Dear Darrell… unsolicited advice

Dear Darrell,

As you begin your second full year—summers don’t count in Nova Scotia—as premier of all you survey, allow me to offer some gratuitous, unsolicited and unlikely to be appreciated advice. (But given your government’s precipitous free-fall from electoral grace, you need all the advice you can get.)

First, stop trying to be a better, wiser Tory-Liberal premier.


Your most significant accomplishments to-date—bringing some painful but common–sensical sense to our have-not province’s precarious finances and the jury’s-still-out decision to invest heavily in the Daewoo “megaproject” vision of industrial development—would look good on the resumés of Stephen McNeil or Jamie Baillie.

No shame in that. But where are the Tommy Douglas-dreams?

My insider friends assure me much is happening in the wonkish workshops-and-visioning-exercises’ world of the public service and that all will be revealed in the fullness of time.

The time is now. Your government needs to lay out its vision for health care, education, economic development, environmental sustainability—not as precious polished policy stones but as works in progress. You need to undertake the kind of province-wide, what-do-you-think-of-what-were-thinking exercise Finance Minister Graham Steele employed so successfully in the lead-up to last spring’s budget.

Speaking of ministers, my second piece of advice—you’re not going to like this—is to bring Howard Epstein in from the backbench cold. Epstein remains your government’s best-least-well-used asset. Whatever real or apparent sin kept him out of your first cabinet, his good-soldier silence since has surely been penance enough.

Given his intellect and background, the importance of environmental sustainability to our future and your government’s own spotty track record—can you say mercury emissions?—make him environment minister.

My third and final suggestion is for you to be you again—or at least that avuncular, street-smart, populist you who carried your party to victory in the last election.

Too often since, you’ve appeared defensive, brittle, entitled to your entitlements.

You need to get out more … perhaps as the host of that new, where-we’re-going road show I suggested. Or at least spend some time down at your local pub or legion.

Time to listen again.

And dream. Before it’s too late.


  1. Your advice about getting out in front of the public is sound but I would not hold up the pre-budget consultation as a laudable example to emulate. Engaging with Nova Scotians in a meaningful dialogue about the future vision and direction of the province is what’s needed – not another dog and pony show in which people have 45 minutes to talk about deep and serious issues with only scant information and background. And frankly, who cares if there’s lots of wonkish workshops and backroom conversations happening in the Public Service? People – I mean the ones whose lives are substantially affected by the musings of politicians and public servants – need to weigh-in on future vision. The politicians and bureaucrats have had plenty of opportunities to wow us with the brilliance of their visionary thinking and we seem to end up with the same old stuff every time.

    So here’s a thought: If you want to do something new… maybe you need to try something that is altogether new. Just saying…


  2. It seems everyone but Darrell knows that Howard should be Environment minister.


  3. An excellent article and excellent comments. Stephen Kimber’s political analyses are consistently spot-on, and this column is no exception. The NS NDP government has made some notable achievements, but where is the social democratic vision? The vision for health care, education, economic development, environmental sustainability – and the arts and the creative economy? And, indeed, where is Howard Epstein, without doubt the government’s “best-least-well-used asset?”
    A year has passed: times are tough, but the belt has been tightened and neither is the ship sinking nor the sky falling. So time to seriously address the basis of why the NDP government was elected in NS – the electorate were well and truly fed up with the unending Tory/Liberal “same old, same old” and really did want to see a government with a very different social democratic vision that would actually address the myriad of serious issues – and opportunities – that confront this province.
    This really does mean new political thinking, an end to bureaucratic stagnation (shape them up or ship them out), and maximally using the assets that are available. The cabinet was too small to begin with (false economy, in my view). It is time to give ministers’ realistic and manageable portfolios (so they can really be on top of the what they are managing), spread the load, and use the talent in caucus (and Howard Epstein is a stellar asset to the entire province whose abilities are being frittered away on the back bench).
    The government was slow in coming out of the blocks at the starting gun. All the more reason to shake off the jitters and accelerate.


  4. This is why I think it’s a shame when the NDP gets elected — anywhere but in its traditional strongholds, that is.
    Wait, wait, untwist your knickers and hear me out.
    I think the NDP — in general, not just in N.S. — does a fabulous job as the conscience of the government. It can be the party of the visionaries, of the dreamers, and in a perfect world (such as the one that Pierre Trudeau and Ed Broadbent found) can exert influence on the ruling party and make life better for the citizens.
    Generally the NDP don’t get elected because they’re egalitarian visionaries, they get elected when everyone is disgusted with both the Liberals and Tories — the electorate says “Screw it then, see if you can do it any better.” But by then everything’s in the crapper — it’s worth remembering that both Bob Rae and Darrell Dexter came to power in the midst of a recession — and even if it wasn’t, there are practical realities to government that must be addressed. All that dreaming, all that perfect-worlding, is dropped in an effort to keep the trains running.
    I think it takes an exceptional leader — and perhaps Darrell Dexter isn’t one of those, or perhaps the current political climate doesn’t allow for it — to say “Screw reality, this is what I said I’d do if I was ever elected, and I’m going to do it.” I join you in wishing he would, though. Nova Scotia could use a dreamer who dares defy the polls to do what’s right.


  5. many things to agree with here…..but could we please not forget all the promises to the arts and artists about how they make the world a better place? still waiting to hear that we haven’t dropped out of the vision


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