Promises to make… Promises to keep?

Iain Rankin billed himself as the candidate of generational change. But as a premier in pre-election pretend mode, he seems more like the unwelcome but familiar ghost of politicians past

Premier Iain Rankin at the COVID briefing on May 31, 2021. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

On June 14, 2021, Health Minister Zach Churchill announced the “Rankin government” — as it demands to be known — will invest one million dollars a year to provide improved cancer care treatment and support for patients in southwestern Nova Scotia. “We are committed to giving the people of Digby, Shelburne and Yarmouth counties better access to the cancer care they need, closer to home,” Churchill declared.

Churchill did not mention that his government’s pre-election commitment comes nearly four years after residents there presented his predecessor, Randy Delorey, with a petition containing 13,500 names demanding… well, what the minister is now promising.

Unfortunately, their petition landed two months too late. Stephen McNeil’s Liberals had just been returned to office with their second majority government, so they had no more promises they needed to make — or keep.

“This would be a large capital requirement,” Delorey explained at the time, dampening expectations. “So, the costing and the budgeting would all come into play, and that’s just the financial side. Then there’s the clinical side and the staffing side…”

But that was then. This is now.

Now is the eve of a provincial election.

Churchill did not mention that.

The next day, Labi Kousoulis, the minister of inclusive economic growth and the cabinet minister responsible for tourism, announced an $18.2 million tourism restart package — complete with one-time grants, grants per room and more than $3 million in new marketing money — “that will re-energize communities and help our operators prepare to open their doors and attract customers to the many unique experiences that Nova Scotia has to offer.”

Election? Who said anything about an election?

Two days after that, it was the turn of Kelly Regan, minister of community services and Bedford MLA “on behalf of Chuck Porter, minister of energy and mines.” Porter isn’t running in the next election, so he doesn’t need the press. Instead, Kelly announced a $1.1 million provincial pledge for the “initial planning phase” for a new, energy efficient commuter ferry and terminal that will — in the fullness of some day — link Regan’s Bedford voters… er, residents with downtown Halifax.

“This is an exciting project that will deliver a more convenient transit link for commuters and help Nova Scotia address climate change,” said Regan. And blah blah.

She did not mention an election.

Neither did Premier Iain Rankin when he travelled to Port Hawkesbury just one day later — on Friday, June 18. Can you sense a pattern here? The premier too came bearing cash, this time $1 million to build seven kilometres of new multi-use pathways in and around Port Hawkesbury, so “more people will be able to get outside and move around in ways that promote better health and a cleaner environment.”

Rankin was accompanied at his announcement by Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines, who is running in a nearby constituency and was officially there “on behalf of Energy and Mines Minister Chuck Porter.” Did we mention that Porter isn’t reoffering?

Later that same day, Rankin travelled to Mabou to let the world know his government was ponying up another $454,000 to finish paving the parking lots at Dalbrae Academy and the Strait Regional Centre for Education’s bus maintenance facility.

Parking lots? The premier? Really? Yes, really.

“We want our schools to be welcoming places for students, staff and everyone else who uses these important community hubs,” deadpanned Derek Mombourquette, minister of education and early childhood development, a Cape Breton MLA speaking on his own behalf. “By improving accessibility, we are making our schools more inclusive spaces.”

But there’s also this. According to the government news release, “both projects were completed over two years, with $121,000 in funding last year and $454,000 announced today.”

Uh… Does that mean? Yes, I think so. A refried announcement coupled with a pre-election reminder of good deeds done and almost done.

On Saturday, Rankin was back on his what-election campaign trail. With the Englishtown ferry as his photo backdrop, he announced his government will permanently eliminate fees on all seven ferries that operate within provincial boundaries. The government will forego $1.3 million in revenue, but the move will make voters… uh, residents in four different counties from one end of the province to the other happy.

And that’s really what it’s all about.

Election? Who mentioned that?

Not Premier Iain Rankin. You remember him? The candidate of “generational change.”

He told reporters on Friday he wasn’t even thinking about an election. But he sounded like a forked-tongue ghost of too many politicians past as he explained to the CBC with a straight face: “It’s fairly typical after you pass a budget to start to roll out those announcements in detail. That’s what we’re doing now. We had a shutdown for the month of May. So, we’re going to continue to invest in the future prosperity of this province and I’m really excited to get out and see Nova Scotians.”

Of course.

This would all be fun and funny, more of the meaningless same old, except for one thing. As NDP leader Gary Burrill rightly and regularly points out, the government’s own forecast calls for a reduction of $200 million in departmental spending in 2022-23.

Where will that come from? What will it mean in a post-election world for all his pre-election promises?

Back to a future we know all too well already.

A version of this column originally appeared in the Halifax Examiner

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