The Bees’ Knees – Prizes for Week Seven

Each week the Legislature is in session we’ll give out  prizes for the best and worst moments, as recorded in Hansard.

Honey Bee

Chester – St. Margarets’ NDP MLA Denise Peterson-Rafuse introduced Nova Scotia’s first long-term housing strategy in the Legislature, presenting a very good blueprint to build better housing options for Nova Scotians.

Peterson-Rafuse: As the Minister of Community Services and the minister responsible for housing, it is my priority to make life better for Nova Scotians through safe and affordable housing. On Monday our government announced the province’s very first long-term Housing Strategy. I don’t know why previous Liberal and Progressive Conservative Governments have always operated without a clear plan to deal with this crucial issue, but those days are finally over…

Saving money for a home can seem like a distant, if not impossible, dream for many hard-working families. We will be there to help these people who need a hand up, not a handout. Nova Scotia will become a leader in innovative financial solutions to help Nova Scotians who may not yet be in a position to secure a mortgage from a bank or a credit union. We will enable Nova Scotians to save for a down payment, build equity and buy their home. We will offer lease-to-own options such as dedicating part of a tenant’s rent to building equity in their home. We will offer a graduate home ownership program that lets recent graduates get a jump-start in building equity and provide an incentive to stay right here at home.

Peterson-Rafuse wins this week’s Honey Bee prize for good work on the NDP’s Housing Strategy.

Drone of the Week

1 drone noun \drōn\
a stingless bee that does not gather nectar or pollen

2 drone intransitive verb \drōn\
to talk in a persistently dull or monotonous tone

Bedford Liberal MLA Kelly Regan had nothing positive to say about the largest investment in affordable housing in Nova Scotia’s history.

Kelly Regan: Let’s be clear – this isn’t a strategy. It’s a framework. It’s a wish list.

A strategy is a framework. You build regulations and programs and services by following a strategy. And let’s be clear, Kelly Regan and the Liberals have not presented a strategy or a framework or a blueprint of their own.

Kelly Regan wins this week’s Drone of the Week prize for continuing on with the Liberal Party’s Politics of Negativity.

The Bees’ Knees – Prizes for Week Six

Each week the Legislature is in session we’ll give out  prizes for the best and worst moments, as recorded in Hansard.

Killer Bee:

Colchester – Musquodoboit Valley NDP MLA Gary Burrill challenged Conservative MP Scott Armstrong to a debate on EI changes a few weeks ago, but Armstrong said Burrill could debate him in 2015. Burrill wins this week’s Killer Bee prize for beginning the debate in Nova Scotia’s legislature:

Gary Burrill: When I challenged Mr. Armstrong to meet me and debate on this subject, I’m afraid that I was inadequately precise. When I said that I would debate him at any time, I should have specified that what I meant by any time was not 2016 or 2015, or 2014. Rather, what I meant by any time was any time with a remote relation to the present. Now, remote, is, in fact, perhaps an important word here. To respond to people’s loss of their EI cheques and to their being forced to take jobs at 70 per cent of their previous wages, to respond to this by agreeing to discuss the matter in two years, speaks to a certain remoteness, a certain off-somewhere-being-pleased-with-yourself-ness, a certain failure to register or take in the financial difficulty of those who are around you. Therefore, I feel that I am within the bounds of fairness to treat Mr. Armstrong’s agreement to debate me only in two years’ time as, in fact, a “no”.

Bumble Bee

It is tradition in the Legislature to ring the bells for a recorded vote. Due to a public function about violence against women occurring in the building at the time, Frank Corbett asked that a recess be called, or that the bells be silenced. Unfortunately, the Liberals were feeling disagreeable, and the bells rang.

The Liberals receive a collective Bumble Bee prize for this nasty move.

Honey Bee

Fisheries Minister Sterling Belliveau gained praise from Liberals and Tories alike with his introduction of the Mariners’ Day Act, which designates the second Sunday in August as Mariners’ Day.

Sterling Belliveau: As promised in our government’s recent Speech from the Throne, this will be a special day for families and friends and indeed, all Nova Scotians. As Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, I’m bringing forward a bill that will honour all those fish harvesters who left port in early dawn but never came home. As a fisherman and as a fisherman’s son, I am asking you to join me in assuring the families of those lost souls that they will never be forgotten.

I come from Woods Harbour, Shelburne County, Mr. Speaker, the home port of the Miss Ally. We’ve had our share of fishing tragedies but you don’t have to come from my end of the province to share our sorrow. It’s an all-too-familiar story of many coastal communities and villages that dot Nova Scotia’s shoreline. It’s an all-too-familiar event for too many families.

This most recent fishing tragedy touched the folks all over Nova Scotia, indeed throughout Canada. Unfortunately our maritime history bears the names of men and women from all over the province who lost their life to the sea.

Mr. Speaker, the Mariners’ Day Act is dedicated to all those lost souls. Mariners’ Day will also serve to help promote safety practices within the fishing industry.

The Bees Knees: Prizes for Week Five

Each week the Legislature is in session we give out four prizes for the best and worst moments, as recorded in Hansard.

But this week Graham Steele’s farewell address first set the opposition straight on how budget estimates work, and then had the legislature teary-eyed with his comments about his kids. Instead of doling out the awards, we encourage you to read his remarks in full.

Graham Steele: Since I resigned as Finance Minister almost one full year ago, I have not taken a large part in the proceedings of the House. I no longer speak for the government because only a minister can do that and I no longer speak for the Department of Finance.

My focus is back on serving constituents in the constituency, which is where I started back in 2001. I was a little surprised when the gist of the Speaker’s ruling yesterday was that I had never stood up in the House to state plainly that there was no intention on my part to mislead the House in the presentation of last year’s budget. It’s still not clear to me what opportunity there is for a government backbencher to make such a statement in response to a point of privilege.

Nevertheless and in any event, I’m taking the opportunity to do that now. Let me say plainly and directly, there was in the presentation of last year’s budget absolutely, positively no intention on my part to mislead the House. Building a $9 billion budget is an exceedingly complex process. It was my privilege to play a lead role in that process four times while I served as Minister of Finance. The process takes place over about eight months. There are literally thousands of line items. The economic model used by the Department of Finance has over 600 variables – everything is connected to everything else.

There is new information coming in on these line items and these model variables all the time, every single day. As a result, in the preparation of a budget there has to be a cut-off date. There has always been a cut-off date and there will always be a cut-off date. There is no Finance Minister, ever, who has stood up in this House with a budget that is up-to-date as of the day of the budget. That may be possible with a $9,000 budget or a $90,000 budget but it is not possible with a $9 billion budget, with thousands of line items and hundreds of variables, all of which are inter-connected and on which new information is coming in every day.

In the case of last year’s budget, everyone agrees that the new information came in after the cut-off date. This was explained at length when the Department of Finance appeared before the Public Accounts Committee. Anyone who still has questions about that point should review the transcript of that meeting. The only question left then is whether the new information was material in an accounting sense of the term, and again, everybody agrees that it wasn’t.

I know that $27 million sounds like a lot of money and it is, except in the context of a $9 billion budget. The Auditor General himself attests to the fact that it was not material. Remember that the Auditor General reviews the revenue estimates every year. Last year he signed off on the revenue estimates, as he has every year. He would not have signed off on the revenue estimates if there had been a material change. So, Madam Speaker, we had new information that came in after the cut-off date and it wasn’t material in the context of a $9 billion budget.

The commitment of this province, and indeed, of any participant in the financial markets, is that non-material changes will be incorporated into the next scheduled financial statements, and they duly were in the September forecast update. In short, routine matters were dealt with in a routine way. That’s the end of the story, or it should have been the end of the story.

Madam Speaker, I was flabbergasted to read in the February report of the Auditor General his view that the new information should have been stated at budget time. I did not understand his position then, and I do not understand it now. If the information came after the cut-off and was not material, which everyone agrees on, then what accounting rule says that it needs to be reported anyway? There isn’t one.

The Auditor General says that errors should be corrected, which is another accounting rule everyone agrees with, but this wasn’t an error. It was new information that wasn’t material that came in after the cut-off. That’s not an error or a mistake in any normal sense of the word. If the Auditor General’s interpretation is accepted, then the concept of the cut-off date become meaningless, because any change has to be reported, or maybe it’s not just any change.

The Department of Finance followed the rule of materiality, just like the Auditor General, and just like the department always has. The Auditor General now seems to be suggesting that a different rule should be followed, but he hasn’t said why or what the new rule should be. If the rule of materiality should change so that changes of a certain size should be reported, even if they’re not material, the Auditor General has not said what the new threshold is, nor has he said how close to Budget Day is too close.

Madam Speaker, I could go on about this, but the point is essentially this: the Auditor General in his February report is applying a new rule that he hasn’t spelled out, that is different than what has been applied before or that he applies himself, and that nobody in the Department of Finance, including me, could have anticipated at the time the budget was delivered.

There is another aspect of this matter that I think is relevant, and I think can only be understood by somebody who has sat in the chair of the Minister of Finance. The Province of Nova Scotia is a participant in the bond markets. As a public issuer, there are certain rules and conventions that apply. There is a process for the release of financial information of a public issuer. The Auditor General is suggesting a change in well-established rules about the release of information. The markets would consider this to be very peculiar behaviour. When you have a budget with thousands of interrelated line items and hundreds of interrelated economic variables, you cannot be dribbling out information just because one of those items has changed on a given day.

Madam Speaker, in closing, let me say that I am proud of the work I did as Minister of Finance. (Applause) I am proud of the Back To Balance process, and I’m proud that my successor as Minister of Finance was able to deliver a balanced budget to the people of the province this year. I have never deliberately misled the House, and I did not in delivering the budget last year. I respect this House and all that it represents, although I do believe that the level of posturing and partisanship on all sides should be a concern to all citizens of the province and all members of the House.

I am proud of what I have been able to accomplish as a member of this House for the past 12 years. The older I get, the more painfully aware I am that I could always have done more, and I could always have done better. I say all this knowing that these may well be the last words I say in the course of debate in this House, because this sitting will end soon, an election is imminent, and I am not reoffering as a candidate. One day, perhaps when my children grow up, they will look at Hansard for the period 2001 to 2013 and see what their father did and said while he was here. They are still young and it may be many years from now when they do that and if I am not around when they read these words, I want them to know that I love them, I am proud of them, and I hope that what they read here in Hansard makes them proud of me. Thank you very much.

The Bees Knees – Prizes for Week Four

Each week the Legislature is in session we’ll give out four prizes for the best and worst moments, as recorded in Hansard.

Bumble Bee

In the first of his two prizes this week, Zach Churchill wins the Bumble Bee prize for the error prone for suggesting only the NDP are talking about the Liberal’s trust fund and the Allan J. MacEachen Institute.

Zach Churchill: I think it is a sad state of affairs that the NDP is still trying to perpetuate this story that’s really a non-story. No one is talking about this; no one is asking questions about it, but them. It’s because there has been an effort to mislead the public on what is actually happening here.

Actually, the Progressive Conservatives are talking about the trust fund as well.

Drone of the Week

1 drone noun \drōn\
a stingless bee that does not gather nectar or pollen

2 drone intransitive verb \drōn\
to talk in a persistently dull or monotonous tone

In the continued debate on the status of the tainted Liberal trust fund, Zach Churchill suggested there should not even be a debate because it might hurt the feelings of Allan J. MacEachen.

Zach Churchill: I really think what this government needs – who they need to apologize to is Allan J. MacEachen and his good name because in this sort of attack, this baseless attack that they’ve been perpetrating, they are attacking Allan J. MacEachen, who is a great Nova Scotian we are all proud of. He’s a proud Liberal.

What rot. The idea that one of the biggest scandals in Nova Scotia history, the monetary affects of which continue to this day, should not be debated in the Legislature because it might hurt someone’s feelings is juvenile.

Killer Bee

Kings North NDP MLA Jim Morton followed Cape Breton MLA Eddie Orrell’s debate on fiscal prudence and Nova Scotia’s balanced budget with a strong reminder of the legacies of both Opposition parties:

Jim Morton: Nova Scotia is only one of four Canadian provinces to prepare a balanced budget during this time, a budget which earned the Auditor General’s unqualified opinion for its revenue projections.

It’s amusing to have the member for Cape Breton North raise the question of fiscal prudence. His Party is the Party that left behind the fiscal mess that we were dealing with, and I would remind everyone in this House, left behind the structural situation that would have led to a deficit of $1.3 billion. It’s his Tory Party whose idea of health care policy was to invest millions in kiddy ATVs, it’s his Tory Party whose recklessness included spending the $68 million of the BFIT recreational program in three years, a program that was intended to be carefully spread over 10 years.

Maybe, Madam Speaker, the Tories still think they can buy the votes of Nova Scotians. I, for one, haven’t forgotten the $155 cheques that were delivered to many Nova Scotians during a couple of elections back. Tories and Liberals, when it comes to fiscal thinking, are content to bask in what I sometimes think of as the glow of magical thinking, that promise of lower taxes while combined with increased spending and increased services and more and better services. The problem is that neither the Liberals nor the Tories can show where that kind of thinking has actually worked.

That kind of thinking fuelled the Liberal’s 2009 election campaign. In the 2009 election campaign the Liberal Party made $227 million worth of promises and they outlined those promises in the 33-page booklet that led The Chronicle Herald to wonder in its editorial whose dog ate Page 34. I think what the Liberal campaign did was make some empty promises and had no plan. Perhaps the Liberals are content with, or comfortable with, the fantasy of easy money, because for many years they had access to as what we all know as the Liberal trust fund.

Honey Bee

In his speech before the Committee of the Whole House on Supply, Lunenburg West NDP MLA Gary Ramey also reminded the Legislature of the Liberal’s record of rolling back teacher’s wages as part of that party’s last failed attempt to balance their budget. It was Ramey’s simple point of Nova Scotia’s balanced budget that wins him the Honey Bee prize for good work.

Gary Ramey: I’m very pleased that Nova Scotia is one of four Canadian provinces that has been able to balance its budget while providing expanded services for its citizens. This is no mean feat and it’s an accomplishment that has been appreciated by my constituents and by many Nova Scotians across our province. It is a fact, however, the significance of which seems, for whatever reason, to have escaped my colleagues on the other side of the House; both the Liberal Party and those in the PC Party have tried at all costs to trivialize the importance of this accomplishment. It is a position which separates them from many of the citizens of our province.