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 Populist. We 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?