Stephen McNeil’s ‘right direction’ and his Chamber of Commerce cheerleaders

(Originally published in the Halifax Examiner February 21, 2017)

If you missed it, I’m sure you weren’t alone.

Let us first recall The Week that now, thankfully, was.

First, of course, there was the emergency session of the legislature scheduled for last Monday night, but which was delayed a day by Snowmageddon #1.

Our premier apparently needed not only a weatherman, but also the entire expertise of the Emergency Management Organization, the Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal department, the Speaker’s Office and various and sundry senior government officials, to belatedly realize that, Yes, Virginia, it really was too messy out there to open up the House of Assembly Monday night.

(Canadian Press)

Perhaps he could simply have looked out his window. But I digress…

Monday was followed by an unromantically snow-stayed Valentine’s Day that ended, not with wine and roses, but with the McNeil government’s formal introduction of the ironically named Teachers’ Professional Agreement and Classroom Improvement Act.

Wednesday was marked by some snow-clearing and much political throat-clearing in anticipation not only of Thursday’s school/office/life-closing (smaller) Snowmageddon #2, but also of hundreds of teachers lining up to speak classroom truth to bean-counter power in the law amendments committee.

All of which goosed anticipation for Friday’s never-before-in-the-history-of-the-teachers’-union one-day strike and mass protest by the province’s 9,300 public school teachers, who were all mad as hell and not going to take it anymore…

Image from ctvnews.ca

It was, as they say, a busy week with lots to report. But since there are fewer reporters available to actually report these days, not many news outlets bothered to cover Wednesday’s there-for-the-plucking “fake news:” the premier’s annual state of the province address to the Halifax Chamber of Commerce. (the media exceptions I noted: the subscription-based online business site allnovascotia.com, Global TV News and, glancingly, Metro).

That’s too bad.

While MLAs debated the government’s it-will-pass-anyway legislation, imposing its will on teachers in the House of Assembly, more than 500 business types and government officials gathered just a few blocks away to celebrate Premier Stephen McNeil’s bold assertion that “no one can deny the fact this province is moving in the right direction.”

Really?

That right direction was highlighted by Chamber president Patrick Sullivan in his introduction to the premier. Taking a page out of the premier’s own playbook (or perhaps anticipating Donald Trump’s Thursday press conference), Sullivan complained that “media stories about the cost of the Bluenose II refit and the Yarmouth ferry passenger counts will barely merit a footnote in the province’s history” while “bigger issues… such as the need for fiscal restraint and tax cuts… need attention.” (from allnovascotia.com’s paraphrase.)

Mr. Sullivan might want to ask a physically and emotionally battered classroom teacher — struggling to teach too many kids with too many special needs and too few resources to help them — how she feels about the government’s fiscal restraint… Or invite an overworked, under-appreciated and underpaid nurse in an overcrowded hospital to discuss how he feels about still more high income tax cuts to pay for more high performance yachts…

The reality is that we’ve had already more than 50 years of  business-friendly, the poor-will-always-be-with-us-so-why-worry Progressive Conservative, NDP and Liberal governments, each repeating the same tired neoliberal mantra that inevitably leads to:

  • fiscal restraint for some, millions in grants for passenger-free ferries or Bluenose boondoggles for others;
  • tax cuts for corporations and the well-to-do, higher taxes and poorer services for everyone who can’t afford their own lobbyist;
  • elimination or evisceration of regulations designed to protect public health and the environment;
  • ever-freer trade that raises some yachts but sinks too many rafts…

While neoliberalism may indeed be working out quite nicely for some — the audience at Wednesday’s State of the Province speech gave the premier a standing ovation — the reality is that it hasn’t done much to improve our province’s future.

Perhaps it’s time the Chamber took on some real issues, such as:

  • the need for an actual living wage for Nova Scotians;
  • the impact of fiscal restraint on public education and health care;
  • the need for a fairer tax system for all and not one skewed to those who already have.

Oh, and the chamber president’s airy dismissal of the costs of the Yarmouth ferry money pit and the Bluenose’s worse-money-after-bad refit?

He might want to remember that what got us into this mess in the first place has been 50-plus years of subsidizing private business. Can you say Clairtone Sound, the Shaheen refinery, the Mercator cruise ship, Daewoo, the Irvings, etc., etc.?

It really is time to try another way.

A version of this column originally appeared in the Halifax Examiner. To read the latest column, please subscribe.

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Copyright 2017 Stephen Kimber, Website
  1. Well Stu, the Yarmouth ferry got over $30 million, and the education improvement fund gets a max of $20 million…

    Reply

  2. The fact that millioms were once again squandered on that stupid ferry. What was it like 28 million a year…think of how far that would go to getting the help needed in claassrooms for the special needs students. Eliminating the excuses the 5eachers used for not accepting yet another contract will show what their real issue is, which i and others believe it will just come down to their greed being exposed.

    Reply

  3. Very entertaining column as usual, but very short on actual information. How much money does the government actually give to business? How about a list of boondoggles and compare that with the cost of education or healthcare?

    Reply

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