Stephen McNeil’s Deficit Problem

The Liberals are good at complaining.

They complained about the deficit for years, but never said they would balance the budget, or how. They have called for, and will continue to call for (once the Estimates process is underway this week),  increased funding in pretty much every government department. But they won’t say where the money would come from to pay for those promises.

Stephen-McNeil-LiberalIt’s time to start asking Stephen McNeil serious questions about the deficit he’s proposing to run on, and the financial mess he is prepared to leave for future generations.

McNeil likes to complain about user fees, but he won’t commit to freezing them, or say where the revenue will come from to make up the difference and balance.

He has complained about “taxes”, but has no actual plan to reduce them, or which ones.

Worse than his non-answers on important economic questions is his voting record.  Stephen McNeil complained about the HST increase, but voted against the NDP’s legislation to reduce it next year.

Blogger Parker Donham, wonders if there is anything more hypocritical than the analysis of provincial budgets:

The finger-waggers never acknowledge the tradeoffs required for a government of the day to indulge their pet priorities. They never say, “Cut them, so you can fatten me,” and, “My cause is more deserving than their cause, because…”

Budgets are about choices. “We’re going to do this. We’re not going to do that. Here’s how much it will cost.”  You can agree with the choices or disagree with them, but it’s silly to pretend that funding one thing doesn’t mean unfunding another, or that programs can balloon while taxes plummet.

The problem for McNeil is that, while easy, this approach means his Liberals cannot help but contradict themselves. And they do: day after day, week after week, on issue after issue.

It is time for journalists to force Stephen McNeil to answer some questions about the choices he would make.


The Bees’ Knees – Prizes for Week One

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

Killer Bee

During a series of questions about Muskrat Falls by Liberal MLA Andrew Younger, including the cost of energy imports from Hydro-Quebec, the Energy Minister gave a nod to the NDP’s new commercial ‘Ask Newfoundlanders’ about the Liberal’s pledge to buy power needed to meet renewable energy targets from the 4th largest energy utility in the world.

Charlie Parker: Mr. Speaker, I guess the honourable member probably has a better direct line to Hydro-Québec than others would have.

The quip wins Pictou West MLA Charlie Parker this week’s Killer Bee prize.

Bumble Bee

When the NDP recently announced they would be introducing tougher animal care laws, the SPCA and others applauded them. But not everyone cheered. The Liberal Caucus Office’s Director of Communication took to Twitter say legislation is not needed to deal with those who abuse animals. Disturbingly, the staffer went on to say the NDP was “screwing the pooch” on the issue, a bad choice of phrase considering the topic.

In Question Period, Kings West Liberal MLA Leo Glavine was more careful in his choice of words when questioning of NDP Agriculture Minister John MacDonell. However, Glavine too said legislation wasn’t needed.

This misstep by the Liberals further illustrates a fog of negativity that seems to have blinded that party. Just because you are the Official Opposition, does not mean you need to oppose everything.

Honey Bee

While most observers said the buzz words from Darrell Dexter’s Speech From The Throne last week were “turning the corner”, we preferred the repeated phrase “for the first time”. Gathered together in one speech, the NDP have quite a record of “firsts”.

For such a positive speech, without even a modest attack on the opposition, Darrell Dexter wins this week’s Honey Bee prize.

Honey Bee #2

Normally, we give a Drone of the Week award, but this week in the Legislature was quite spirited, with little nonsense. And MLA Chris d’Entremont had his best week in years – we felt he was also deserving of a Honey Bee prize.

We’ve posted d’Entremont’s questions about the Liberal trust fund here, but he showed he is more than willing to hit back against Stephen McNeil on policies too:

Chris d’Entremont: You know, the Liberals take the cake. While the Liberal Leader has no original ideas, only they could take a failed idea from one province and make it the centrepiece of their energy policy. In fact, it takes a special kind of talent to borrow a policy from another place that abandoned it because it was proven to drive up rates and impede the move to cleaner energy at the same time.

While we think the Conservatives’ promise to freeze rates hard to believe (how much will that cost the government?), d’Entremont is right to raise concerns about the Liberal’s commercial-sized plan on energy.

Electric Avenue

Opening up the electricity market to competition sounds good. Unfortunately, as California has seen, there is risk. Free-market competition – viable for awhile in California – ended in brownouts and bankruptcy.

With ‘deregulation’ now a bad word in energy politics, in 2003 New Brunswick pursued partial market opening for all generators, not just renewables. While called deregulation by nearly everyone – CP journalists, energy analysts from outside the province, and even the Energy Minister – the government started spinning it as “re-regulation.” Ten years later, the New Brunswick Energy Blueprint said partial market opening was a failure and is now irrelevant. New Brunswick found that with such a small energy market, no companies could get the start-up cash to enter the market.

We asked Liberal MLA Andrew Younger about his energy ideas and he assured us that deregulation is not his goal saying “an unregulated electricity market would be potentially very bad for Nova Scotia.”

Andrew Younger: There is no single quick fix and we have been very clear to say that and very clear to say that there are many elements to a successful energy plan. We also believe that Nova Scotians, from a competitive point of view, and cost of living point of view, need some certainty and answers.

There are many ideas circulating from the NDP, Liberals and Conservatives about how to tackle rising electricity rates in Nova Scotia. Here are the best five that all parties should support.

1. Moving forward with Newfoundland and Nova Scotia’s Lower Churchill Falls hydro project. This project will provide a generation of stable, sustainable power.

2. Upgrading the electricity grid between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. This would allow cheap hydro to come our way from Quebec.

3. Continuing with Nova Scotia’s COMFIT program. Providing a secure supply of clean energy at stable prices with community-owned renewable energy projects is a unique, made-in-Nova Scotia solution.

4. Harnessing the energy of the Bay of Fundy. Nova Scotia’s bid to become a North American leader in tidal energy needs to continue to take steps forward. We could be an energy exporter if successful.

5. Keep the HST off home heating. Putting this tax back on would not be politically-wise, and more importantly would be noticed immediately by consumers. Just because it was an NDP idea is not a reason to reverse it.

The Bees’ Knees – Prizes for Week 6

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:

A point of order raised by Liberal Andrew Younger received a thorough smack-down by Speaker Gordie Gosse this week, winning Younger this week’s Bumble Bee prize for the error prone.

Gordie Gosse: The member for Dartmouth East (Younger) suggested that because the Department of Finance “. . . sets the estimates for all other departments . . .”, in his words, questions can be asked of the Minister of Finance in Question Period with respect to all departments of government.

I have had research carried out by the Clerk’s Office and I am advised that nothing could be found to support such a proposition

At this point I would like to caution all members that while I am generally not inclined to intervene on the subject matter of questions asked by members, I think there have been some cases lately of questions that have begun to cross the line into becoming unparliamentary.

We appreciate the work Gosse is doing to create the right tone in the legislature. During Question Period, Opposition MLAs ask Ministers about their Departments, not whether they ate three-day old macaroni (an actual question from last week’s Question Period).

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

We don’t know if Alfie MacLeod will run again or retire when next year’s election is called, but his short memory when it comes to his Conservative government’s advertising make for softball questions for the government. Government ads are government ads, not political ads. Alfie MacLeod wins this week’s Drone of the Week prize.

Alfie MacLeod: When will the Minister of Communications Nova Scotia stop trying to hoodwink Nova Scotians with their own money and put an end to the NDP propaganda plan?

Frank Corbett: Let’s start with a quote then I’ll delve in, a quote from the member for Argyle (Chris D’Entremont), “I don’t think government as a whole does a good job of (promotion). Not enough Nova Scotians know what kind of programs are out there. . . I don’t think we spend enough time explaining or advertising or getting those programs out there.” I will table that, Mr. Speaker.

They go on about the amount of money we spend. It’s 27 per cent less (than the Conservatives spent).

Killer Bee:

As NDP bill after NDP bill moved from Second Reading to Law Amendments on Monday with little comment from the opposition, NDP MLA  Howard Epstein opened his remarks on the Community Easements Act with a quip designed to jolt the opposition benches back to attention and won this week’s Killer Bee prize for the cheeky:

Howard Epstein: What an interesting and surprising afternoon it has been. I don’t know if I can remember when we saw so many government bills go through so quickly in such a short time. I’m not sure if this is because the Opposition has decided that they want to set records and they thought they’ve found themselves in a race or whether, surprisingly, they have suddenly found themselves in agreement with the government’s agenda. (Interruptions)

Honey Bee:

Winning his second prize this week, Howard Epstein’s comments on the Community Easements Act did everything a government’s MLA should do. He explained the bill the opposition MLAs who don’t understand the law, and explained to the journalists watching why the bill is newsworthy. Howard wins this week’s Honey Bee prize for good work. Read on. This is a good bill, and worth your time.

Howard Epstein: Perhaps I’ll just jump immediately to the point that the honourable member for Dartmouth East (Andrew Younger) raised a moment ago, since he seemed particularly focused on the issue of whether the legislation is necessary at all. He seemed to be under the impression that easements of exactly the kind that are being provided for in this bill are able to be established through the existing legal regime, essentially through contractual arrangements… I want to say to the member that he should really be aware that the problem of easements is a complex area of law

It’s very easy to put your foot amiss when it comes to the problem of who is entitled to a valid legal easement. That’s why it is that it makes sense to have a clear statutory framework that engages with this issue. It’s why it is that it makes sense that if we are interested in establishing community easements that we have a bill that resolves any of these legal questions. The whole point is to avoid the possibility of lawsuits…

Even if you could imagine a set of circumstances in which the community members were able to win such a lawsuit and establish a right of way, the owner will not have been compensated. The owner won’t have been paid anything. If a long-standing usage emerges and can be proven, the inhibition on the original owner’s land arises and has been established through court action, but no payment is made.

What we’ve done here is fashion a piece of legislation that provides the opportunity for individuals and groups and communities to negotiate with each other a financial arrangement designed to achieve what the group sees as a desirable result and which becomes acceptable to the owner of the land. We need a legal framework in order to accomplish that…

We’re finding that now it’s still a robust, modern tool that we can reinvent without the complexities of triggering possible lawsuits. That’s what this bill does, that’s what the minister outlined when he explained to us what the bill was designed to do.

We can think of other regimes that are in place. In the United Kingdom there are what are called “right to roam” laws… No Canadian province has that… These have been in place for about five or six years now and essentially it allows non-owners to walk up and down, all over the coast of the United Kingdom and to walk across paths that go across the land of other people. They can’t light fires and they can’t interfere with crops and they can’t come too close to the home of someone, but if there’s open land, there’s a legislated right to roam…

We are beginning to engage with what are community interests and one of the ways we are engaging with community interests is this bill. So I’m very proud to say that, after looking at it, we have found a way to follow through on a specific promise that was made by the government and to do so in a very innovative way. I look forward to the opportunity to vote for it.