Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin’s first state-of-the-province address started awkwardly on Wednesday, as he forced to first sit through a 6-minute speech in which the chairperson of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce highlighted the multiple ways his government’s first budget was failing business.
Rankin’s speech at the Halifax Convention Centre was a recitation of what the governing Liberals believe are the highlights of their 2021-22 fiscal plan, including a rise in university funding, additional funds for efficiency programs and the plan to make the province a “startup capital”.
Rankin additionally used the conference to pronounce the establishment of an economic growth council to offer advice on economic policy.
As per a government press release, the 10-member council, headed by former federal Liberal Politician Scott Brison, will offer advice to
“position the province for economic success and grow the economy as Nova Scotia emerges from the pandemic.”
Dale Palmeter, Rankin’s top secretary, is a long-term friend and a longtime political advisor to Brison.
The hosts of the chamber of commerce event appeared unhappy with what Rankin has done to date to help businesses cope with the economic disruption caused by COVID-19.
Board chair Gavin MacDonald said the recent provincial budget “provided virtually no new money or supports for the businesses most impacted by the pandemic,” even with an $859 million spike in departmental expenses, including additional spending on health, education and community services.
During a Q & A session, chamber president Patrick Sullivan pressed Rankin to provide extra aid to businesses affected by the pandemic, especially those in the tourism sector.
“There didn’t seem a lot for those impacted businesses,” said Sullivan.
The Premier would not commit to doing more, unless his administration was forced to once again order businesses to shut their doors to the public.
“We don’t have endless amounts of money,” he said. “We’re at a half-a-billion-dollar deficit right now. We have to recognize that every dollar we’re spending is debt.”
Premier Rankin was additionally lukewarm to the chamber’s continuous call to start COVID-19 testing at Halifax’s Stanfield International Airport.
“Anyone traveling in can get a test,”
the Premier said, who also noted Nova Scotia Chief Medical Officer of Health Robert Strang had not yet recommended testing airline passengers.
“There is a discussion right now about starting at the airport with their employees and then potentially looking at travelers,”
said Rankin, without committing to the measure.