Energy Rebate Program. Through our Heating Assistance Rebate Program, individuals with an income of $27,000 or below, and families with an income of $42,000 or below, will qualify for the rebate of up to $200.We are changing the threshold for those who heat with electricity. Those using electric heat will qualify for the rebate if they consume more than 27.4 kilowatt hours per day on average in any given 60-day billing period, Mr. Speaker. We will once again donate to the Salvation Army’s Good Neighbour Program, with a $400,000 donation. GREENER FUTURE During the past year, we released our climate change action plan. This plan will help us to have one of the cleanest, most sustainable environments in the world by 2020, Mr. Speaker.Renewable energy is a big part of that. We are investing significant resources in our tidal demonstration project as part of our energy strategy. We expect to see the first device in the water this fall, built in partnership by Nova Scotia Power Incorporated and OpenHydro of Ireland, harnessing the power of the Fundy tides. Through the EcoNova Scotia fund, $17 million will be spent on clean air and climate change projects through the province in the coming year. An additional $500,000 will help to create the climate change adaptation fund. And $200,000 will be invested in our coastal management strategy, to promote a healthy environment and a sustainable coast. We are also investing $50 million over two years under our Building for Growth program to make our schools, hospitals and provincial buildings greener. We have just announced the designation of two more wilderness areas, adding more than 3,500 hectares to our overall total, and putting us well on our way to reaching our target to protect 12 per cent of our total land mass by 2020. Recently, we announced our decision to offer to purchase 21,000 acres of lands in western Nova Scotia for protection and recreational use, because we know this land is important to Nova Scotians. We are proud of the fact that we are world leaders in solid waste management, Mr. Speaker. We will invest $200,000 to encourage the redevelopment of contaminated land, and to further reduce our disposal rates.We are also taking steps to ensure our natural resources are managed wisely, Mr. Speaker. A distinguished panel, under the able leadership of retired chief justice Constance Glube, will oversee the development of a new strategy that will govern our natural resources. We are also pleased that Joe Marshall, executive director of the Union of Nova Scotia Indians and senior Mi’kmaq advisor and Allan Shaw, a director with the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs, round out the panel. We are also investing $1 million for the forestry joint task force, Mr. Speaker. INCLUSIVE, WELCOMING COMMUNITIES Mr. Speaker, we are truly blessed to live in this province. And, we have been fortunate in welcoming a number of new Nova Scotians to our shores. In 2008, 2,653 immigrants came to Nova Scotia, compared to 1,474 in 2003. Not only are we seeing an increase in the number of people coming to the province, Mr. Speaker, but our retention rates have improved dramatically, with over 60 per cent of immigrants staying. Mr. Speaker, this is a marked improvement from just 10 years ago when only 40 per cent remained here. One of the objectives for the coming year is to continue to make our province even more welcoming. We also want to make our communities more age friendly, Mr. Speaker. Our Strategy for Positive Aging helps us to prepare for our changing demographics, and the fact that our seniors population will nearly double by 2026. Our Positive Aging Fund, Age-Friendly Communities Program and Senior Safety grants all help to make our communities safer, healthier places in which to live. Mr. Speaker, our province is rich in history, culture and diversity. This past year, for the first time in the province’s history, members of Cabinet and the 13 Mi’kmaq Chiefs of Nova Scotia sat together to discuss matters of mutual concern. We intend to make this an annual event. Mr. Speaker, we are also very proud of our Framework Agreement, which sets out the process for negotiations regarding Mi’kmaq rights and title. This year, we marked the 25th anniversary of black history month, which promotes pride in self and community. And, we do have much to be proud of in this province. One of the things I am proud of, Mr. Speaker, is our record, and this budget. I have been involved in government for 10 years, Mr. Speaker. I can honestly say that this budget process has been one of the most challenging. We have made our decisions carefully. We are spending strategically. We know that the uncertainty we are facing today will not disappear over night. I’m confident we will weather these economic challenges in the short term … and we want to ensure we plan well for the long term. To that end, we will undertake a thorough review of government services. We will look for ways to streamline, for new ways to deliver programs and to become even more efficient to ensure we are providing the very best service and value for the taxpayers of Nova Scotia. We believe the taxpayers of Nova Scotia are served well by this budget, Mr. Speaker. We have protected programs. We have protected jobs. We have invested prudently through our Building for Growth Program. With these steps, with this budget, we know that we will be resilient. We will recover. We will grow. We will continue to be the best province, in the best country in which to live, work, raise a family and grow a business. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Resilience. Recovery. Growth Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise today to present the budget for 2009–10 … and Nova Scotia’s eighth consecutive balanced budget. I present my first budget with pride … but with a sense of loss as well, Mr. Speaker. Today, we very much feel the presence of the former finance minister, our friend and colleague, Michael Baker. Last year, he stood in this House for over an hour, delivering the budget address, despite a good deal of physical discomfort. Though he was encouraged to sit to deliver the address, he refused. He said “if Roosevelt could stand to deliver the State of the Union address, then I can stand to deliver the budget.” That was Michael Baker, Mr. Speaker. A lesson in courage, integrity and determination. There is no question his enduring spirit will long influence those who had the privilege to know him and to call him friend.And so, in the House he loved, I ask that you honour and remember him. Mr. Speaker, this budget is about leadership. It’s about good government. It’s about resilience. It’s about recovery. It’s about growth.It’s about making the choices to best meet the challenges presented by these uncertain economic times, Mr. Speaker.We have had to make some tough decisions. We have not done so lightly. Every action, every decision was taken in the best interest of the people of Nova Scotia and our economy. Mr. Speaker, our belief in this province — and its people is unwavering. That’s at the heart of our vision for 2020, and a strong, prosperous and sustainable economy. At this time however, like every jurisdiction around the globe, we are feeling the effects of the economic downturn. A recent report of the International Monetary Fund projected world economic growth in 2009 to be the lowest in 60 years. But, Mr. Speaker, we are also looking ahead … to an era of success, growth and prosperity. It will take time. But we have a solid foundation on which to build, and we have many advantages.We have a diverse economic base. Our strong education and health service sectors are much less exposed to the global ups and downs experienced in more cyclical industries. And we have put in place one of the largest infrastructure programs in the history of the province, Mr. Speaker. Under Building for Growth, in partnership with the federal government, we will invest $1.9 billion in provincially owned infrastructure projects over the next three years. This investment will keep about 20,000 Nova Scotians working. Let me be clear, Mr. Speaker, we can only keep people working if we can get these dollars out the door. I hope my colleagues on the other side of the House understand the urgency … and what is at risk. This budget will help to get our economy moving. It allows us to leverage almost $200 million in federal funding this year alone.This budget allows us to make critical improvements to our roads, schools and hospitals. And, Mr. Speaker, it gives us the chance to keep our skilled workers here at home. Simply put, Mr. Speaker, this budget puts us in a position to better weather the storm. It provides the cushion our economy, and the people, of this province need. TIMELY. TEMPORARY. AFFORDABLE Mr. Speaker, this government prides itself on its responsible approach to fiscal management. That’s why we have brought forward our eighth consecutive balanced budget. It takes strong leadership to do that. That’s why Premier Rodney MacDonald was able to ensure that Nova Scotians remain the principal beneficiaries of our offshore resources, following the success of John Hamm in signing the Atlantic Accord. It is also why Premier MacDonald was able to work with Nova Scotia’s Conservative MPs to settle the long-standing dispute on the crown share … which returned $234 million to the taxpayers of Nova Scotia as a first payment and another $95 million last year. It’s that same leadership that ensures we manage our finances wisely. We’re keeping our operating costs in line. We are keeping our debt affordable. We are not laying off public servants. And, we are leading by example. Mr. Speaker, government will be asking all MLAs to agree to a wage freeze. We will also immediately freeze the wages of deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers, and, as well those of all political staff. We know other Nova Scotians are tightening their belts and making sacrifices during these challenging times. It is only right that we do the same. We will bargain in good faith with our public sector unions, however the realities of these economic times must be considered. The same principle must also apply to all public sector employees. You know, Mr Speaker, in these challenging times, there are those who urged us to run a deficit. We will not. Deficit financing will simply add to our challenges, Mr. Speaker.As history has taught us, it’s far too easy to spend today … without thinking of the costs we will bear tomorrow. We must proceed with caution. And we will. Our debt must remain affordable, and it will. We are revising our debt management plan, Mr. Speaker. We are able to do this because of the impressive gains we have made in managing our debt in the last number of years. Mr. Speaker, since 2001 our net direct debt, as a percentage of our gross domestic product, has declined from 46.8 per cent in 2001 to 36.7 in 2008. This is indeed an impressive drop, as is recognized by the bond rating agencies. But, Mr. Speaker, because a stimulus package is now so vital to our economic health, we will allow our net direct debt to grow over the next three years. After the stimulus package is complete, we will no longer add to the total debt. That means, Mr. Speaker, that our debt will be as affordable in 2012 as it is today. In other words, our direct debt compared to our gross domestic product will be no more than 36.7 per cent on March 31, 2012.We also intend to use the surplus funds from our offshore differently, Mr. Speaker. These funds, known as our offshore offset, will not be put towards the debt, but will be used to help finance the programs and services important to Nova Scotians. While debt repayment remains a priority for us, we believe that suspending our repayment plan is the most prudent approach … and the one that makes most sense in these uncertain economic times. The only alternative to using the offshore money would be to significantly raise taxes or cut programs. We will not. The legislative changes needed to support this plan have already been introduced, Mr. Speaker. As promised, this approach will be temporary. We fully intend to see our debt decrease once again in 2012–13. ECONOMIC REVIEW AND OUTLOOK Economic activity in Canada slowed significantly in the latter part of 2008, the lowest since 1991. The scope of the global economic downturn has been dramatic, Mr. Speaker. It’s also been unpredictable. It is safe to say, Mr. Speaker, that no jurisdiction predicted the scale of the decline, defined as the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. It means that we are facing some extraordinary challenges. And they may be further exacerbated by the H1N1 human swine influenza. Rising unemployment rates and plunging stock markets pushed consumer confidence to record lows. Commodity prices also dropped significantly. We saw that demonstrated most dramatically as oil prices fell from a high last summer of $147US to around $50 today. Declining exports, weakening consumer spending and slower labour income growth all contributed to the slowing national economy. Nationally, we expect this decline to continue in 2009 … with a gradual recovery for 2010, Mr. Speaker. Despite the deepening global economic recession, Nova Scotia did see some growth last year. Our nominal gross domestic product grew by 3.7 per cent. Retail sales increased by 4.5 per cent. Employment grew by 1.3 per cent. Personal income grew by 4.1 per cent, and Corporate profits were up 1.6 per cent.