Hold on to your ballots

Tax cuts for businesses, increases for minimum-wage earners, cute photos with kids… There must be an election coming.

Premier Stephen McNeil speaks to reporters, Thursday, January 9, 2020.
Photo: Jennifer Henderson

Let us count up just a few of the reasons Premier Stephen McNeil will call a provincial election before the end of 2020. Start in the counting house itself. Last week, during his annual State of the Province address at — where else? — the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, McNeil announced tax cuts for corporations (from 16 to 14 per cent) and small businesses (from 3 to 2.5 per cent).

Although this is yet another gift that will keep on giving to business owners and corporate shareholders, it was, of course, billed as something else entirely, and better for all of us. Of course.

“That money will be turned around and reinvested back in this province,” McNeil told reporters. Although the longstanding evidence suggests otherwise, the actual lack of impact of the cuts on the rest of us won’t come home to roost until after an election.

And then too, there was this tweet:

Although advocates across North America are calling for a $15 minimum minimum wage and although McNeil’s happy-talk, “we-want-workers-to-get-ahead-too” $1-increase still falls nearly $2 south of that, it is, to be fair, still the largest increase in a decade.

Forget for the moment NDP leader Gary Burrill’s correct carping that Nova Scotia will still have “the lowest median income in the country and is the only province in Canada where child poverty is increasing.”

One can almost hear the Liberal campaign rhetoric: “We are committed to moving forward in a balanced way by making changes that benefit both workers and businesses.” Oh, wait, that was from the actual government-issued press release.

Pre-primary pre-election photo op. CBC/Jean Laroche

And then, of course, there was last week’s cutesy photo op of the premier and Education Minister Zach Churchill squished into kiddie seats around a table filled with adorable pre-primary students and their teachers at multicultural Chebucto Heights Elementary School in Spryfield.

The reason for the school visit — a previously-announced announcement that the last 48 of 253 elementary schools in the province will offer pre-primary beginning in September — could have been covered off in a press release.

But a photo op is a pre-election op not to be missed.

“I’m proud of a lot of the work our government has done over the last six years, but nothing more than this program around pre-primary,” McNeil beamed, speaking at a podium that — as the CBC’s Jean Laroche noted without comment — was “set up next to a table of four-year-olds playing.”

Don’t get me wrong. The long-overdue pre-primary program is a Liberal accomplishment worth celebrating. But it’s hard not to remember that it was first announced in the province’s spring 2017 budget — announced, but not voted on at the time so it could become a key part of the Liberal platform for McNeil’s May 2017 election campaign.

Now, the fact that the promise has been kept offers up a two-elections-for-one promise bonus.

Which could apply equally well to highway twinning. That began with 2017 pre-pre-election consultations followed by a pre-election no-tolls announcement followed by four years of actual road work with three more to go as the Liberals steer into the campaign lane again.

We will no doubt hear more about paving in the coming months, perhaps along with a well-timed re-promise to keep a so-far unkept promise and remove the tolls from the Cobequid Pass highway before election day.

And so it will go.

As for the premier himself?

In a year-end interview with Global’s Sarah Ritchie on Dec.18, just two days before his Boat Harbour announcement — to be fair, another positive promise kept — McNeil was asked when Nova Scotians might be heading back to the polls. “I haven’t put my head around calling an election campaign,” McNeil replied. “I’m preparing our party for a campaign, but I certainly don’t see one in 2020, and if it is, it will be later in the year.”

That was then. A month later, in a sit-down with the Cape Breton Post, McNeil parsed that, saying only, “I think people are safe [from an election] for the summer.”

Meaning? Prepare for an election before the end of the year.

This column first appeared in the Halifax Examiner on February 17, 2020.

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