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 Strait Deal

600 mill workers. 400 forestry workers. 2.5 percent of the Nova Scotia economy. An investment that will pay for itself in 12 years.

While the Liberals are on board with the NewPage deal – Michel Samson is the MLA for part of the Strait, after all – Jamie Baillie and the Conservatives are sending mixed messages.

In Halifax, Jamie Baillie has wondered if the government could have invested in other jobs in the region (but has not speculated on what those 1000 jobs might possibly be) while in Cape Breton, Allan MacMaster defended forestry and the mill:

I think a lot of people around the province maybe don’t realize the asset in the machine that’s at the mill. The reason Stern was interested in buying the mill was largely because of the machine. We have the forest. We have the experienced workforce. But the machine is the real drawing card and what makes it different from other mills.

While Halifax voters may not understand the rural economy and the importance of an anchor industry in the Strait, Premier Dexter understands that the province needs to fight for jobs. A leader make decisions, not because they are popular in the capital, but because they are the right thing for families in Cape Breton and the economy of Nova Scotia.

Bend for Blueberries or Lose Your Benefits

Nova Scotia is the only province to have seen the number of farms grow over the past few years, increasing 2.9% to 3,905 farms. The federal Conservatives’ changes to Employment Insurance will reverse this positive trend. Ideology on foreign workers, the unemployed, and workers’ wages seems to be driving this move that will hurt forestry, fishing, and farming.

Seasonal workers provide a reliable workforce. Without knowing you can count on them, farmers will lose both predictability and confidence. And limits to foreign workers until every local person has a job will mean farmers who doubled their blueberry and strawberry fields these past years will be in a precarious position.

Younger seasonal workers will move west for work because they have to. And 60 year old snow crab fishermen will bend for blueberries or lose their benefits.

The Conservative idea that “a job is a job is a job” will mean more rural farm hands will leave for Fort Mac to work in the winter and not return in the spring, fishermen who lay-off workers temporarily as the season ends will not have those experienced workers the next season. A forestry worker on EI in the winter will receive twice-daily job alerts as the Harper government forces EI recipients to find work faster at a far lower wage – he’ll be a truck driver instead (and when there are no more local fish, logs and berries to ship out, due to a lack of seasonal workers, he’ll truck goods here instead).

Rural Canadians hands are the hands that feed you. Think of us when you visit your historic farmers’ market.

Believe the unemployed should be lucky to just have a job? Consider the Conservatives’ new 70 percent maxim: Lose your job and take another at a 30 per cent wage cut. Lose that job and take another 30 percent cut. If Conservatives really feel that Carribean crop-harvesters are stealing local jobs, the solution is not to import Carribean economies.

“To me, these changes seem to tear at the heart of rural Canada.”
– Nova Scotia NDP Premier Darrell Dexter

“There seems to be a real disconnect between what the federal government is trying to achieve and the reality of peoples’ lives in rural parts of the country.”
– Newfoundland PC Premier Kathy Dunderdale

Our three largest industries are still agriculture, fisheries and tourism. And like I try to point out to the federal government every time, is that there’s not a lot of people going to the beach or playing golf in January. There’s not many lobsters being caught in January and there’s not many potatoes being grown.”
– PEI Liberal Premier Robert Ghiz

Jamie Baillie’s Labour Pains

As the transit strike in Nova Scotia’s capital continued, we saw Conservative leader Jamie Baillie’s demonstrate once again why he’s not ready for prime time.

In a radio interview, Baillie said he would solve the issue by locking the union and management in a room until they agreed to a deal, and slide pizzas under the door for food. That’s not problem solving, that’s dangerous hostility.

On March 8th, Baillie claimed that “negotiations between the city and transit union appear to be no further ahead today than they did at the beginning of the strike.” Three days later, on March 11th, an agreement was in place. That’s not vision, that’s uninformed guesswork.

Presumably, Baillie would have ignored the binding arbitration route and forced in back-to-work legislation. That’s what today’s Conservatives do. But instead of saying specifically what he would do, Baillie just repeated the line that “the strike could be over now.” That’s not leadership, that’s empty populism.

As Liberal leadership hopeful Andrew Younger put it, when talking about the idea of a Premier meddling in a municipal issue:

The role of the province is to support municipalities in democratic and appropriate decision making, not second guess elected municipal leaders. Frankly, if a Premier is more interested in personally reviewing every decision of council rather than focusing on important provincial matters, there is a municipal election he can run in.

Ugly Negotiations

Ugly pizza, while tasty, solves nothing.

Smart, effective governments help solve problems by being honest brokers. They bring two opposing sides together and act as a conciliator. If either the city or the union asked the government to step in, then they would have presumably considered it. But only then. This is what is so alarming about Jamie Baillie’s view of labour negotiations – neither the city nor the union asked for the province’s help. Stepping into that situation without being asked would have been undemocratic and permanently damaged the relationship between the city, the union and the provincial government. It would have led to more hostility and more instability.

Oddly, when the province acted to solve the Dalhousie University Faculty pension problem, thereby contributing to an agreement between Dalhousie and the Faculty, Baillie called the province’s actions “interference” in a labour dispute, accusing the Premier of being “happy to solve the Dalhousie professors’ pension problem.” What’s not to be happy about? We hope university professors and their students took notice of Baillie’s attitude. While the government’s move to fix the university’s pension crisis may have removed a key road block to a potential Dal Faculty strike, it wasn’t interference. Interference would have been back-to-work legislation, union-busting or locking the two sides in a room and sliding pizzas under the door.

Instead, the province did what responsible governments should do – they provided a provincial conciliator to the negotiating parties. As Jane Taber put it in the Globe and Mail:

For three days, John Greer, a provincial conciliator, ran between floors in a Dartmouth hotel, sorting out not one but two high-profile labour disputes that had gripped the city and province…

Finally, on Sunday, Mr. Greer’s marathon shuffle came to an end. Just after 3 p.m., Dalhousie University and its 870 professors and librarians reached a tentative agreement, only hours before their midnight strike deadline. Seven hours later, Halifax’s 750 transit workers reached a tentative deal with the city.

Smart governments help broker deals.