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

The Bees’ Knees – Prizes for Week 7

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:

The NDP’s law that reduces the HST one point in 2014 and another point in 2015 seems to have confounded the Conservatives. Jamie Baillie has said often that if he is ever elected Premier, he would reduce the HST. When given the opportunity to vote on the legislation that will do so, his Conservatives called for a recorded vote so that the public would know who voted to reduce the HST and who didn’t. The stumble? Baillie and the Conservatives didn’t actually show up and vote, leaving only NDP and Liberal MLAs to vote and winning Jamie Baillie this week’s Bumble Bee prize for the error prone.

Killer Bee:

Liberal MLA Michel Samson was quick to point out the Conservatives shirked their democratic responsibility, winning this week’s Killer Bee prize:

Michel Samson: We all know that the recorded vote on the Financial Measures (2012) Bill was requested by the Progressive Conservative caucus under the leadership of the Leader of their caucus. I believe that their not even showing up for that vote is certainly a signature of what leadership we could expect from the Progressive Conservative caucus after that. (Interruptions)

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

When NDP MLAs introduce private member bills at the request of their communities, you can be sure that a Conservative MLA will declare a bill meaningless and accuse the government of just trying to pad their legislative stats. It’s a silly line that the Tory Caucus should retire. MLA Chuck Porter wins this week’s Drone of the Week prize for dismissing a bill introduced for the Annapolis Valley Apple Blossom Festival as unimportant. As Kings North MLA Jim Morton showed, it’s important to the festival, who pointed out that previous to his bill, the board would need to introduce legislation just to update their by-laws.

Chuck Porter: I’m glad to have an opportunity to speak to the two sentences that are in this bill this morning. You know, I think it’s fine that the honourable member puts forward a bill to make a rather simple change, and we’ve seen that go through the House. I mean it’s just a matter of adding to the number of bills over there – I think the session has been pretty limited on the value of what has been in the bills over there actually.

Jim Morton: I’m very happy to rise and just say a few words about the bill. I must say I was a little disappointed to hear the member for Hants West minimize the importance of this bill. Sometimes a very few words can matter a whole lot. Of course, the member for Hants West can probably be excused for not knowing that the Apple Blossom Festival has been guided by an Act of this Legislature since 1935.

Honey Bee:

On the heels of the NDP’s Natural Resources Strategy comes Bill 87, the Good Forestry Management on Crown Land Act. Pictou East MLA and Natural Resources Minister Charlie Parker explained the changes needed to improve both the economic and environmental feasibility of the forestry sector, winning this week’s Honey Bee prize for good work.

Charlie Parker: The amendments help address the Natural Resources Strategy’s goal of advancing sustainable forestry management in the province. The proposed amendments stem from the message which the province heard loud and clear from Nova Scotians during the extensive consultations that led up to the Natural Resources Strategy…

The agreement states the terms and the conditions by which a forestry company may operate on Crown land. Currently there’s no legislative authority that allows government to enter into long-term licence agreements with forestry companies. Only short-term agreements are currently allowed under the Crown Lands Act…

Long-term agreements, we believe, are important. They are important for long-term planning and sustainable forestry management, both for government, which plans and oversees management of our forests, and for the forestry companies, which are integral to that management. The short-term agreements were not allowing enough time for good planning… Amending the Crown Lands Act will benefit Nova Scotians by giving government the control, through the terms and conditions of long-term forestry agreements, to manage and allocate Crown timber in the best possible manner.

The Bee’s 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.

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 late debate last week, NDP MLA Jim Boudreau, Conservative MLA Eddie Orrell and Liberal MLA Keith Colwell spoke on Ships Start Here and the opportunity for Nova Scotia winning the federal bid will have on our economy. Well, actually, Boudreau and Orrell spoke about this historic opportunity – Colwell used his time to practice the Politics of Negativity and do his part to try to stifle optimism.

The real truth about this program, as the Premier said himself the other day, is that Irving Shipyard was awarded the right to negotiate – right to negotiate. The Irving Shipyard doesn’t have this contract yet… If you think you can get suppliers in Nova Scotia qualified in time to do this contract, you don’t know anything about manufacturing… It’s a really complex process and the government hasn’t talked about that, they talk about the community colleges. Community colleges don’t know anything about getting quality assurance for military contracts… The government has to understand this – and they’re probably going to run election campaigns saying they’ve got this wonderful job here, all these jobs for Nova Scotians, but the reality is that it’s not going to happen the way they’re saying it is – hopefully, hopefully. And I’m still not sure.

In addition to being boring, Colwell misunderstands the potential for Nova Scotia’s manufacturing. When the Halifax Shipyard builds ships, it does benefit Nova Scotian suppliers. It just does. Here’s Ships Start Here with some stats to counter Colwell’s negativity:

In 2009 and 2010, Irving Shipbuilding worked with 630 Nova Scotia suppliers

37 at more than $1 million
21 at $500K-$1 million
78 at $100-$500,000

Congratulations Keith, you may be upset at the Ships Start Here win, but you can console yourself with the Drone of the Week prize.

Bumble Bee

During Question Period, an opposition MLA can ask a Minister a question, and then two follow-up questions. The problem is, if you stick to your script and don’t pay attention to the answers, you look pretty foolish. Chuck Porter bumbled this week, asking the same question three times, perhaps surprised and confused he received the answer after just one. Here’s the exchange that wins Chuck Porter the Bumble Bee prize:

Chuck Porter: Will the Premier clearly state when the five-year plan – with the Renfrew Road paving item on it – was approved by Cabinet under his leadership?

Premier Dexter: Well, Mr. Speaker, again, I have no idea what they spent their time doing when they were in government but we did not bring a road-paving plan to the Cabinet. It wouldn’t because the money is allocated under the budget. You get an opportunity to question that fully during estimates. I have no idea why they would waste the time of Cabinet with such a thing.

Chuck Porter: Did the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations declare a conflict between his public duties and his personal affairs and absent himself from discussions about the Renfrew Road when the decisions were being made where to pave?

Premier Dexter: Mr. Speaker, I always said that it didn’t come to Cabinet so there were no discussions to be had.

Chuck Porter: Where were all the steps that the Premier took to make sure that the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations was not at Cabinet and not involved in any discussion that related to the paving of the Renfrew Road?

Premier Dexter: I’ll reiterate it for the member. There were no discussions at Cabinet about this matter whatsoever, so there was nothing that the minister had absented himself from. There was a road-paving plan that was developed by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. They are the ones that are in charge of it. We published it so that you could see it in advance, which is, in our view, exactly the appropriate way for things to be done. I don’t know how they did it in the past.

Killer Bee

On the subject of roads, Premier Dexter wins the Killer Bee prize for the quote with the most sting. After Conservative Chuck Porter suggested the NDP had not taken the politics out of paving, the Premier called Porter on his party’s history political paving:

We pave roads that need to be paved… When we were elected we promised to take politics out of paving. That’s what we’ve done. We’ve published, publicly, the list of roads that we intend to pave, unlike the Progressive Conservative Party. I want to table for you a story that ran during the 2009 election in which the member for Hants West, who was campaigning at the time said, “I’ve proven, given that they call me ‘Cheque Porter,’ that I don’t have to be in cabinet to deliver in my constituency.” That’s how they used to do it, “Cheque” Porter.

Honey Bee

MLAs are the people we elect to give careful thought to legislation, policy and the direction of the province. It was refreshing to see Michel Samson follow Jamie Baillie on the subject of the Electoral Boundaries Commission, which will redefine the constituencies in Nova Scotia using the Federal Government’s census data. While Baillie tried to make political hay out of cotton, Samson first reminded Baillie of his party’s history on the issue, and then talked about his experience with the last boundary review and then defending the well-respected Nova Scotians who will sit on the Commission, finishing with an argument to protect communities of interest and supporting the electoral boundaries resolution. For standing up for what he really believes instead of pretending to have a problem with a sound resolution, Samson wins this week’s Honey Bee Prize.

I have to say I found it slightly bizarre to see the apparent tactics of the Progressive Conservative caucus as it relates to this specific resolution. There seems to be a theme that’s developing with members of the Progressive Conservative Party somehow wanting government to be run differently than how they ran it for 10 years in this province. I have to say it’s not every day I agree with my good friend the Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, but I found his response to the member for Victoria-The Lakes, who talked about the Keltic Lodge falling apart, amusing. I think the minister indicated that unless it started falling apart in the last two years, somebody else was in government for the previous 10 years and failed to make investments in that facility…

…This [Electoral Boundary Review] process is not perfect. There’s no real manual that tells you how to do this in a perfect fashion, but our goal is to try to make sure that while it may not be perfect, Nova Scotians will have seen this process as being open, transparent, democratic and not in any way favouring one political party over another. We want to do everything we can to make sure there is equality of vote, looking at some of our special considerations here in Nova Scotia and doing everything we can, as legislators, not only to make sure that Nova Scotians have good representation but to make sure Nova Scotians get out, vote, and feel part of their constituencies, and want to play an active role in the democracy that we have here in Nova Scotia.