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Nova Scotia throne speech pledges help for education, first-time homebuyers

The Nova Scotia legislature. Opposition parties say the throne speech lacks substance.


Nova Scotia's Liberal government tabled its second throne speech Thursday, drawing a scathing review from opposition parties who described it as "thin soup" filled with "bromides, abstractions and generalities."

The speech, read in the legislature by Lieutenant Governor J.J. Grant, largely touted the government's achievements over its three years in power, but offered few new major initiatives.

The government offered two new promises, including a pledge to eliminate the $43.80 testing fee for those taking the general education diploma, and assistance for first-time homebuyers through a down-payment assistance pilot program.

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"Buying a first home remains a challenge to staying in the province," the speech states. "In the new year, my government will explore ways to break down the barriers to home ownership."

The speech said that along with removing the GED fee the government would also launch a review of the province's adult learning system.

There were no details offered on either program, although the government later said that 840 people had taken the GED in 2014-15. Based on the number provided and the cost of the fee, its elimination would cost around $37,000.

There was also a promise to create a new body called Research Nova Scotia that would combine existing provincial research bodies into a single entity. The new Crown corporation would establish a research fund to support projects that are of particular interest to the province.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie was less than impressed.

"We've never seen such thin soup at the legislature," the leader of the Official Opposition said.

"This is the third year of this government and there's still nothing to create jobs and to get the cost of living down."

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Mr. Baillie pointed out that even things that were mentioned in the speech such as mental health and a plan to address doctor shortages in rural areas were scant on details.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the government rolled out a "wheelbarrow full of words," that mean little in a time when there are nursing home cuts and teachers who say they aren't being supported enough in the classroom.

"This was a wonderful sounding kind of high-flying bunch of bromides, abstractions and generalities without any real content," he said.

The government said the legislature's fall session would see legislation that would strengthen the protection of pension benefits, increase economic development for the Halifax Regional Municipality, improve accessibility for people with disabilities, and provide protections and access to those seeking child support payments.

Premier Stephen McNeil said there would more bills tabled than the four listed in the speech, and he deflected opposition criticisms that his government lacks vision.

Mr. McNeil pointed to progress in areas such as growing the population and retaining more young people, reducing home-care and orthopedic surgery wait lists, and investing in research to help grow the economy.

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The speech also said the province was continuing to work with Ottawa to find a "Nova Scotia solution" to combat climate change.

Mr. McNeil has already said the province won't be instituting a carbon tax and he's non-committal on Ottawa's other preference – a cap-and-trade system.

"We are looking at options," he said. "The end goal is reducing greenhouse gas production and how we do it shouldn't really matter."

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