Few will be surprised to know I’m a financial as well as philosophical supporter of the New Democratic Party. I’ve been making modest, tax-write-off-able, publicly recorded donations since the early 1980s when the provincial party had no MPs and a single MLA.
Giving then seemed more act of charity than political statement.
Times have changed. Federally, the NDP is now the official opposition. And, in Nova Scotia in 2009, the party of the never-wins won majority government.
I still give, though I don’t necessarily—or often—agree with actions of the government that carries my party label.
But I distinguish between a political party like the NDP, which has the luxury of a consistent, coherent philosophy, and a government like Darrell Dexter’s NDP, which has the messy job of making decisions in a province hobbled by decades of other-party-accumulated debt and a world buffeted by no-one’s-really-in-control-anymore freakynomics.
Most of the time, my convenient party-state fiction works.
But a recent post-Liberal annual meeting, political-is-personal fundraising email from party president David Wallbridge gave me pause.
Wallbridge’s email legitimately asked whether the Liberals are still spending 1970s-era, kickbacks-tainted funds to underwrite expenses like their own recent attack ads on the Dexter government.
Calling Liberal lack of transparency “disappointing [and] wrong,” Wallbridge segued: “I guess it’s not surprising.” Cue the ominous, Michael-Ignatieff music. “We don’t know a lot about Stephen McNeil.”
Huh? After a decade in the legislature, six as Liberal leader, four as leader of the opposition, what do we not know about MacNeil we didn’t know about Dexter when we made him premier.
“He hasn’t ever held any leadership or other such job in his life.”
Really? Politics don’t count in politics? Or is this a not-so-subtle swipe at McNeil’s intellectually unworthy pre-politics career as a small appliance repair shop owner.
“In fact,” Wallbridge goes on adding stupidity to innuendo, McNeil “had to hire a taxpayer-funded consultant to tell him how to run his political office.”
Uh… isn’t that what leaders should do when they need expertise? Didn’t Dexter hire consultants back in 2009 to tell him what to do about our economic situation?
“We have to fight back,” Wallbridge declared, “and we need your help.”
Press “Donate Now” button.
I’ll pass this time, thanks.
Copyright 2013 Stephen Kimber
Forget this year’s faux feints and fevered fantasies. Two thousand and thirteen will be the year we get to pass electoral judgment on the government of Darrell Dexter.
Will we decide, on balance and measured against his less-than-stellar competition, that Dexter has earned a second majority term? Or will we, seeing more potential than performance in the past four years, rein him in, giving Dexter a second minority-government chance to make a better first impression? Or will we decide electing a first-ever NDP government was as historic a mistake as it was a milestone, and consign it to history’s dustbin?
Except for the most rabid of partisans—the my-party-right-or-wrong NDPers and their sky-is-falling-socialist-hordes counterparts—the choice will not be easy.
There are too many intriguing issues for one column but let’s start with economics.
The NDP inherited a fiscal mess mostly of its predecessor’s making, a global economic meltdown beyond its control and, worst, the ticking demographic time bomb of an aging, under-educated population.
None of those big-picture problems could have been overcome in a single electoral term by any party.
The NDP’s signature fiscal accomplishment—presuming they can pull it off—will be to have brought the province’s books back to balance in four years without completely devastating a precarious economy. No mean feat.
But the trick for the government now will be to convince its traditional base those against-the-grain sacrifices were necessary to allow for future social investment while reassuring those independents who voted for it in 2009 that that doesn’t mean a return to runaway spending.
The NDP’s broader economic development strategy has been the doomed-to-disappointment, tried-and-failed strategy Nova Scotia governments have touted since the days of Robert Stanfield: Dream big—and pray. Daewoo, IBM, Cooke Aquaculture, Irving Shipbuilding, the Lower Churchill… Throw the Hail-Stanfield pass...
The good news is the government has coupled those gambles with investments in training that—should they pay off—will keep more young people in the province. The bad news is that most of the bets will not pay off—and the government will have sacrificed other significant assets (gobs of public money, the environment) in the process.
No easy choices indeed. Let the campaigning begin. Happy New Year!
How and why did avuncular, reasonable-man-trying-to-do-the-right-thing Opposition leader Darrell Dexter morph into prickly, why-should-I-answer-your-reasonable-question Premier Darrell Dexter?
Last week, as the House of Assembly wrapped up its fall sitting, Dexter announced—not in the legislature where you might have expected it, but in a puffed up State-of-the-Province speech to an audience of 400 Chamber-of-Commerce types—that his government had commissioned an independent study on the economics of importing electricity from the proposed Lower Churchill hydroelectric project in Labrador.
It turns out his government signed an untendered $85,000 contract with Power Advisory, a Massachusetts-based consultant, on Sept. 24, 2012. The company’s final report is expected within weeks.
What makes that announcement so intriguing, of course, is the premier had said nothing about the report before—despite ongoing opposition calls for exactly such a study and two emergency debates in the legislature.
The opposition, understandably, sniffed something nefarious. Dexter, suggested Tory leader Jamie Baillie, “has determined what he wants the outcome to be, and he wants to make sure that’s what it is before he releases the report.”
Dexter was airily dismissive. He hadn’t seen the report, he told reporters.
So why had he waited so long to mention it?
“I told you about it when it was appropriate to tell you,” he non answered.
No, but really? Why not announce it … any time before now?
“It’s not a riddle,” Dexter said. “I’m not trying to be anything but forthright,” he said, being everything but.
It’s hard to remember now but Dexter—before he discovered the perks of premier power—was once considered a straight-talking, sense-making pragmatist.
As his government gears up for re-election, its real problem is not what Dexter called our “fractured political landscape of successive governments going from majority to minority status and then being replaced,” or even—generally speaking—its policies. Its record, though far from inspiring, is defensible, especially in these straitened economic times. And some of its big picture, down-the-road plans—including the Lower Churchill and the shipbuilding contract—offer at least the prospect of a better tomorrow.
But until—and unless—Dexter rediscovers what brought him to power in the first place, his party’s own short-term political prospects seem unlikely to improve.
We are at the drain end of August when the non-news of summer just repeats itself—Mayor Peter Kelly still refuses to rule out running for his old Bedford council seat; Lance Armstrong still proclaims his innocence; Conrad Black still wants his day in court—and no one, wisely, pays any mind.So I was surprised last week when a column I wrote about that most seemingly esoteric of subjects—electoral boundaries—roused such passion.
Online comments, Facebook postings, emails, phone calls, even supermarket line-up upbraidings...
My argument, simply put: the provincial government’s decision to order the supposedly independent electoral boundaries commission to come to a pre-determined conclusion to eliminate so-called protected ridings was an affront to the democratic process.
Parker Donham, who blogs as The Contrarian (contrarian.ca), dismissed my rationale—“Welcome to Wonderland, Alice”—and argued the government was rightly putting an end to “the patent unfairness of undemocratic protected ridings.”
Facebooked former NDP leader Jeremy Akerman: “the notion that a voter can be properly represented only by someone of the same race or ethnicity is a profoundly ugly one.” Minority ridings are “insidious and corrosive ideas which should be expunged from our democracy.”
I was really talking more about process than outcome. We need to discuss how to protect minority interests in our legislature without beginning with the conclusion.
But this high school civics notion that one-person-one-vote is the only, or best guarantee of democracy flies in the face of history—and reality.
We don’t have such a system.
Federally, one voter in PEI counts for three in Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec and Alberta.
If we went strictly by the numbers, the our three northern territories qualify—barely—for one House of Commons seat instead of their three. Does anyone believe the interests of that vast and very different part of Canada could be adequately represented by one of 338?
If there are legitimate regional interests that don’t fit neatly into one-person-one-vote, why not racial or ethnic?
Certainly, there may be better ways to protect and represent minority interests, but let’s not toss out the one we have without at least an honest discussion.
You know you must be heading into the silly, nothing-better-to-write-about summer season in politics—not to mention in the shelf life of any government—when commentators begin to twist every announcement, pronouncement, silence, head nod, eyebrow raise and weather report into an earnest discussion of whether said announcement, pronouncement, etc., increases or decreases the likelihood of a provincial election tomorrow.
Once any majority government celebrates the third anniversary of its elevation to power—and usually many months, even years, before—pundits presume it must be waiting only for this next poll result or that good-news announcement to pull the plug and plunge us immediately into another to-be-desired-only-by-commentators-and-sign-makers election campaign.
Even when the man who must make the call to send us back to the polls, Premier Darrell Dexter, attempts to tamp down the speculation—“I think the people elected us for a full term”—we find ourselves parsing his words, Bill Clinton-like. It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘think’ is…
Dexter announces a pre-budget, down-the-road-after-the-budget-is-balanced-and-into-the-next-mandate cut to the HST? Get out the signs. We’re headed for a fall election. It’s all part of the premier’s Machiavellian master plan.
The electoral boundaries commission throws a wrench into the works by arguing the government should keep those minority ridings it wants to get rid of? Put away the signs. Chances for a fall election, pronounces one prominent pundita, just “faded.”
Making an unexpected cabinet shuffle announcement at Government House? Well that, wrote one reporter, just “fired up suspicion in some circles that the premier’s visit there was really to kick off a snap election.” Of course… not.
A nine per cent plummet in support for the government in the latest public opinion poll? That, opined the Truro Daily News earlier this month “will probably put an end to any election speculation for this year.”
In fact, I’d bet on ‘not.’
My own secret-source prediction: there will be no election this week. As you were. Back to the barbeque. Happy summer. Happy almost-Canada Day.
Premier Darrell Dexter is right that the province’s Electoral Boundaries Commission was wrong to ignore its mandate to eliminate designated minority ridings.
But his government was wrong to force that mandate on the commission in the first place.
Let’s rewind. There’s a legal requirement that an electoral boundaries commission be established every so often to determine the appropriate number, size, shape and composition of the province’s voting districts.
Last fall, the legislature created a Select Committee on Establishing an Electoral Boundaries Commission to figure out who should sit on it and what its terms of reference should be.
That NDP-dominated committee-to-choose-a-commission held 10 hearings over less than two whirlwind weeks in five communities from Yarmouth to Sydney. Most were sparsely attended. Some lasted less than half an hour because no one showed up.
There was some discussion about designated minority ridings but, from my brief traipse through the transcripts, most of those who spoke—and most of them, to be fair, had a vested interest—supported the status quo.
Despite that, the committee—did we mention it was NDP-dominated and the minority ridings are represented by other parties—specifically instructed the commissioners to eliminate the policy of drawing boundaries in such a way as to encourage electoral representation of francophones and African Nova Scotians.
Because the legislature wasn’t sitting at the time, the report didn’t come back to the House for debate. Instead, the report itself became fiat.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with asking: does it really make sense to gerrymander certain ridings to make it more likely voters will elect a member of a designated minority group who can represent both the riding and the broader interests of the group in the legislature? It certainly hasn’t always had the desired effect; black Preston, for example, continues to be represented by a white politician. Are there better ways to achieve the desired result—a more completely representative legislature?
Let’s have a real discussion about this important issue.
An electoral boundaries commission that engages Nova Scotians of all political stripes and persuasions in open discussion would have offered an ideal opportunity for that debate. If the NDP hadn’t already determined the outcome.keep looking »