The Bees Knees – Prizes for Week Three

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

Liberal MLA Diana Whalen challenged NDP Finance Minister Maureen MacDonald’s revenue projection assumptions in the balanced 2013-14 budget.

The problem? The major banks think the Finance Department’s projections might be too conservative in their outlook.

Maureen MacDonald: All of the economists in the big financial institutions in the country looked at the assumptions that were put together by the economists in the Department of Finance, and they compared those assumptions with their own forecasts, and they find the assumptions to be reasonable. In fact, they found the assumptions in the Department of Finance to be conservative compared to their forecasts for the coming year.

Whalen wins the Bumble Bee award for trusting her political researchers over the Canada’s leading economists.

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

Liberal MLA Keith Colwell complains about government spending on advertising. He says there is too much. And he says there is too little. This week, he was claimed John MacDonell could not get the word out about the Heating Assistance Rebate Program. MacDonell swatted Colwell’s complaint away:

John MacDonell: I think I have answered this question once a year for three years. I would think the member opposite would be aware, because his office should have received the applications that all MLAs received to give out to their constituents. If anybody is coming in there looking for an application, they should be able to get it from him.

For recycling a question for the third year in a row, Keith Colwell wins the Drone of the Week prize.

Killer Bee 

While we do not agree with Jamie Baillie’s stance that we should move away from Nova Scotia’s renewable energy goals, we share his concerns about Stephen McNeil’s electricity plan:

Jamie Baillie: For the Liberal Party to run TV ads promoting a policy that actually jacks our power rates up even more and manages to eliminate any hope of private investment in renewables at the same time – that is an amazing trick. The very policies that they promote have been proven a failure in New Brunswick, in Ontario, in Texas, in California, in all of those places the very policies that they advertise on TV, both drive up our power rates and stop the investment in renewables at the same time. That is why it’s important that they, too, be held accountable for what they say not just today, but for the future.

Baillie wins this week’s Killer Bee prize for taking on McNeil Liberals on multiple fronts, including on electricity.

Honey Bee

This week Colchester – Musquodoboit Valley NDP MLA Gary Burrill issued a challenge to Conservative MP Scott Armstrong to a debate on federal cuts to EI.

Burrill also got his provincial Conservative colleagues on the record on the changes to the EI appeals process. He introduced this resolution in the Legislature:

Whereas the system of appeals for employment insurance has, for many years, been comprised of Boards of Referees, tripartite bodies including local representatives from the business community and the labour movement, ensuring that appeals of decisions affecting EI claims have been heard by independent referees knowledgeable concerning local conditions…

Whereas the constituency offices of many MLAs have commonly provided advocacy, support, and representation services to constituents before Boards of Referees, very often resulting in much-needed reinstatements of EI benefits and much-merited reversals of disentitlements, disqualifications, penalty assessments, and the like; and

Whereas the federal government has abolished the system of EI appeals based on a national network of Boards of Referees, and replaced it with a centralized appeal system lacking entirely in local representation;

Therefore be it resolved that this House of Assembly unreservedly condemn the eradication of the Board of Referees appeal system by the Government of Canada, and hereby register its profound disagreement with the removal of local labour and business leaders from the appeal process available to EI claimants in Nova Scotia.

Burrill’s resolution was met with a chorus of No’s from the Conservative benches, a mistake for a party in second place in much of rural Nova Scotia. Gary Burrill wins this week’s Honey Bee prize for good work.


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 Two

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

Liberal MLA Diana Whalen can not claim to have problems with the math in the budget and claim the civil servants in the Finance Department who crunched the numbers in the budget are great employees.

Diana Whalen: It’s based on inflated, wishful thinking, rose-coloured glasses or whatever you want to call it, it’s not going to be sustainable, it’s not going to be reliable… I wanted to thank the Finance Department, who I know work very hard. The staff at the department work really hard to pull this together. It’s not done overnight. It takes months and months, so I think they deserve a vote of thanks.

You do not get to thank the staff and the Department of Finance and call their work incompetent. Whalen wins the Bumble Bee prize of the week for calling into question the work of an entire department and trying to smooth things over with a few nice words.

Honey Bee

Nova Scotia’s first female Finance Minister wins the Honey Bee prize this week for her Balanced Budget which gives back to families, kids and seniors:

Maureen MacDonald: I recall the many years the now-Premier and our Caucus spent fighting on behalf of seniors and their families, so that they no longer had to pay the costs of medical expenses in long-term care. This was a long-needed change in how our province respects seniors, and ensures that they are treated with the dignity they so rightly deserve after years of building the society and economy of our province.

Killer Bee 

Jamie Baillie wins the week’s Killer Bee prize for the quote with the most sting, in this case attacking McNeil’s credibility and integrity on his mishandling the Liberal Party’s emerging toll-gating scandal:

Jamie Baillie: Here is a [Liberal] Party that can’t even manage a tiny little caucus office without the help of a consultant. Here is a [Liberal] Party that can’t even run a surplus in their own little book of accounts asking the people if they can run the entire Province of Nova Scotia. They have not won an election in this province, a majority election, in 20 years because Nova Scotians will not trust them as long as they hold on to that dirty money in that trust fund, and they won’t this time either – and no one can say oh that’s in the past as long as the current leadership hold on to it.

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

Jamie Baillie also gets the Drone of the Week award, however, for making a gelatinous cube over what was obviously a computer error at the NLSC over the April 1 long weekend.

April Fools indeed.

The Bees’ 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.

Bumble Bee:

Glace Bay’s MLA seems like a nice fellow. But we’re not certain what his questions about Ships Start Here were meant to do. If his goal was to state Liberal support for Ships Start Here and the $25 billion contract the NDP helped bring in, Question Period may not be the place for it. Maclellan’s softball questions were hit out of the park by the Premier:

Geoff Maclellan: Since May of last year we’ve seen the ads and promotions of Ships Start Here. We know it was a good initiative and the Nova Scotia Liberal Party and their Leader have been championing this idea… My question to the Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism is, how long has the NDP Government known this agreement would cost Nova Scotians $260 million?

Percy Paris: This is the most important event certainly in my lifetime. One of the things we did not want to do is jeopardize the risk of not getting the contract. Because there were negotiations going on at a very, very high level, it was important that we keep our cards close to our chests… The agreement was just signed – I don’t think it has been quite a week yet – so we revealed the numbers at an appropriate time and when it was at no risk or little risk to the province.

Geoff Maclellan: Why didn’t the NDP Government tell us a year ago what our provincial contributions from taxpayers’ dollars would be?

Premier Dexter: Under the terms of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy we were bidding, along with Irving, to ensure that we would be successful in getting the $25 billion combat vessel contract, which we did. The return on that to the people of Nova Scotia will be somewhere in the vicinity of $2.6 billion in tax revenues, thousands of jobs at the shipyards. As Mr. Irving put it, had we not done that, they would have a parking lot down on the waterfront instead of a shipyard.

Killer Bee:

As a Habs and a Bruins fan respectively, the editors at The Pictou Bee appreciate Finance Minister Graham Steele taking a shot at the Leafs in his budget address:

I am pleased to inform the House that, for the just-finished fiscal year, and for the third year in a row, departmental spending is coming in under budget. That hasn’t happened at least since 1967, a year when Lester B. Pearson was Prime Minister, Lyndon Johnson was U.S. President, and the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup. In other words, it hasn’t happened for a very long time. Yet it should be the norm. And now, with this government, it is. (Applause)

At budget time last year, we estimated a deficit of $390 million. We’re now forecasting a deficit of $261 million. That means we beat the budget by $129 million, almost all on the spending side. Departmental spending is down over $72 million from budget, and lower debt-servicing costs account for another $47 million in savings. These are tangible results of our hard work and discipline.

Honey Bee:

Several MLAs took the time to speak in favour of the NDP’s Status of the Artist legislation. We thought Pam Birdsall’s speech encapsulated why this bill deserves to become law:

Pam Birdsall: The former director of the old Nova Scotia Arts Council, noted that the day the new board met on March 27th was the very same date 10 years ago when the previous government shut down the Arts Council. When we were in Opposition we were committed to recreating a stand-alone arts council and that is just what we have done…

To quote Ron Bourgeois, the Chairman of the Creative Nova Scotia Leadership Council when he said this legislation defines “where I fit in the Nova Scotia fabric. Where yesterday there was nothing, today I feel I am recognized, respected as artist within this government.”

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 like Diana Whalen and hope she considers running for Liberal Leader after the next election. But as Finance Critic, several things she repeats every session suggests she doesn’t understand that, for the Finance Minister, every budget is a comprehensive tax review.

Diana Whalen: The Liberal Party and our Leader have said consistently that we need to review the entire tax regime of the province to look at a comprehensive tax review… Maybe that’s a business tax that will stimulate employment or maybe it’s personal income tax so that you can have people spending more and more disposable income but we don’t know that, Mr. Speaker, because we haven’t followed that route of looking carefully at all of the taxes that Nova Scotians are charged.

Whalen, like the rest of the Liberal MLAs, is lost in a maze of mixed messages. One day a Liberal MLA is demanding lower taxes, the next day another is asking for more spending. One day they are saying government can wait to get back to balance, the next day they  insist the deficit be slain right now. One day they attack investments in forestry and manufacturing, the next day they are calling for quicker, deeper cuts. It’s why many observers believe the Conservatives will be the Official Opposition after the next election.