Fage…more Jan 14, 2007

Fiddling over Fage II fun, but…

The radio host’s question — coming as it did on a day when the premier of our province was reduced to absurdly repeating his new the-facts-are-the-facts mantra to explain away the latest inconvenient new facts that had suddenly replaced the old, no-longer-fact facts he’d been dispensing — seemed ludicrously apt.

“What,” asked Costas Halavrezos, the genial host of CBC Radio’s Maritime Noon phone-in show, “would encourage more people to vote?”


And yet…

Like so many scandals, this Fage II Fandango is not really about what it’s actually about — which is whether a provincial cabinet minister was drinking and driving and left the scene of an accident.

As important as that is, it is still, at heart, an incident of personal poor judgment that has already resulted in Fage’s resignation from cabinet and may yet lead to charges against him under the Motor Vehicle Act or, less likely, the criminal code. Which makes it, in the end, a matter between Ernie Fage and his conscience, the courts and his constituents.

While the government’s mishandling of the accident’s aftermath — and, of course, the bug-eyed, approaching-train-wreck fascination of watching a government self-destruct before our eyes — has ratcheted up the interest level, this scandal is not about an issue of public policy or how our government spends tax dollars.

That said, there were plenty of such issues floating out there last week, largely ignored, while we obsessed over Province House’s new who-knew-what-when-and-didn’t-tell-the-premier-because reality show.

As NDP leader Darrell Dexter allowed Thursday, he had doubts many Nova Scotians even knew what bill MLAs were debating this past week.

The government, you’ll recall, had thought its political party financing legislation so important it called the legislature back into special session just to deal with it. But that debate — which should have focused our attention on real questions like whether the new law was really just a political party cash grab in the guise of reform, or whether the Liberals should be allowed to keep tainted kickback cash from the seventies, or whether we should be allowing corporations and unions to contribute five times more to provincial political parties than they’re allowed to give federal parties — got drowned out in the tidal wave that was Fage II.

So did the latest report of the auditor general, which was released last week. It shows former premier John Hamm committed tax dollars to support the proposed 2014 Commonwealth Games without first allowing his own finance department to vet the games committee’s optimistic projections. That contravened the Provincial Finance Act. And the auditor general also expressed concern the government was making it difficult for his staff to get the information it needs to do its job. Those are important matters.

So too is last week’s report of the province’s minimum wage review committee. It recommends the hourly wage 27,000 Nova Scotians depend on to survive be increased by 45 cents to $7.60 per hour. With the exception of the predictable bleating from the restaurant industry, there has been virtually no discussion of whether that’s too much, not enough, or just right.

The same goes for news Nova Scotia Power is scaling back its estimated fuel bill by $8 million, but isn’t going to cut its application for a power rate increase — in spite of the fact it had earlier used higher fuel costs to justify the need for high power rates in the first place.

Even the latest twist in the Heather Foley Melvin affair, an almost as titillating scandal that got shunted aside last week to make space for the Fage Follies, is ultimately more significant in terms of the government’s credibility and performance. The Liberals, who are propping up the Conservatives until they get their own leadership house in order, sidetracked an NDP motion to force Foley Melvin — who, you’ll recall, the premier appointed to an important provincial job she wasn’t qualified for in order to get her out of a job in his office she’d done poorly — to return to the public accounts committee to answer legitimate questions she’d refused to answer in an earlier appearance.

And so it goes.

Which brings us back to Costas’ question: What would encourage more people to vote? Would it make any difference if we in the media — and, to be fair, we in the public — paid more attention to what matters and less to turning sideshows like Fage into wrestling’s main event. Maybe, maybe not. But it’s an interesting question.

And now, back to Fage II.

Stephen Kimber, the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of King’s College, is an award-winning author of five nonfiction books and a novel, Reparations.

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