Robert Chisholm on the health, energy and Nova Scotia Liberals

Former Nova Scotia NDP Leader Robert Chisholm gave a strong speech at this weekend’s Annual General Meeting of the Nova Scotia NDP.

Chisholm has a lot of experience battling bad Liberal governments – he fought them for years in the Legislature. A political parties record in office should help define them, or history would be allowed to repeat itself. Chisholm recaps the history of the last Liberal government well.

Robert Chisholm:

The fact that we endured fifteen years of Tory governments before they were defeated goes to show you how bad the Liberals before them must have been.

It was 20 years ago this month actually, when that Conservative rule ended. The Liberals were given 40 seats, a majority government, and a mandate to clean everything up – including their illegal trust funds.

That clean-up did not work out very well, nor did the rest of their agenda. In those days it was John, Alexa and I. We faced an onslaught of legislation that created chaos in the construction industry, the civil service and the health care sector.

The Liberals rolled back public sector wages, suspended collective bargaining and slashed health spending.

They forced teachers to retire, paid nurses to leave the profession and cut the number of doctors being trained.

People who expected democratic consultation got government by decree. Forced amalgamations of municipalities and school boards, and a secret deal with the Feds to create the HST.

Then of course there was the boondoggle that was P3 schools which moved the cost of a construction binge off the books and let them pretend the budget was in balance.

In fact, when it came to creative accounting, Enron had nothing on Nova Scotia Liberals.

Now let me talk to you about energy. I was in the Legislature when the Conservatives privatized Nova Scotia Power. I still have the editorial cartoon hanging on my wall at home with a picture of Alexa, John, and I, calling us The Filibusters because we put up such a fight.

And when they had a chance, the Liberals didn’t reverse that bad decision.

But they did promise us something we didn’t have up to that point – In 1995 they promised legislation to provide a regional framework for energy production and conservation that did not compromise our environment or our economic well being.

Sounds great doesn’t it? Little did Nova Scotians know at the time that we’d have to wait until an NDP government for that to actually happen.

Instead, the Liberals stood by while Nova Scotia Power cancelled energy efficiency programs and increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Then the Liberals decided it was better to see our Sable Island natural gas go to New England and New Brunswick instead of developing regional electricity markets – a mistake we are still paying for.

Today Liberals are offering a mixed bag of old, poorly thought out ideas they want to revive from our past, and new poorly thought out ideas they want to unleash on our future.

We said it. Dan Leger said it in the Herald. Liberal energy policies are simplistic, at best.

The Liberal approach to energy policy is to kick sand in the face of Nova Scotia Power. Now while that may make some people feel good, it’s hardly the basis for sound energy policy.

In contrast, when it comes to energy, the NDP wants a made-in-Atlantic Canada Maritime Link, with the strategic benefits of being part of a regional energy loop instead of on the end of an extension cord.

The NDP wants to push forward with the necessary work of weaning ourselves off fossil fuels. Foot-dragging on this issue by previous governments has made the move harder than it needed to be, and also cost many Nova Scotians their health.

Over those six painful years the Liberal government did something few people would have thought possible. They actually drove Nova Scotians back into the arms of a Conservative majority.


Atlantic Canadian Politicians Speak Out Against Federal EI Changes

NDP Premier Darrell Dexter is on the right track in his call to Stephen Harper to suspend the EI changes until a comprehensive study of their impact on the region has been completed.

All four Atlantic Canadian Premiers are asking the Harper government to hand over any relevant employment insurance data so that they can conduct a comprehensive audit.

No research was done by the federal government in advance of major changes it made last May to the employment insurance system that require claimants to accept a job for which they are qualified within 100 kilometres of their home.

As we have written before, seasonal workers provide a reliable workforce. Without knowing you can count on them, farmers, for instance, will lose both predictability and confidence. And limits to foreign workers until every local person has a job will mean Nova Scotia 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.

MPs like Scott Armstrong say the EI changes give people “a better connection with available jobs”. He’s wrong. 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.

Gary Burrill, Nova Scotia NDP MLA:

“This is the kind of smooth and oily abuse of words that causes many people to have come to a point where they spit out the word politician. “A better connection with available jobs?” I think not. How can that be when a new EI system for seasonal workers requires people to accept a job or lose their benefits at 70 per cent of their current wages? That’s not a better connection with available jobs.”

Robert Chisholm, Nova Scotia NDP MP, Fisheries Critic:

“Instead of focusing on regional development, Conservatives are turning their back on Atlantic Canada, and they are telling seasonal workers to hit the road and head west.”

Darrell Dexter, Nova Scotia Premier:

“The dismantling of the EI system meant that so many of the people who could at one point in time, have a sustainable livelihood in their communities, no longer can. They have had to leave.”

Robert Ghiz, PEI Premier:

“If you want to come to P.E.I., and go to our beaches, watch Anne of Green Gables, and eat our oysters, and eat our potatoes, and go fishing — well guess what? We need people in those areas to work in seasonal industries and they depend on the employment insurance program.”

Kathy Dunderdale, Newfoundland Premier:

“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.”