03/06/2013 07:43 EST | Updated 05/06/2013 05:12 EDT

Nova Scotia will have balanced budget next month, Darrell Dexter vows in speech

HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's premier took his government off the fiscal fence Wednesday, saying it would balance the books when the spring budget is tabled next month.

Darrell Dexter's vow comes after weeks of government wavering on whether it could keep a previous election campaign promise to balance the budget by 2013-14.

"Next month, we will keep our commitment and balance the budget," Dexter told the Nova Scotia Chambers of Commerce in Halifax.

He also promised to continue balancing the books beyond the next fiscal year as the government prepares for large future projects on the horizon, such as the $25-billion federal shipbuilding contract.

"We will continue to live within our means and balance the budget," Dexter said.

The government had hinted in recent months that it might have trouble overcoming the $277-million deficit as promised this year because of reduced revenue from Ottawa and its offshore energy sector.

Finance Minister Maureen MacDonald mused about the possibility of breaking the promise, saying in recent weeks that people and organizations were telling the government in pre-budget consultations that the books shouldn't be balanced if it requires deep cuts to health care, education and other public services.

Dexter said Wednesday that a continued restraint of departmental spending would help the government balance the ledger.

"We have looked very carefully at every department in order to be able to ensure that we are able to bring this in under budget," he said following his breakfast speech.

He also brushed aside speculation that the government would call a snap election shortly after presenting the budget.

"We are going to have a full session of the legislature," he said. "We are going to deal with the budget and we are going to pass it."

Dexter also said a balanced budget is essential to keep his government's legislated promise to cut the 15 per cent Harmonized Sales Tax by one percentage point annually in 2014 and 2015.

The NDP's management of finances have come under scrutiny in recent weeks after the province's auditor general released a report last month saying the government knowingly delivered a budget last spring forecasting a deficit of $211 million — $27 million less than its actual projection at the time.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said the auditor general's findings cast doubts about Dexter's latest promise.

"The NDP finance minister last year got up in the House of Assembly knowing there was a $27 million error in the budget and didn't tell us," said Baillie.

"That shreds their credibility on this round of budgeting and this promise of being balanced."

Baillie called on Dexter to publicly assure Nova Scotians that there would be no "accounting trickery" in the upcoming budget.