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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Power Play

We expect electricity prices will remain an important part of politics this fall, and think the NDP and the Conservatives can both score points on this issue from the left and right wings as the Legislature begins its session.

Stephen McNeil is in over his head on energy policy, and that gives Darrell Dexter and Jamie Baillie room to move on the issue.

Putting the HST back on home heating, making dangerous promises in their TV attack ads, and fighting Efficiency Nova Scotia’s independent status – McNeil’s power plan would make their worst moves on energy since the Liberals started to tax electricity.

Jamie Baillie can make up the ground he lost if his Conservatives downplay their odd attacks on renewable energy and continue to focus on the UARB instead. Tilting at windmills was a major error by the NSPC.

Darrell Dexter, by announcing legislation limiting power rate increases and executive bonuses, proves the NDP is no friend of Nova Scotia Power. And by negotiating a greenhouse gas reduction agreement with the federal government, the NDP to will save ratepayers from paying $1.3 billion.

The Liberals have worked hard to make power bills the defining issue of 2012. Unfortunately, their leader’s plan comes dangerously close to qualifying as a prank instead of a policy plank.

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Baillie

Jamie Baillie and the Conservatives continue to tell their political base in Nova Scotia that it is the NDP’s efforts on growing renewable energy and fighting climate change, and not the high price of coal, that is increasing power rates. We’ve written about Baillie’s unforced error on energy before: here and here.

But when he’s talking to a different audience, such as the National Press Club, Baillie offers a very different view on hydro-electricity, coal power and electricity prices:

Jamie Baillie: I am an opposition leader… This is one of those times when I actually completely agree with what the government is doing and have said so in the legislature… Coal is dirty and expensive and getting more expensive and electricity prices continue to climb in my region as a result – which is a hardship for our industrial base and manufacturing… This agreement provides an opportunity to give Atlantic Canada a long-term fixed-price to a clean, green supply of electricity… This may be the single, greatest way that by working together we can kick start real, true sustainable long term economic growth for our region… I commit my party to making sure we will use this as a start of a whole new age.

The NDP understand coal prices are driving electricity costs up and that cheap hydro and community-owned small-scale renewables are solutions to rate increases. The Liberals say much the same. And Jamie Baillie? It depends on the audience.

The Conservatives have lately taken to claiming that Nova Scotians pay the highest rates for electricity in the country. If we stay fixed to coal, that may become true. Right now it’s false. Take a look at this chart from Hydro Quebec and take note of the price of electricity in hydro-rich provinces like BC, Manitoba, Quebec and Newfoundland and coal-reliant Alberta. Lower-priced hydro will help bring a healthier mix to our electricity and keep rates stable.

Average electricity prices in Canada.

Electric Avenue

Opening up the electricity market to competition sounds good. Unfortunately, as California has seen, there is risk. Free-market competition – viable for awhile in California – ended in brownouts and bankruptcy.

With ‘deregulation’ now a bad word in energy politics, in 2003 New Brunswick pursued partial market opening for all generators, not just renewables. While called deregulation by nearly everyone – CP journalists, energy analysts from outside the province, and even the Energy Minister – the government started spinning it as “re-regulation.” Ten years later, the New Brunswick Energy Blueprint said partial market opening was a failure and is now irrelevant. New Brunswick found that with such a small energy market, no companies could get the start-up cash to enter the market.

We asked Liberal MLA Andrew Younger about his energy ideas and he assured us that deregulation is not his goal saying “an unregulated electricity market would be potentially very bad for Nova Scotia.”

Andrew Younger: There is no single quick fix and we have been very clear to say that and very clear to say that there are many elements to a successful energy plan. We also believe that Nova Scotians, from a competitive point of view, and cost of living point of view, need some certainty and answers.

There are many ideas circulating from the NDP, Liberals and Conservatives about how to tackle rising electricity rates in Nova Scotia. Here are the best five that all parties should support.

1. Moving forward with Newfoundland and Nova Scotia’s Lower Churchill Falls hydro project. This project will provide a generation of stable, sustainable power.

2. Upgrading the electricity grid between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. This would allow cheap hydro to come our way from Quebec.

3. Continuing with Nova Scotia’s COMFIT program. Providing a secure supply of clean energy at stable prices with community-owned renewable energy projects is a unique, made-in-Nova Scotia solution.

4. Harnessing the energy of the Bay of Fundy. Nova Scotia’s bid to become a North American leader in tidal energy needs to continue to take steps forward. We could be an energy exporter if successful.

5. Keep the HST off home heating. Putting this tax back on would not be politically-wise, and more importantly would be noticed immediately by consumers. Just because it was an NDP idea is not a reason to reverse it.