As people struggle with inflation in N.S., still no plans from premier for further relief

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said the province continues to look at options to relieve the impact of inflation on Nova Scotians, but stopped short of announcing concrete plans to help people cope with the rising cost of living.

“There’s no question with gas prices, affordability in general, it’s having a huge impact on Nova Scotians. Nova Scotians are struggling,” said Houston.

“We continue to look at opportunities to support Nova Scotians,” he said, without saying what exactly they are considering.

“We’re reaching out to the federal government, we’re talking to our colleagues and premiers across the country just to see what’s possible.”

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Houston made the comments Thursday, two weeks after Finance Minister Allan MacMaster promised further relief would come “soon” for people on income assistance and those with lower incomes.

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While other provinces have announced targeted relief measures recently, Houston denied that his government isn’t doing enough to help.

“I disagree that we haven’t done anything,” he said, referring to a $13.2-million package announced in March aimed at helping people on income assistance.

“Inflation is a worldwide situation. It’s not unique to Nova Scotia, it’s not unique to Canada.”

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The package Houston referenced included extra funding for food banks and a one-time payment of $150 to people on income assistance and to those eligible to receive the province’s heating assistance rebate.

It’s unclear exactly how far that one-time payment would have gone to help those who received it, given the rapidly increasing cost of housing, food, and fuel.

According to’s May 2022 rent report, the average monthly cost to rent in Halifax in April was $1,621 for a one-bedroom and $1,962 for a two-bedroom. For comparison, in February 2020, those numbers were $1,286 and $1,614, respectively.

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia announces list of provincial land for potential housing'

Nova Scotia announces list of provincial land for potential housing

Nova Scotia announces list of provincial land for potential housing

Meanwhile, Feed Nova Scotia said Wednesday it distributed a record amount of food during the last fiscal year.

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Food prices across the country were up nearly 10 per cent in April from a year earlier, according to Statistics Canada, and the Canada Food Price Report suggests food costs will go up between five to seven per cent this year.

As well, as of Thursday, gas prices remain at more than $2 per litre across the province.

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Houston said whatever the province comes up with next will need to be “sustainable.”

He said there is a “lot to balance” and suggested that providing relief could impact funding for services such as health care, education and addiction support.

“Taking a short-term measure that could potentially have long-term ramifications which are negative on the ability to deliver services … we have to make sure we have a long-term view here,” he said.

“But we know that Nova Scotians are struggling and we’ll continue to have discussions about what is possible, and when we see something that is sustainable and will have a meaningful impact, we’ll certainly take that step.”

What other provinces are doing

On Wednesday, the government of New Brunswick said it will distribute a one-time payment of $225 to low-income individuals and $450 to families. The funding will be given to people who are already receiving provincial low-income or housing benefits.

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And late last month, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador said it would temporarily cut provincial gas taxes and provide a one-time payment to help supplement the cost of furnace oil. That payment is income-tested based on family net income.

Newfoundland and Labrador will also accelerate its plans to increase the minimum wage to $15, with that wage expected to be implemented in October 2023.

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Nova Scotia has already announced plans to increase its minimum wage to $15 an hour by April 2024 – an amount that still falls short of what was considered to be a living wage last year.

According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Nova Scotia’s living wage, which is what a person would need to earn to support their family and pay for all basic necessities, ranged between $18.45 in Cape Breton and $22.05 in Halifax in 2021.

On Thursday, MacMaster, the finance minister, said there are no plans to increase the wage sooner – despite the fact that the planned wage increases were announced in January, before the record inflation rates seen in recent months.

“There’s a lot of opinions on minimum wage,” he said.

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“At the end of the day, we want to make sure that businesses out there can continue to afford to keep people working. That’s critical.”

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MacMaster added that there are “a lot” of employers looking for staff, though he did not indicate how many of them pay minimum wage, and if low wages may be contributing to the labour shortage.

“Despite the pain that inflation is bringing, at least we do have an economy where there are jobs,” he said.

Like Houston, MacMaster said he doesn’t want any potential relief packages to “jeopardize” the delivery of other services like health care.

Although there are no plans to bring in relief packages further to the one announced in March, MacMaster pointed to other measures the government has implemented, such as the cap on property taxes and rent increases.

“We provided targeted support, but there are also protections for people in place like those items,” he said.

“At the end of the day, we’re going to continue to monitor the situation.”

MacMaster has already ruled out a cut to gas taxes, saying those revenues help pay for essential services and infrastructure.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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