A New Decade

While the NDP grassroots would prefer their MLAs to shout news of their work on poverty reduction from rooftops, the government takes a quieter approach. They simply get to work rebuilding the social safety net damaged after decades of Liberal inaction and Conservative idling.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives called 1989-1999 “A Decade Lost“. Under the Liberal governments of Savage and McLellan and the Conservative governments of Bacon and Cameron the child poverty rate increased by 12.4%.

As the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reported last year, in 2009 progress on reducing child poverty in Nova Scotia had stalled after progress in the first years of the new century.

Since being elected in 2009, the NDP has extended the Nova Scotia Child Benefit. It now helps 24,000 families, and almost twice as many children. There are other steps the Darrell Dexter government has taken that shows the NDP correctly realizes that helping poor women helps poor children.

Liberal Kelly Regan on the Nova Scotia minimum wage

In addition to increasing the minimum wage to reduce poverty, the NDP government also cut the small business tax rate.

One important issue affecting child poverty is the minimum wage. When children are poor, it is most often because their mother is poor. Both Conservative and Liberal MLAs have suggested the minimum wage has increased too quickly under the NDP. They are wrong. Continuing to make steady increases in the minimum wage is vitally important to reducing child poverty. 20% of single mothers live with low incomes.

Affordable childcare is another key to helping mothers, and their kids. There are now 1000 more child care subsidies – the fastest expansion of affordable child care Nova Scotia has seen.

And removing the provincial portion of the HST from household necessities like children’s shoes, clothing and diapers help Nova Scotia’s poorest families balance their budgets.

Expect the NDP to continue to take steps to reduce child poverty in their 4th year in office – not because it is a vote winner (there is no evidence it is a vote determining issue) but because it is the right thing to do.


The Curious Case of the Orange Lunchbag on Twitter

7 weeks after blogger Parker Donham first voiced suspicion that the selection of the color orange in a bag carrying children’s books and given out in schools was a political decision, and went so far as suggesting the NDP should reimburse the taxpayers before writing his apology post stating “I was wrong”, the Nova Scotia Liberals raised the issue repeatedly in the Legislature and on Twitter.

The Curious Case of the Orange Lunchbag on Twitter:

SK_Moore: NS Liberals slams $527k in spending on orange lunch bags.

TokenGranola: Don’t you feel just a *little* queasy about going after an initiative designed to address literacy for low-income kids?

Tim_Bousquet: Not to keep pimping @kempthead but he was all over the orange bags like 3 months ago or something. Why is this news now? I thought it was bullshit first time around.

KennedyJosephin: so the NDP spend $ on lunch bags, here’s an idea buy books!!!!

HFX_Lauren: you do know their ARE books and learning tools inside that lunch bag right?

anitahovey: Ok…seriously? $500K on orange lunchbags?

Nicki_doyle: Utter nonsense. Libs obsessed with a colour not a policy.

RealDealNS: NS Liberals playing politics with children’s literacy. Those “lunchbags” could mean the only books in some low income homes.

NSLiberal: Casey: Half million for lunch bags – why not use that $ to implement task force recommendations?

RealDealNS: Seems Karen Casey thought it was a good idea when she was handing them out…

Liberal MLA Karen Casey handing out "lunchbags" when she was Conservative Education Minister. Oops.

The majority of low income families do not have a single book for their children. But in the debate on the orange lunchbags, there has been a surprising lack of conversation about what is inside the bags: books.

The single biggest barrier to the development of literacy is access to books in the home. Tackling that problem will create a generation of lifelong readers.

The books: Jack and the Missing Piece (a picture book), I Went Walking (a children’s book), and My Toys (a children’s book).

There’s also Paws and Claws (a musical CD by Halifax children’s musician Maria Alley).

The horror. The horror.

The Best in Nova Scotia Legislation

There are plenty of political catch-phrases that we’d like to see retired in 2012, including “game-changer”, “post-partisan” and “moving forward”. Nova Scotia’s legislative calendar and best news stories, while not post-partisan, certainly were game-changers and definitely moved the province forward.

We’ve reviewed all the pieces of legislation debated in the House of Assembly and made you this list of the five best.

NDP Finance Minister Graham Steele

1. Graham Steele’s 2011 Budget.
If the best piece of legislation isn’t the budget, the government has introduced a bad one. 2011 may have been the most progressive budget we’ve ever seen. Nova Scotia’s a very poor province – tackling poverty should have been a goal decades ago. While it received little press, it was quietly the top priority for Finance Minister Graham Steele in 2011.

Here are a few of the reasons the centre and left-of-centre voters should have cheered for the 2011 Budget:
• The Nova Scotia Child Benefit was a 22% increase per child, per month, which was the first increase in a decade. Progress on reducing child poverty stalled under the Conservatives. Steps like this will ensure that trend is reversed.
• 250 additional child care subsidies add to the fastest expansion of affordable child care Nova Scotia has seen.
• Foster families received much needed help with the 10% increase to foster care rates – about $50 per child, per month.
• Indexing the NDP’s Poverty Reduction and Affordable Living tax credits to keep up with inflation will help 240,000 Nova Scotia households. Just the fact that many families qualify for the ALTC shows how poor we are on average.
• Disabled Income Assistance recipients who work will keep the first $300 of their earnings (double the current rate), and 30% of the remaining earnings. The right-wing may paint these measures to be insulting to the middle-class. We’ve never seen the social safety net that way. It’s not a hand-up or a hand-out. It’s a measure of equality and justice.

NDP Energy Minister (and Pictou West MLA) Charlie Parker

2. The Clean Energy Act.
One of the “game-changers” for Nova Scotia, the ambitious renewable electricity targets of 40% renewable electricity by 2020, were made a firm legal requirement in 2011. Praised by environmentalists across the country, and oddlyderided by Jamie Baillie and the Conservatives, this is the route to stable electricity prices, lowering green-house gas emissions, and creating good green jobs. The Clean Energy Act will ensure hydro, tidal, wind, solar and cleantech industries will be growth sectors in Nova Scotia. Companies across the province, including TrentonWorks, Chebucto Windfield, CADtech Innovations and Carbon Sense Solutions will grow in 2012.

NDP Health Minister Maureen MacDonald

3. Tattoos for Everyone.
Before the Body Art Act was introduced by Health Minister Maureen MacDonald, anyone could open a tattoo studio with no training. There were no inspections, no licence or certification required. Customers concerned about dirty needles, contamination or infection with hepatitis or HIV were on their own. Tattoo shop owners have been asking for regulations for a decade. With this act, those regulations are on their way. New Glasgow tattoo artist Sean Brophy has been very supportive of this legislation. “It is going to be a good thing. Our industry, our craft in Nova Scotia has been unregulated for its entire history.”

NDP Transportation Minister Bill Estabrooks

4. Less Mercury, Lights Great.
How do you lower mercury levels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions with one strike? Pass legislation ensuring all Nova Scotian roads and highways will be lit exclusively with LED lighting. The Energy Saving Roadway Lighting Act will create energy-efficient lighting across the province and likely manufacturing jobs at the LED plant in Amherst. The return of manufacturing to Nova Scotia under the NDP will be vital to the economies of rural Nova Scotia.

NDP Culture Minister Dave Wilson

5. The Rodney MacDonald Tribute.
Fiddlers, with the exception of former Premier Rodney MacDonald, helped artists across the province dance a jig this fall when Culture Minister Dave Wilson introduced legislation to establish Arts Nova Scotia. The Tories killed the independent arts council. It rises again, as sure as the sunrise, as sure as the sea, as sure as the wind in the trees, it rises again.

Note: Regular readers of the Pictou Bee will note Bill 102, the Act to Prevent Unnecessary Labour Disruptions and Protect the Economy, did not make this list. While a fine bill, it simply brought us on par with last century’s standard in labour law, as seen across the country. The right-wing used the bill to create some press-friendly theatre, but the bill deserved a more sombre debate.

The Bee’s Knees – Prizes for Week 4

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:

When an MLA, in Question Period, throws a pitch at a Minister, it might be a fastball, a curveball or an occasional softball. Last week Kelly Regan played tee-ball. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a report showing that from 2003 to 2009 progress on reducing child poverty stalled, and Regan wanted to know if the government cared. The first problem with the question? The NDP was elected in 2009, the year the study’s data ended. The second problem? The NDP had done a lot to address the issue in its first two years. The third problem with the question? The Liberals has voted against all the NDP measures to reduce child poverty. Bedford Liberal MLA Kelly Regan wins this week’s Bumble Bee Prize.

Killer Bee:

Jamie Baillie had a rough week. His one issue, a stand against First Contract Arbitration legislation, wasn’t resonating with the public. And then the Liberals, normally following the Conservatives on workers’ issues, gave up on the Tories stalling tactics causing Baillie’s hoist motion to fail. We’ll give him some credit though, for allowing the Premier to point out who’s creating rural jobs, and who’s voting against them, winning Darrell Dexter the week’s best quote:

Jamie Baillie: Mr. Speaker, over the last few days the Premier has repeatedly denied that there is a crisis in rural Nova Scotia. That is very distressing, but there is some hope because denial can be the first step on the road to recovery.

Premier Dexter: Mr. Speaker, I always tell people admitting you’re a Tory is the first step on the road to recovery. (Laughter) What I will do is, I will table for the honourable member the press release with respect to the $8.8 million investment that we made in Irving Shipbuilding’s ship repair unit in Shelburne, one that was matched by an additional $16 million by Irving themselves, one that is leading to good jobs in rural Nova Scotia. What’s more, Mr. Speaker, I would point out that the Opposition voted against that investment.

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

The Conservative’s hoist motion to delay the passage of First Contract Arbitration Legislation meant that each MLA could stand up and speak for an hour, repeating their speeches from the previous days. It’s a delaying tactic, and a standard part of our parliamentary tradition. But it does create terrible theatre. Here’s Allan MacMaster, winner of he Drone of the Week Prize for mangled metaphors.

Then you are showing real leadership, where you are maybe taking the company out of the hands of some – maybe it’s a large, private employer – and you are really having to deal with the same things that they have been having to deal with, and the same pressures. Then all the talk goes out the window, then the rubber hits the road, then the numbers don’t lie and then there’s an opportunity to turn that business around…

If you want to carry the big stick, why not walk the walk, as they say. I would love to see it and I say that in good spirit, because there’s always opportunity. If you really want to make a difference, instead of coming at it from a piece of legislation like this and saying, well, we’re not going to do the work, we’re just going to scrape our little piece out of whoever is doing the work, that’s not leadership.

I think we’ve all received that e-mail at one time or another about the ant and the centipede or something – it doesn’t really matter – but it was talking about how one worked hard all year to collect the provisions for the winter and the other did nothing towards that but wanted a fair share of it when the winter came…

So with those remarks, I’m going to start to wind down. I have to have another drink of water, I’m getting a bit parched, but I say that in good spirit because, you know, we’ll come and go from here. I think the average life of a politician is seven years.

Honey Bee:

During Opposition Days in the Legislature, MLAs debate topics like this:

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this House of Assembly remind the Government that they cannot continue to tax Nova Scotians into submission and strongly urge them to end their campaign of higher taxes, increasing power rates, and higher prices for gasoline.

Now, we’d expect anti-tax, anti-government rhetoric to come from the Conservatives. What’s sad about the state of Nova Scotia politics is that this motion came from a Liberal, Geoff MacLellan.

Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley MLA Gary Burrill’s measured response, using refreshingly big words, was excellent, winning him the Honey Bee Prize for good work:

Gary Burrill: Their primary approach to the serious present difficulties would be simply to cut taxation, which means, of course, to cut hence public spending thereby stifling the very demand, the absence of which is the thin edge of the recessionary wedge to start with. That is to say, in the situation in which we find ourselves, what is required is not less taxation. What is required in Nova Scotia is intelligent taxation. When I say intelligent taxation, I’m not speaking about a theoretical matter or about an abstraction, I’m thinking about quite specific things.

For example, I’m thinking about the addition in 2010 of a new income tax bracket for those with incomes in excess of $150,000 by means of which the government was put in a position, financially, where it was able to cease provincial taxation on all seniors receiving the supplement thereby stimulating economic demand. (Applause) When speaking about intelligent taxation, about the unique, made-in-Nova Scotia manner in which relative to the 2 per cent increase in the HST in which the low-income offset for that was designed and implemented, what we call the Affordable Living Tax Credit, by means of which, at that time, there was a net transfer of income to those households with an income under $34,000 thereby again stimulating demand, which is what you need to do in a recessionary situation. None of this comes into view at all through the fog of negativity that we have in this resolution.

Secondly, I wish to state my agreement with the introductory clause of the third “whereas” of this resolution, which reads as follows: “Whereas the NDP promised to make life better. . .” This clause brings into view the question of course, better than what? The answer I propose to this is as follows: better than the type of government that has been suggested this week in the contributions of the Opposition Parties.