Lena Diab, Patricia Arab, Labi Kousoulis and Joachim Stroink, on MLA Vacations

Since CBC Television seems hell bent on interviewing candidates from Halifax (12 so far) instead of canvassing the entire province, we thought we’d get into the game too.

Lately, Manning MacDonald has started to appear with local Liberals at various events, so we asked 4 Halifax Liberal candidates the same question on Twitter: “Do you think Manning MacDonald should have been allowed to take his vacation during the Legislature spring session?”

We have written about Stephen McNeil’s puzzling approval of Manning MacDonald’s multiple vacations while the Legislature was in session before, here and here. This past spring, he took nearly the entire session off, with his leader’s permission.

It seems fair to ask aspiring Liberal candidates what they think. Would they expect to be able to leave their seat vacant to take a jaunt down to Florida? Or would they understand their responsibility is to represent the public in the House of Assembly? So we asked them.

The Question: Do you think Manning MacDonald should have been allowed to take his vacation during the Legislature spring session?

If any of the candidates would like to change their answer, they are welcome to write in.

Lena Diab: No comment.
Patricia Arab: No comment.
Labi Kousoulis: “I only argue with my peers.”
Joachim Stroink: No comment. (Although he did retweet Kousoulis’ answer, retweets are not necessarily endorsements)

Lena-Diab

Missing: Stephen McNeil’s media scrums

The Chronicle Herald did a great job of previewing their Saturday edition last week, sending out Tweets suggesting Ralph Surette’s column would be incredibly controversial for the NDP. Liberal MLAs spread word of the upcoming column with glee. The problem? Surette’s column was much harder on the Liberals. To make matters worse, Marilla Stephenson added a column that also tore a strip off the Liberals. Come Saturday morning, Liberals were very quiet indeed.

Stephenson: The Liberals have a lot of work to do yet to strengthen [McNeil’s] image, which may be why they have been hiding him…saving him for the campaign, are they? After calling for the NDP to deliver a fiscal update in advance of an election campaign, where was McNeil when the NDP delivered the update Monday morning? Ummm, busy elsewhere, apparently. Grit handlers asked reporters to visit the Liberal headquarters later in the afternoon if they wanted an interview, or to phone in later.

Marilla is right: McNeil and his Liberals have been hiding from reporters and scrums. For months. It started in the spring at Province House, when McNeil’s handlers started whisking away select journalists for “private scrums” in the basement of the Leg.  And it continued.  In fact, the only public scrum McNeil has done since the end of the Session, that we are away of, is when he had no choice but to be there: when Deputy Premier Corbett summoned MLAs to the legislature to pass all-party support for and Bill to avoid a paramedic strike.

More importantly, Marilla’s column raises an interesting question for journalists. How long will they allow Stephen McNeil to dictate where he is interviewed, and by who? Which reporter will stand up to the protective Liberal communications staff and say “No. We are interviewing him right here.” After all, Jamie Baillie gets scrummed and Premier Dexter has no choice but to be scrummed.

Ralph Surette, who, as Tory Rob Batherson pointed out, has proclaimed himself to be the “father-confessor” of New Democrats on the party’s left, would obviously prefer Maureen MacDonald to be Premier than Darrell Dexter.

But in his column too, he found Stephen McNeil lacking.

Surette: Here’s the big problem with the opposition. They have been virtually invisible…the Liberals are obviously hoping that an election will occur before the needle of public attention turns to them and exposes their limitations. Yet it would be unwise to elect them, especially to a majority, based on what we’ve seen so far.

If the public catches on to the columnists’ criticism, will McNeil and the Liberals have to begin to answer questions on their policies? Not unless the journalists demand it. A journalist’s job is to hold the government of the day to account. Fair enough.

But during an election campaign, the hard look at Stephen McNeil should begin.

Labi Kousoulis and Joachim Stroink explain the Liberal jobs plan

While the Liberal Leader has been in hiding this summer, inviting media to his Caucus office for interviews instead of taking part in public media scrums, a few of his Halifax candidates have been less closed-lipped.

The NDP repayable loan to a world-class Cape Breton golf course? Liberal staff criticized it. Liberal MLAs would not comment on it. The Liberal Leader was not available for reaction. But the Liberal candidate for Inverness? Eventually, he admitted he liked the jobs created.

And as CBC interviews candidates in Halifax from the three political parties (the Mother Corp interviewing some candidates on the rest of the Mainland or the Island, or even Dartmouth, would be appreciated) you can begin to piece together some policy planks of the Liberal platform.

Labi Kousoulis, running in Halifax Citadel, wants to get the economy going. How will he do it? He would not invest in the Port Hawkesbury Mill. He would invest in Nova Scotia companies. Which ones? He doesn’t say. What would the newly unemployed Port Hawkesbury Paper workers do? He doesn’t say. He does say that the Liberal Party is consistently the only party to offer solutions to problems. Which is news to Nova Scotians – since Liberals have not publicly offered any solutions.

Joachim Stroink, offered an answer to what all the unemployed workers in the Strait Region might do. They could work in “green” fracking. While Stroink makes it clear he does not support regular fracking, he does think Nova Scotia could be a “leader in innovation in fracking.” When pressed to answer questions about the definition of “green” fracking, he could not say.

NDP MLA JIm Morton, amused by the very idea of “green” fracking, issued a press release after the Liberal’s interview.

Jim Morton: For most Nova Scotians the jury is still out on fracking. Up until a few days ago the Liberals have said they were in the same boat. But now it appears Stephen McNeil has made up his mind before all the evidence has been collected. We know Stephen McNeil doesn’t support our shipbuilders, our forestry workers, or our information technology specialists – but he does support our ‘green frackers’.

Time and time again, we’ve listened to Stephen McNeil oppose investments to create and protect good jobs in every region of Nova Scotia. But when it’s the Liberals’ turn to answer what they would do differently, their response is an empty catch phrase about something that doesn’t exist.

While some people jokingly explained Joachim Stroink’s “green” fracking, saying it “doesn’t contaminate groundwater with methane, it infuses it with puppies,” we think the larger point of both the Liberal candidate’s interviews is that their party simply doesn’t have a plan to replace all those Port Hawkesbury Paper jobs, or the IBM jobs the NDP fought for and won, or the Halifax Shipyard contract, or the Cabot Links expansion.

Much like “green” fracking, the Liberal’s “Nova Scotia First” is an empty catch phrase for something that does not exist.

A New P3 Promise

As Nova Scotians prepare to go to the polls amid a flurry of positive economic news (a Balanced Budget, credit agency upgrades and GDP growth forecasts among the highest of any province), the frame of debate is quickly taking shape: who’s hands are best trusted at the tiller if Nova Scotia is to realize a brighter future.

Recently, in the debate over the balanced budget and debt of the province, the subject of P3 schools once again reared its ugly head.  And while the debate is clearly about the future of Nova Scotia, it’s also fundamentally about its past.

In 1997, the Liberal government became the first in the world to go down the path of building P3 schools (in all, 39 schools were contemplated). As one commentator concluded as early as 1998, the Liberal P3 schools scheme was founded on three particularly Liberal Ps:  “Partisan, Parasitic, and Perversely short-sighted.”

The Tories eventually cancelled the ill-conceived gambit, but not before it cost Nova Scotia taxpayers millions in accrued deficits and legal costs. In fact, in 2005 the Tory government was still settling disputes with operators, some of whom were continuing to gouge local communities. Famously, the first company to receive a contract with the Liberal government – Scotia Learning Centres –  was still taking profits generated by cafeterias and concessions in schools in 2005. That’s just one of the ugly legacies of the last Liberal government of Nova Scotia.

The NDP government is often accused of being no different than the other two parties, especially by veteran party stalwarts who, after years of struggle, are impatient for a more progressive Nova Scotia. But in fact the NDP government has shown itself to be plenty different. Despite all the noise and empty phrases like “corporate welfare,” the NDP government has actually governed. Indeed, a 30-year civil servant was recently overheard saying: “in all my years here, this is the first government I’ve seen that has actually attempted to govern.” 

And they have governed from a distinct set of Ps, in effect a new P3 model that the party base and indeed all Nova Scotians is coming to know – and trust:  Principled, Progressive, Pragmatic.

  • They have been Principled in showing consistent fiscal discipline. It is based on the conviction that the protection of valued services like health can only come from being fiscally in order. They have been principled in doing the right thing even when it was not popular (investments in the rebirth of communities devastated by changes to global commodity markets, such as Port Hawkesbury).
  • They have been Progressive, from amendments to the Human Rights Act, to removing thousands of seniors from the tax rolls, to real progress on poverty reduction and the most aggressive action on the environment in Nova Scotia’s history.
  • They have been Pragmatic in taking a problem-solving approach to governing. They have responded rapidly and decisively to issues of concern.

Interestingly, a criticism of the NDP government that is less frequently heard, but showed up in the polling, is that they have been insufficiently PopulistWe submit that the reason for that is because they have been too busy adhering to the other Ps.

The choice facing Nova Scotians is clear: do you want a Partisan, Parasitic and Perverse government, full of anger and entitlement? Or do you want a Principled, Progressive, Pragmatic government, one that has successfully steered Nova Scotia through the rocky shoals of the Great Recession?