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.

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The Bees’ Knees – Prizes for Week Six

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

The last two weeks the Legislature is in session are always the most acrimonious. Lunenburg West NDP MLA Gary Ramey, after constant interruptions during a speech, offered this quote, which was a strong theme of the fall session.

Gary Ramey: Our NDP Government will drag them, the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives, kicking and screaming into a brighter future and we will leave it to them to explain why they want to be part of the problem rather than part of the solution, and why they do not want to be part of growth and progress. That’s what they’ll have to explain at some point.

Soon, the press will begin the ask how the opposition would create jobs, when they speak out against nearly every investment in nearly every community. Ramey wins the Killer Bee prize for the week.

Bumble Bee

Alfie MacLeod wins the week’s Bumble Bee prize for the error prone for forgetting he was on the governing side just three and a half years ago. Finance Minister Maureen MacDonald set him straight:

Alfie MacLeod: It’s obvious this Minister of Finance is an expert at the shell game, because what they give with one hand they take away with the other hand.

Maureen MacDonald: You really do have to laugh when a member of the PC caucus has the audacity to stand up on the floor of this Legislature and talk with righteous indignation about debt. That Party left debt to subsequent governments of any political stripe that cost close to $1 billion annually to service in the Province of Nova Scotia. The reason why we see programs under pressure – our health care, our education, and other programs – is because of the spectacular mismanagement of previous governments, particularly the former Rodney MacDonald Government.

Honey Bee

Liberal MLA Michel Samson and NDP MLA Sterling Belliveau share the Honey Bee prize for talking about an issue rarely raised in the Legislature – our lobster industry.

Michel Samson: What efforts is the minister making to ensure lobster fishermen in Nova Scotia receive the best possible price for their catch?

Sterling Belliveau: We have been doing a considerable amount. We have been working with the industry – not only with the Lobster Council of Canada, who has an initiative in marketing and branding lobsters. I am very proud of that, and we are also working on international markets, yes there are opportunities there but we are also working with the industry. We stood up for the independent fishermen on owner/operator, we stood up on protection of Georges Bank, and we’ll stand up on the fishing industry, the lobster industry of Nova Scotia.

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 Glace Bay MLA Geoff MacLellan, in a debate on the rural economy, talked about employment in Cape Breton, and criticized the deal to try to save Bowater in Queens County. The problem? MacLellan forgot the Liberals voted in favour of the Bowater deal, and were against the deal to save Cape Breton jobs at NewPage.

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.

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

Here are the people Liberal MLA Geoff MacLellan opposed investing in this week: DSME workers in Pictou, mill workers in the Strait, forestry workers in Queens County, shipyard workers in Shelburne and IT workers in Halifax. One reader cheekily suggested that the Liberals were exhibiting signs of being fair to all regions of the province by opposing jobs in all parts of the province. Glace Bay MLA Geoff MacLellan wins this week’s Drone of the Week prize.

Honey Bee

Premier Darrell Dexter reminded Liberals of the two of Stephen McNeil’s biggest errors on electricity this week – on efficiency programs and power bill taxes.

Premier Dexter: The consumer groups, ecology groups right across the province said what they wanted was an independent efficiency organization that would be free of government, paid for so that they could deliver services that would benefit the entire population of Nova Scotia. Ratepayers, as a result of this, saved $100 million. In fact the savings are actually greater for the poorer Nova Scotians because it makes up a bigger part of their bill.

What they tried to do is manoeuvre around what they said. The Leader of the Official Opposition voted against the HST coming off of home electricity then he voted in favour of the Progressive Conservatives putting it back on. He campaigned against it twice. In the leadership debate – he would remember, I certainly do – he said taking the HST off was bad, bad public policy. Does he believe it or doesn’t he? (Applause)

For continuing to take the battle to the opposition benches, Darrell Dexter wins this week’s Honey Bee prize for good political work.

Bumble Bee

While the rest of the Liberals were pretending to forget their history of supporting tax credits for business development, retiring Liberal Manning MacDonald went off message.

Manning MacDonald: Stream was in Glace Bay long before this government ever came to office in Nova Scotia. It was brought to Nova Scotia – it was brought to Cape Breton – by a payroll rebate system that the previous Liberal Government of this province set up.

Manning MacDonald is correct. The Liberals have always supported big business. Unfortunately for him, the Liberals are now pretending to be against big business. He wins this week’s Bumble Bee prize, for providing another example of the Liberal’s weather vane politics.

Killer Bee

Normally, when an MLA uses an unparliamentary phrase, they retract it and replace it with a more benign word. Not so with Pictou’s own Clarrie MacKinnon.

Clarrie MacKinnon: As I listened to families, small business owners, and young people in Pictou County and all parts of Nova Scotia, I feel their energy and I feel their enthusiasm. There is hope, there is hope coming from this side of the House, not the despair and hopelessness that exists over there. IBM could have picked any place in Canada to bring their expertise, research and jobs. I think they chose the best place to build their future.

I just want to reiterate that this side of the House has real leadership as we go into the future. We are not looking at the Headless Horsemen on the other side of the aisle, Mr. Speaker, and that just came to mind, looking at them. Thank you.

The Speaker: Excuse me. “Headless Horsemen” is probably not parliamentary language. I would ask the member for Pictou East to retract that statement.

Clarrie MacKinnon: Mr. Speaker, I would be delighted to retract the “Headless Horsemen” comment, but I do not have other adjectives.

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.