The Best Transportation Minister Nova Scotia Has Seen

In his Chronicle Herald column on Bill Estabrooks, Laurent Le Pierres wrote that Bill Estabrooks’ political legacy is “folksiness”.

His contribution to the NDP brand was mostly in the area of street cred. This guy was always a natural-born populist who’d talk to folks in a language they could understand and whose understated style spoke for itself.

We disagree. His personality is why he is memorable. Bill Estabrooks’ legacy is how he changed his province.

In the past, Liberal and Conservative governments made paving nakedly partisan. As recently as Rodney MacDonald, the Conservative favoured paving in Tory rural ridings over Liberal or NDP rural ridings. Conservative MLA Chuck Porter ran his re-election campaign on it, calling himself “Cheque Porter”. Bill Estabrooks’ Five Year Paving Plan took the politics out of paving.

While partisan politics is out of paving, the government is back in. That is another important part of Estabrooks’ legacy. Government tenders for paving in parts of rural Nova Scotia were not attracting competitive bids (the business case for the public asphalt plant can be read here.) Estabrooks declared “paying less means paving more” and re-established a provincial paving crew. They will do the road work where a lack of competitive bids allow for it.

The third aspect of Bill Estabrooks’ legacy is the legislation he moved forward. Legislation on how cyclists and motorists must share the road, how cars must yield to buses, how drivers must reduce speeds in school areas – these steps improve safety on our roads and highways.

We wish Bill Estabrooks all the best. He will likely welcome the change of pace as he sits of the NDP’s backbench and helps their new MLAs develop. Bench strength is important to any political party, and MLAs like Burrill, Zann and Morton would do well to learn from Estabrooks before he retires.

“Parkinson’s is grinding away at me. Based upon some health advice back in January, I went to the premier in March and said ‘you know, I can serve through this treasury board session, I can serve through until we get this budget passed, but after the house adjourns I’m going to resign as cabinet minister’.”  – Bill Estabrooks

“He took excessive partisanship out of the job, and he worked with MLAs on all sides of the House and with transportation officials to do the right thing with our roads, and I really appreciate that.” – Jamie Baillie

“Bill has  a role model for excellent constituency service, since he was elected in the provincial breakthrough of 1998 — He has been just as solid in government — perhaps the best Transportation Minister this province has seen.” – Darrell Dexter

Pave Baby Pave

In Pictou County, we try hard to win the “Worst Road in Nova Scotia” competition. It means a day in the road-rage spotlight and the attention on the NDP’s Transportation Minister Bill Estabrooks.

Our capital city readers with their escalator sidewalks and their mass transit ferries may have forgotten about rural roads, but here in Pictou roads are a top tier issue – on par with hospitals, schools, jobs and the economy.

Before John Hamm and John Savage, governments spent a lot of money building and maintaining our roads and highways. John Buchanan and Donald Cameron had two of the biggest roads budgets in Nova Scotia history, in 1984-85 and 1992-93 respectively. Since then, successive Liberal and Tory governments let things slide, leaving the province with a messy infrastructure deficit. Until Bill Estabrooks became Minister of Transportation.

Famous for his ‘Pave Baby Pave’ mantra, Bill Estabrook’s Five Year Paving Plan – the first of its kind in Nova Scotia history – has delivered three road budgets that are paving the way toward a smoother ride for us on local connectors and for tourists on the main highways. Let’s compare Estabrooks’ road budgets with past ones:

2010-11, Dexter – $310 million
2012-13, Dexter – $281 million
2011-12, Dexter – $265 million
1984-85, Buchanan – $250 million (adjusted for inflation)
1992-93, Cameron – $233 million (adjusted for inflation)

Nova Scotians can now look at the activity on the government’s Google Maps. We took a few snaps from this year’s and last year’s paving season in Pictou.

The Bee’s Knees – Prizes for Week 2

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:

A week after ‘Cheque’ Porter bumbled his way through the Tories’ odd narrative on road paving, Argyle MLA Chris D’Entremont stepped in, unknowingly setting up the Killer Bee Prize for Premier Dexter. D’Entremont asked about a road paving project in Lunenburg West where an NDP MLA lives, alleging impropriety, but the Premier swatted it away, tabling a letter from a ex-Tory MLA who had promised the road would be paved in 2008.

The gallery at Province House is not often moved to laughter. When that happens, it’s a good sign the Killer Bee Prize has been awarded.

Premier Dexter: For the information of the member opposite, I’ll table for him a letter from his former colleague, the Honourable Carolyn Bolivar-Getson, committing to the paving of that road. (Laughter)

Bumble Bee:

The goal of Question Period is for Opposition MLAs to unveil a piece of information that journalists will find worthy of writing a story on. Current Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil asked a question and received an answer (bolded below) that could prove to be a very interesting story:

Stephen McNeil: Recently government is tendering for an expensive asphalt plant. My question to the minister is, if we do not know that the chip sealing has been in the best interests of Nova Scotia from a financial point of view, why are we ordering a chip-seal plant?

Bill Estabrooks: Further to the detail that was asked in the first question, I think it’s appropriate to be aware of the fact that in 2009 it was $91,000 per kilometre when it was chip sealing and it’s now at $40,000 in 2011, which means we saved over $1 million.

There are certain areas of this province where there was not enough competitive bidding, in our opinion. That lack of competitive bidding meant that the way we should be looking at this process is that perhaps we should have some of our own staff involved, whether it’s chip sealing or the asphalt plant – a mobile asphalt plant.

I want the member opposite to know – and I’m certainly not going to break the confidence of the people in this House, whether in your caucus or in this caucus – I’ve been asked many times, when you get that mobile asphalt plant up and operating, Mr. Minister, you could move it to my constituency and leave it there. They’re not all from this side of the House. (Applause)

So, which members of the Opposition are saying in public that they are against this asphalt plant, but lobbying Bill Estabrooks in private for that plant to go in their constituency?

Honey Bee:

The heavy-lifting in Question Period was all done by Michel Samson this week as he wins the Honey Bee Prize for good work for the second week in a row.

His solid question about the government’s response to Harper Government’s Justice bill, Bill C-10, his somewhat conspiracy-theory-themed but still interesting winter maintenance budget question, and his first questions as critic on fisheries and aquaculture get the attention of journalists.

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 Question Period last week, and the week before, Liberal MLA Diana Whalen asked, and re-asked, and three-asked NDP Finance Minister Graham Steele when he would revise the economic growth targets for this province.

Whalen is bright. Why her handlers are having her ask these beginner question in economics over and over again is unknown. She deserves better.

Here are a few examples of her softball pitches to Steele and how he hits them out of the park.

Diana Whalen: My question to the Minister of Finance is, is the minister going to revise the government’s projections for economic growth downward from the current 1.9 per cent to better reflect the updated economic facts?

Graham Steele: Mr. Speaker, of course the Department of Finance is looking very carefully at the international and national scene. Things are very volatile. Just in the last week, for example, we can have an apparent bond deal in Greece which sends markets up, and then a couple of days later, with the announcement of a referendum, we have the markets heading in the other direction because of the fear the bond deal is falling apart.

In this very volatile environment, we’re watching things very carefully, and if we believe that an adjustment to our forecast is warranted we will be making that adjustment at the time of the next forecast update, which is currently projected to be around the middle of December.

Diana Whalen: His continued refusal to heed their warnings puts the province at risk.My question to the minister is, why does the minister continue to ignore the advice of experts and when will he publicly release the true picture, sooner than the next quarterly review?

Graham Steele: In the normal course, our next forecast update will be around the middle of December, and that is when we will be indicating whether – given national and international conditions – a revision to our growth forecasts is warranted.

We are doing exactly the same thing that every Liberal Government has done before us and every Progressive Conservative Government has done before us, and I am surprised that the Liberal Party would be calling on us to make what you can only call a knee-jerk reaction in such a difficult and volatile environment.

Diana Whalen: When will the Minister of Finance wake up to the economic realities around him and revisit the growth forecasts?

Graham Steele: Mr. Speaker, the member has asked the same question that she asked last week and the answer, of course, is the same. We will be issuing a forecast update before the end of December.

Diana Whalen: Mr. Speaker, my question to the minister is, what will it take for this minister to react to the changing economic conditions and update his growth targets to reflect changing economic realities?

Graham Steele: Mr. Speaker, as I said, I will release a budget forecast update before the end of December. It will incorporate all of the latest economic information.