1,565 QP Qs by the NSLP and NSPC

Two distinct strategies suggest themselves in a review of the one thousand five-hundred and sixty-five questions asked by the Liberals and Conservatives in 2012.

The Liberals used a spray-paint or roller technique to try to colour the government on broad topics, while the Conservatives used a smaller brush to give detailed work to delicate issues.

Credit must be given to the Conservatives for getting stories like Talbot House (50 questions) and the Home for Coloured Children (21 questions) into the press. Spending a lot of time on a few stories can make a difference. But there is risk in this approach as well. Asking no questions on universities, agriculture, doctors, crime rates, or rural roads, but 22 questions on First Contract Arbitration legislation, suggest this focused attack can result in forgetting other core values.

A word of caution: as the Official Opposition, the Liberals ask approximately 60% of the questions. It would be unfair to suggest that because they asked two questions on Immigration in 2012, and the Conservatives did not ask any, that they care about that issue more than the PCs. With 313 more questions, the Liberals could hit more targets.

For the NDP, it is worth noting that the topics their supporters seem most interested in – universal health care, climate change, income assistance, root causes of crime, and the minimum wage – received no questions from either the Liberals or the Tories.

Digging down into the numbers on health also yields a point of interest. Instead of wait times (9 questions total) and ER closures (15 questions total) dominating the discussion as they did under previous Liberal and PC governments, the number one health issue raised in Question Period in 2012 was the NSGEU and Collective Bargaining (57 questions).

Write to us with your observations at pictoubee@gmail.com

The Question Period Priorities of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party and Liberal Party.

The Question Period Priorities of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party and Liberal Party.

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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

Pave Baby Pave

In Pictou County, we try hard to win the “Worst Road in Nova Scotia” competition. It means a day in the road-rage spotlight and the attention on the NDP’s Transportation Minister Bill Estabrooks.

Our capital city readers with their escalator sidewalks and their mass transit ferries may have forgotten about rural roads, but here in Pictou roads are a top tier issue – on par with hospitals, schools, jobs and the economy.

Before John Hamm and John Savage, governments spent a lot of money building and maintaining our roads and highways. John Buchanan and Donald Cameron had two of the biggest roads budgets in Nova Scotia history, in 1984-85 and 1992-93 respectively. Since then, successive Liberal and Tory governments let things slide, leaving the province with a messy infrastructure deficit. Until Bill Estabrooks became Minister of Transportation.

Famous for his ‘Pave Baby Pave’ mantra, Bill Estabrook’s Five Year Paving Plan – the first of its kind in Nova Scotia history – has delivered three road budgets that are paving the way toward a smoother ride for us on local connectors and for tourists on the main highways. Let’s compare Estabrooks’ road budgets with past ones:

2010-11, Dexter – $310 million
2012-13, Dexter – $281 million
2011-12, Dexter – $265 million
1984-85, Buchanan – $250 million (adjusted for inflation)
1992-93, Cameron – $233 million (adjusted for inflation)

Nova Scotians can now look at the activity on the government’s Google Maps. We took a few snaps from this year’s and last year’s paving season in Pictou.

Provincial Budgets: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

We reviewed the provincial budgets across Canada to see what ideas jumped out as good political gunslinging and which government’s budgets hit innocent bystanders.

The Good:

Jean Charest’s Quebec Liberals are mired in multiple scandals and miffed about mass protests, but there is one gem in their 2012-13 budget. $7 million will be spent this fiscal year on a new incentive program to encourage installation of solar systems and develop solar energy production in La Belle Province.

In a year when many provinces are slashing infrastructure budgets, even as they face deteriorating roads and bridges, one province is continuing to take on the infrastructure deficit they inherited. Cutting the road budget while the country is still in the gentle signs of economic recovery is not a wise. It’s year three of ‘Pave, Baby, Pave’ in Nova Scotia, with Darrell Dexter’s NDP announcing $281 million to maintain roads.

The Bad:

Ontario’s Liberal government has a massive deficit they may never recover from. They need to spend wisely in health and education. There will be tax increases and cuts. But making seniors pay more of their prescription drug costs, freezing welfare rates, and getting rid of the home repair benefit that pays for emergency plumbing, roof patching and damage due to fire or flooding for welfare recipients will not lead the Dalton McGuinty’s province to economic recovery.

When B.C. Liberals took power in 2001, the provincial debt was at $33 billion. By 2013, that number will top $66 billion. With cuts to federal transfers started by the Chretien/Martin Liberals and the federal axe coming down again on jobs under Harper’s Conservatives, it is a tough time for all provinces including Christy Clark’s to make their way out of the red and into the black. But no province has seen numbers jump like BC’s debt.

The Ugly:

Brad Wall’s conservative Saskatchewan government cut of the province’s Film Tax Credit earned a harsh rebuke from Regina’s Leader Post:

There’s a troubling trend in the recent budget that should concern anyone who cares about how this province is governed.

What I’m talking about is the systematic dismantling and destruction of any program or policy of the former NDP government by the Saskatchewan Party government.

Of course, every government will put its own stamp on the jurisdiction it governs and quite rightly will change, reform or revoke policies and programs that do not conform with its political philosophy or objectives.

What I’m talking about is destroying perfectly good programs, like the Film Employment Tax Credit because the NDP, not the Saskatchewan Party, came up with the idea.

Saskatchewan loves their Corner Gas. What makes this move ugly, instead of just plain bad, is that the Wall government backtracked and announced a different credit for film. The industry has panned it, saying it won’t work.