Halifax, Nova Scotia, Waterfront

The Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative government’s first budget includes tax measures aimed at about 27,000 non-resident property owners.

Two measures introduced in Tuesday’s budget are projected to raise $81 million to help make housing more available in the province by taxing cottage owners and others who live outside the province.

Effective April 1, a transfer tax of 5% of the property’s value will be levied on non-residents of the province who buy a property and do not move to the province within six months of the closing date.

In addition, property taxes of $2 per $100 of assessed value of residential properties owned by non-residents will be levied. The tax won’t apply to buildings with more than three units or those rented to Nova Scotians year round.

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A growing scarcity of lower-cost housing has emerged as an issue in the province, as lower-income Nova Scotians have struggled to afford rising rents, and the province’s population topped one million people. The budget allocates $15 million for affordable housing programs and $2.7 million for new rent supplements.

The Progressive Conservative government is forecasting a $506.2-million deficit in its first budget as it focuses on a campaign pledge to spend heavily on the province’s ailing health system.

The $13.2-billion budget for 2022-23 tabled on Tuesday contains $5.7 billion for health care, an increase of $413.4 million compared to last year’s spending.

Finance Minister Allan MacMaster said in his budget address that it’s an economic plan “for all the people and their families who waited for a doctor, a surgery, a nursing home room, a place to live.”

It also contains the largest projected deficit since 2013-14. The red ink is just beginning, with the government estimating another $418-million deficit coming in 2023-24, and further deficits in the following two years.

MacMaster echoed a theme the Premier Tim Houston frequently emphasized during the summer election campaign, saying in his speech that the province can no longer solve its health-care problems by “tinkering at the margins.”

The increased spending for health includes $22.9 million to continue delivery of Covid-19 vaccines and $17.5 million to perform an additional 2,500 surgeries.

Long-term care is also getting millions to help increase staffing levels, including $66.3 million to boost the wages of continuing care assistants.

“In the case of continuing care assistants, we’ve given a 23% [wage] increase, which will effectively mean a $9,000-a-year raise …. We hope the free training and increased wages will attract more people,” the finance minister told reporters Tuesday.

The funding for retaining and attracting staff is aimed at reaching a new standard of at least 4.1 hours of one-on-one care for every long-term care resident.

In addition, over 40% of the province’s record-setting $1.6-billion capital budget announced last Wednesday is being directed at health spending, with a major portion going to hospital redevelopment projects in Halifax and Sydney.

The initiatives for mental health were smaller-ticket items, such as $3.4 million being added to expand virtual care services.

There is no increase for the income assistance rate in the budget, despite rising prices for food and other necessities.

The government is encouraging people under 30 to take up the skilled trades, with a commitment to provide personal income tax refunds for the first $50,000 earned by these workers. The program begins this year, and it’s anticipated to cost about $80 million in lost tax revenues in 2023-24.

The budget notes that the Russia-Ukraine conflict could pose “wide and significant” risks for its projections of economic growth of 2.1% this year and 1.6% in 2023.