Pay attention to this reminder

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As bleak as the news sounds, it’s good for Nova Scotians to get a reminder now and then on how public expenses are faring. Jacques Lapointe, the auditor general, said Thursday the province carries the second-highest net debt per capita, next to Newfoundland and Labrador.

That won’t come as a surprise to most – in fact, the thought does weigh heavily on the minds of the more conscientious citizens. Lapointe adds what should be a concern for everyone – that the crushing debt of $13.9 billion lingers as a burden for future generations.

With the budget still not balanced, that figure stands to increase.

The perennial question is what to do? Overly rosy revenue forecasts have been a tripping point and should be regarded with skepticism. Unfortunately, attempts at solutions that simply tighten spending raise other problems.

Delaying capital projects, or regular work such as highway repair, doesn’t help in the long run – and angers people.

Freezing department budgets or trimming them slightly – as the former NDP government tried – can be onerous when those departments are also faced with rising costs and salaries.

Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie has continually said his party would balance the budget immediately. Likely most people understand that simply isn’t realistic – promises are easy until you’re in the driver’s seat.

People will recall after the NDP came to power and faced the thorny question, then-finance minister Graham Steele toured the province meeting with groups to discuss priorities for government. We need more of those deliberations, tough as they are, about what are essentials and what people could live without. Government simply can’t be there for us in every corner.

That’s the unfortunate situation, that governments did expand over the years to take on new challenges.

Consider the cost simply to pay interest on that overwhelming debt.

Not a happy thought, but it’s a reminder we need to hammer home to politicians on a regular basis.

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