HALIFAX – Roads and a new convention centre account for the bulk of spending in a $645 million capital budget criticized by Nova Scotia’s opposition Tuesday for its lack of funding to replace the trouble-plagued Victoria General hospital.
“It (the hospital) is a disgrace and so it needs to be fast-tracked not put on hold,” Acting NDP Leader Maureen MacDonald said.
The Liberal government’s plan for 2016-17 includes $480 million for roads, schools and hospitals and a one-time expenditure of $164.2 million for the Halifax Convention Centre project.
Finance Department officials said that apart from the convention centre expense, the money available for capital projects is actually $10 million less than last year, when the province submitted its smallest plan in seven years.
“We would like to do more, however this year’s capital plan is a reflection on the fiscal reality in our province,” said Finance Minister Randy Delorey.
“It is becoming more and more challenging to invest in infrastructure. We need sustainable finances to allow us the flexibility to do even more.”
The government is setting aside $26.5 million for hospital improvements and equipment purchases. The money includes $1.5 million for planning around the relocation of services from the Victoria General in Halifax.
Public pressure has been building to replace the aging structure which has been plagued by a series of problems including floods, heating issues and an infestation of bedbugs.
Both opposition parties said the lack of money for a rebuild of the site is a sign of misplaced priorities.
“There’s been no new recognition by the government that there’s a problem, and that’s a problem,” said Progressive Conservative finance critic Tim Houston.
MacDonald said planning initiatives for the hospital had been underway when her party was in power.
Delorey said the government was taking a careful approach as it waits for word on whether Ottawa will help fund the hospital rebuild under its promised infrastructure plan.
“Hospital builds and the work that goes in are complex,” he said. “The services and the cost of getting it wrong are far too high.”
Overall, Delorey said much of the spending in this year’s plan is for road and building projects that are already underway.
The plan includes $220 million for highways and roads with about $100 million going toward asphalt and resurfacing.
Another $30 million will go toward information technology projects.
Funding for the convention centre is cost-shared, with Ottawa paying its $51.4 million portion once the project is completed. Delorey said the province and municipality would each pay $56.4 million, with the city paying its share to the province over 25 years.