Nova Scotia’s new New Democratic Party government isn’t so new anymore. A week from tomorrow, it will have been in office six months.
How well has it performed?
At one level, the answer would have to be very well. Darrell Dexter’s government has demonstrated a level of calming, policy-wonkish competence sadly lacking during the chaotic, what-shall-we-pave-today reign of former Tory Premier Rodney MacDonald.
The NDP clearly learned by watching the endless parade of do-as-we-didn’t Tory gaffes. Even when the new government’s ministers momentarily forget themselves—Deputy Premier Frank Corbett’s big-whopper $441.48 restaurant bill comes to mind—they’ve been wise enough to apologize (“I screwed up and it won’t happen again”) and move on. Ernie Fage? Compare and contrast. I rest my case.
The government has also made progress in eliminating the most outrageous entitlements—fees for chairing committees that didn’t meet, peddling taxpayer-bought office furniture for personal gain—too many of our elected officials believed they were entitled to.
On the other hand, it must be said that the New Democrats have broken—or will break—every important election promise they made during last spring’s campaign.
Such blatant backsliding would normally lead to howls of voter outrage, but the NDP’s popularity remains high. That’s probably because we, as voters, never expected them to keep those promises. We would have been angrier if they had, especially after this fall’s sobering economic analysis from experts the government hired to get it off the hook it had created for itself.
For me, however, the most troubling blemish on the NDP’s early record is how easily it seems to have slipped into playing Nova Scotia politics-as-usual on appointments and government spending decisions.
The NDP recently used its majority on the all-party human resources committee, for example, to keep MLAs—and the public—from finding out about all candidates being considered for appointments to provincial boards and commissions. While in opposition, the party led the fight to make that process more open and transparent.
And last week the NDP’s Cumberland South riding president and former candidate resigned because he says the government is playing “old-style politics” on the location of a new provincial jail. The Tories had promised two jails—arguably old-style politics too—but the NDP canceled those, and now plans to build just one to save money.
Intriguingly, allnovascotia.com reports Justice Minister Ross Landry’s home riding is the “leading contender” as home to the new institution.
Those are not good omens so early in their tenure.