Premier Iain Rankin delivers State of the Province Address to Halifax Chamber of Commerce- Halifax
Thank you for inviting me.
Let me first begin by acknowledging where we are – we are on Mi’kma’ki – the traditional territory of the Mi’kmaw people.
It is a real privilege for me to speak to you today about the state of our province.
Six weeks ago, I had the honour to be sworn in as your premier -- but over the previous seven years I was proud to be working as a member of a government committed to building a brighter future for all Nova Scotians.
The last 12 months threw us off course.
COVID shocked the economy, and our lives generally, in an unprecedented way.
And there is no question that we took a significant hit -- the retail, accommodation and restaurant sectors being severely impacted.
The good news is that the hard work, and sometimes difficult decisions of the last seven years put us in a very strong financial position as we entered this crisis.
That allowed the government to step up and support our local businesses, and we will continue to be there to help through the recovery period.
I want to pay special tribute to Nova Scotians themselves. The respect they showed for public health guidelines kept all of us safe and made our province the envy of other parts of Canada, and indeed the world.
A recent Globe and Mail editorial about the fight against COVID-19 came with this plea: “Can we put Nova Scotia in charge of the country yet?”
Well, in truth, our federal government has been a key partner throughout this past year.
But in our province, it has been the collective efforts of Nova Scotians who have paved the way for our overall employment rates to be almost back to pre-COVID levels.
We are leading the country in economic recovery - and we are just getting started.
Employment among women is now above pre-pandemic levels.
Our population is at the highest level ever and tracking toward 1 million.
By late June we expect all Nova Scotians who want to be vaccinated to have received their first dose.
With our continued Bluenose grit, we will avoid a third wave of the pandemic that is now impacting other regions.
Consequently, that has enabled us to move forward boldly and with purpose – introducing an economic plan that charts a path to a fair and prosperous future for all Nova Scotians.
A key part of that strong economic policy is our plan to return to a balanced budget in four years.
We still have to manage through this crisis, but we will not adopt policies that will lead to large structural budget deficits.
This pandemic has been hard on revenues. But when people are down you give them a hand up. That’s why I am pleased that Budget 2021 does not contain any new or increased taxes or fees.
What this budget does contain, however, is increased spending to modernize healthcare in our province, increased spending in education to support inclusion, and historic investments in our most vulnerable citizens.
While our economy has already begun to move, the pandemic has disproportionately impacted our most marginalized citizens.
That’s why I believed we needed to significantly increase our Income Assistance rates, catching up to other parts of the country.
This budget makes the largest investment in our most vulnerable citizens in our history.
That is government’s role – to look out for the most vulnerable to ensure no one is left behind.
And it is government’s role to carefully watch our taxpayers’ dollars while ensuring the investments we make position us successfully for the recovery and a bright economic future.
The long answer: an economy where business can grow
By staying the course on fiscal discipline we will prevent the types of future tax hikes that will stunt growth, and make us less competitive.
Our economic plan is one that leverages our comparative advantages – and recognizes that we need to position ourselves to thrive in this 4th industrial revolution.
We are helping drive innovation with targeted programs, and we are investing more in digital – the fastest growing segment of our economy.
The province’s capital plan is stimulating immediate economic activity in every region.
For the second consecutive year, we are investing more than $1 billion in capital projects. These investments are key to our economic recovery and they provide much-needed infrastructure for years to come.
As you know, we have two of the largest healthcare redevelopment projects in the province’s history underway.
The Cape Breton Regional Municipality Health Care Redevelopment will modernize healthcare on the Island.
And development will continue this year on the QEII New Generation project.
When there were lockdowns and border restrictions that impact vital industries like tourism, we have been and will be there to help.
And when Public Health advises it’s okay to open a border or ease restrictions, I will not hesitate to do so, as I have within Atlantic Canada.
We’ve provided $7.3 million for a COVID-19 response fund for hotel, motel and inn operators and $1 million to continue to support the Tourism Digital Assistance Program to help businesses adapt to digital technologies.
We also included cash flow support for restaurants and other small and medium-sized businesses in the service sector, hit hard by the virus.
The $7 million Small Business Real Property Tax Rebate Program is a recognition that the restrictions we imposed, have impacted customer capacity.
Food is the single biggest sector we have in our region. And we have to be a partner to ensure gains made in sectors, like the wine industry, go further…
This budget has $5.4 million for a Nova Scotia Quality Wine Strategy
And for our Agriculture sector, to help it extend growing seasons, and become more efficient, we have launched a $5 million dollar Agriculture Clean Technology Program.
During visits and meetings with Annapolis Valley farmers I have heard how this type of program will help the environment, increase food security, and displace food imports.
That is the type of public policy that taps into the ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit of Nova Scotians.
The restaurant sector is a key part of the social fabric of our communities. I noted earlier that it is one of the sectors most hurt by COVID.
That’s why we were pleased to act on the request of the industry and include in the budget an expansion of the 10 per cent licensee discount to include bottled and canned beer, cider, and ready-to-drink products.
Luc Erjavec of Restaurants Canada said the policy change will “go a long way to help Nova Scotia’s hard hit foodservice sector transition from survival to revival.”
That’s not all.
Last week, we announced a change to regulations that will allow dogs on restaurant patios - something other provinces and many places throughout the world have permitted.
The executive director of the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia said this decision could lead to a five per cent increase in sales.
And I have a couple of dogs – Mary and I look forward to bringing Weston and Rocco to one of our favorite patios soon.
Reducing red tape and regulatory burden is how we can help create a business climate that supports economic success.
The Office of Regulatory Affairs and Service Effectiveness works across government to remove and reduce costs for Nova Scotia business.
The team has already found $50 million in net annual savings for business since 2017.
But our government isn’t stopping there. Budget 2021 increased the target for this year by another $10 million, with a directive that $5 million of those savings be found in the first three months of this fiscal year.
This will give business owners more flexibility to invest and create jobs.
Most of what we have done for the past year has been through the lens of the pandemic – and our budget reflects that.
The province spent $617.3 million in 2020 to fight the virus – and the fight is still on.
But the pandemic is a paradox. It has caused so much disruption and loss. At the same time, it has also revealed gaps and opportunities.
Last week, our government announced that we are extending virtual healthcare for another year. It has proven successful for both patients and physicians.
More than 1.5 million healthcare services were provided through telephone or virtual visits during this past year.
Last week, we also announced our partnership with the federal government to expand virtual care services – about $5.9 million in funding has been provided.
This economic recovery will be different than those of the past. This is our opportunity - and we need to seize it.
While climate change is an existential threat, we need to see this challenge as an opportunity.
And the business community, especially, needs to see this issue as every bit as important as fiscal responsibility.
We cannot stand-by and burden future generations with the cost of inaction on climate-change. We cannot forego those economic opportunities for other provinces to take.
We are rising to the occasion and investing more than $80 million in climate change initiatives this year.
We have already announced more funding for efficiency programs and in the next couple of months we are planning to tender significantly more renewable energy projects, not only because it helps the environment, but because we can get a competitive, more predictable price, from local renewables and that benefits our businesses.
The jobs associated with skilled trades across the province will be increased in the thousands with this new direction.
We will need all Nova Scotians to take part in this recovery. Nobody should be forgotten. That is why an added equity and anti-racism lens will now be part of decisions made with our green fund.
Our workforce, private and public sector, will only reach its full potential if those who historically have been under-represented also have opportunity to learn, work and thrive.
Attracting and welcoming new immigrants is another economic success story here – over the last 7 years our immigration has tripled.
Our population looks different than it did when I became an MLA. My community of Timberlea-Prospect looks a lot different.
With Halifax being now the 2nd fastest growing city in Canada, we have our new Canadians to thank for bringing their skills and entrepreneurial spirit with them.
We are now just starting to see this happening more and more outside of Halifax.
And, I have said many times - a strong capital city is good for Nova Scotia, and similarly a strong rural Nova Scotia is good for Halifax.
We have all the pieces for the private sector to lead economic growth, and our government will ensure we encourage more labour availability, more training, and more innovation.
And, where required simply getting out of the way.
Businesses choose to invest in Nova Scotia, not only because of our strong work ethic, but because we are dynamic, we are innovators, we see our potential on a global scale, and we have world-class post secondary institutions.
The digital future is here, and digital skills are essential to creating the jobs of today and tomorrow.
We are excited about the potential of high-tech, especially the potential for Nova Scotia becoming a start-up capital – a place where start ups can grow and create the jobs of the future.
What better jurisdiction to lead in this area, than one with 10 universities and a single community college system with 13 campuses across the province.
This is a clear advantage on which we can build.
Two years ago we announced $7 million to create additional seats at the NSCC for their information technology programs.
Last month we announced almost 17 million to our four universities that offer computer science degrees to expand their programs – Dalhousie, St. F.X., Saint Mary’s, and Acadia will continue to train the next generation of tech talent and entrepreneurs
Travis McDonough, one of our new-generation of successful entrepreneurs, built a world-leading company right here in Halifax.
He said this investment is “incredibly worthwhile” and “will benefit not only today’s generation but the generations to come as we mature as a global-reaching tech hub.”
Last week, when I was at Dalhousie meeting with President Saini about the province’s investment in computer science, I also visited Jeff Dahn’s Tesla lab.
Dalhousie is the first university in Canada with a partnership with Tesla, the world-leading electric vehicle brand.
Exciting stuff is happening here in Halifax – and let’s not forget what is happening outside of the HRM.
The Verschuren Centre on Cape Breton is being recognized for attracting world-class labs from Toronto and the Silicon Valley to scale-up biotechnology start-ups.
Again, all examples of the start-up culture here in the city and our province.
During the leadership race I talked about my firm belief that the best ideas for policy and opportunities for growth are found outside of government.
I proposed an Economic Growth Council made up of women and men who have these skills and a passion for our province.
Today, I am announcing the creation of the provincial Economic Growth Council.
It will serve as a resource to me and the government, informing policy options and providing advice on how to attract capital into our province; how to ensure we maximize our ability to help our companies expand; and advise us on what we need to do to encourage investment.
You’ve read in the budget and heard us speak about positioning Nova Scotia as Canada’s start-up capital.
The new Council is designed to help make this happen by strengthening our start-up ecosystem to make Nova Scotia a world-leading location to launch, build and grow a business.
Momentum is on our side – and we need to seize it.
Ten distinguished Nova Scotians are volunteering their time to provide advice. They come from diverse backgrounds and represent many sectors, regions, and perspectives.
The council will be chaired by someone well known to many of you.
Scott Brison was a champion for Nova Scotia throughout his 22-year political career, and I am pleased to welcome his leadership as chair of this team of advisers.
It gives me tremendous confidence and optimism for our future – and combined with our budget plan -- I know we are ready to go to the next level.
Let’s not stop now. Let’s not settle for where we are.
Let’s get ready to write our next chapter.
It’s time to take our province into a future of new opportunities where everyone can have a chance to succeed.