Deciphering which election promises will be kept, and which will be forgotten

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My day job involves speaking to Nova Scotians who are struggling to access public health care and trying to help them organize to demand better service in their communities. Unsurprisingly, I’ve been on the road a lot this month and I’ve heard frustrating, often heartbreaking stories of people whose communities, and too often their family members and neighbours, are dying as doctors and health services leave. The conversations about the election almost always lead to some variation of the same question: “All the parties are making promises, but can I actually trust any of them to follow through?”

To be honest, it’s hard to come up with an inspiring answer. What do you say to the woman who had to commute 6,500 kilometres in 2017 to visit her sick boyfriend (because the local hospital can’t treat him) when she tells you she is going to vote but thinks all the parties are lying to her?

Chris Parsons (@cultureofdefeat) is a political organizer, health care activist and occasional writer from Halifax. His views veer hard to the left, and often stray into the territory of polemic. - JALANI MORGAN
  • JALANI MORGAN
  • Chris Parsons (@cultureofdefeat) is a political organizer, health care activist and occasional writer from Halifax. His views veer hard to the left, and often stray into the territory of polemic.
After all, as voters in Nova Scotia we’re in a unique situation: Over the last decade, we’ve been able to watch with disappointment as all three major parties broke their election promises. The fourth and fifth parties in Nova Scotia have rosters of candidates who feel ill-equipped or even disinterested in sitting in the legislature if they somehow win and few ridings have independent candidates at all.

In some ridings, local candidates will come to your door and try to distance themselves from an unpopular party or leader. We can all remember when, despite rumours of a caucus revolt, every government MLA voted to impose a contract on teachers. Similarly, many of the most meaningful decisions a government makes are included in the budget as resources are allocated and priorities set. Since a defeated budget also means a defeated government (and usually a fresh election), any MLA who votes against a money bill will soon find the full weight of the hammer of party discipline brought down on them.

As a result, few break ranks. So when all the viable parties are inclined to break their promises and local MLAs bound to toe the party line, how do we decide which promises to trust?

My best suggestion is a simple question: Who does each party believe it will need to keep happy if it wants to win?

Will it need to pander to property developers to fill its coffers for election ads? Will it strip away environmental regulations because it needs to keep a balanced budget to appease deficit hawks while still creating a token number of jobs in ridings it’ll need to hold? Does it believe it can win an election based on grassroots support in the HRM? Is Cape Breton the lynchpin of its electoral map in 2021?

At the end of the day, this isn’t the childish world of the West Wing and politicians rarely make decisions based on high-minded, soaring principles. Electoral politics is largely about compromise and doing whatever it takes to win another mandate. The challenge for parties is to make those compromises based on who they think they can afford to alienate and who they think they need to appease.

If you can figure out who each of the parties thinks it will need to keep happy over the next four years and you can determine if you’re part of that group, then you just might have a shot at deciphering whether that party will keep the election promises that matter to 
you.

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Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.

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