It’s Your Turn to Choose a Government

Elections usually tell us something about the values and styles of party leaders.

In the NDP platform, leader Gary Burrill begins: “We stand at a moment of decisive choice in Nova Scotia— between the Liberals, who plan to cut $209 million from programs and services in the year following the election; the Conservatives, who are focused on privatizing health services and listening to their corporate friends; and the NDP…”

The platform provides no evidence in support of its statements about the Progressive Conservatives, nor does it tell us where the $209 million number came from.

The source appears to be the reduction in estimates of department spending from $11,509 million in 2021-2022 to $11,300 million in 2022-2023. In a normal budget, the earlier figure would be expected to go up by perhaps $200 million more, so if anything, Burrill’s number is too small.

But either way, it is misleading. The current year’s COVID-related expenses are $350 million. That is not expected to recur in the following year’s estimates so there is enough to cover the $209 million as well as most of the normal growth.

It is true that in later years the Liberals will have to find about $250 million in savings to reach their balanced budget target.

NDP icon Tommy Douglas of Saskatchewan produced 17 balanced budgets and paid off the province’s debt. He did so without raising taxes.

That model has been followed by some NDP governments in western Canada. John Horgan in British Columbia was producing a series of balanced budgets before the pandemic.

Burrill is from a different school. He wants higher taxes on corporations and rich people and has a long list of spending promises. There is no commitment or plan to balance budgets. In this, he is being honest, unlike Darrel Dexter’s promise to be a “conservative progressive.” If neither he nor his advisers understands basic accounting, his $209 million error may be a naive mistake. Otherwise, he is being disingenuous.

The PCs provided costing for their promises at $553 million annually. They likewise do not provide a roadmap to balance.

PC leader Tim Houston was faced with a tough leadership issue in late June. Rankin’s clumsy closing of the border with New Brunswick provoked a strong protest in Cumberland County, which is on the border.

Then PC MLA, Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, became involved. What was a bad day for the government became a bad day for the PCs as well.

Smith-McCrossin was a leader of a blockade at exit 7, 25 minutes from the border. People could detour around it through route 4 but not in a later blockade at the border that prevented all traffic.

On July 24th, she asserted in an op-ed that she did not support or encourage the border blockade. Houston was invited to comment on the op-ed but declined. A July 31st letter to the paper by Liberal candidate Bill Casey quoted from a Facebook video in which she told the Premier that the blockade would happen if he did not open the border for people from Cumberland County.

The blockade she referred to in that video was at exit 7, not the one at the border.

Houston had her meet with himself and the caucus and asked her to apologize for her role. She refused and Houston expelled her from the party caucus.

Houston was in a difficult position after the blockades ended. He was right to involve the caucus, right to offer her a way out, and right to not respond to her op-ed piece. It is regrettable that he and she could not agree on a statement she could make on the matter.

Liberal Premier Iain Rankin dealt less well with a different matter. On July 5th, he hijacked a COVID briefing to deal with a political matter that had nothing to do with the pandemic.

He decided it was time to tell people about his drunk driving record. No doubt he suspected that it was going to come out anyway and decided to get his version out first.

His version had big problems. He acknowledged being convicted on Sept. 5, 2003, of driving with a blood-alcohol content in excess of 0.08. He was fined $1,200 and banned from driving for a year.

He was again convicted in court in 2005 for drunk driving, after trashing his car on the Kearney Lake Road. He won on appeal but misleadingly said on July 5th that he had been found “innocent”.

It is disturbing that none of this came out when he became a candidate for election nor when he announced his leadership bid.

More recently, the party embarrassed itself by dismissing Dartmouth South candidate Robyn Ingraham on flimsy grounds. Rankin distanced himself from his office’s decisions.

As noted in an earlier article, it was likewise an abdication of responsibility to call an election before providing Nova Scotians with a clear path to reopening.

Leadership qualities matter. Rankin’s weaknesses have been the most visible, but the current Premier is always the most exposed to scrutiny.

The PC and NDP platforms promote a lot of ineffective spending and unsustainable deficits. The Liberal program has fewer flaws and is likely sustainable.

We only get the opportunity to choose a government once every four years. Use it.


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