The provincial legislature convenes today (Thursday). Last spring the leg met for just 18 days, a brevity record it broke in the fall with a 16-day session. I held a series of off-the-record conversations with party insiders and analysts this week and the consensus seems to be that this session will be much the same. Expect the government to table a budget (probably) on Tuesday and beyond some empty speechifying, the whole thing will wind down by the first week of June or perhaps sooner.
Liberal caucus members don’t want to bring down the government because they “haven’t maxxed out their pension plans,” a sensibly cynical academic told me. Moreover, leader Stephen McNeil is too green to risk an election and so while he’ll attempt to insert what he can into it, he’ll ultimately accept the Progressive Conservative budget. Long term, McNeil hopes to consolidate his leadership and bring some party stability into an election. Next year, perhaps.
The governing PCs are still riding a wave of scandal---bad optics on the Heather Foley Melvin appointment, Ernie Fage’s loan and driving problems, the immigration recruitment fiasco, to name a few---so likewise want to forestall an election until things settle down. Their modus operandi is to announce a series of big, long-term projects that have no hope of becoming reality any time soon, if ever. Premier Rodney MacDonald has already announced a couple of whoppers: twinning highways “from Yarmouth to Sydney,” even though the two-lane 100 system isn’t finished, and putting a truck highway in Halifax’s south end, a political impossibility.
This year’s budget won’t contain funding for those or any other gigantic project, but that may not hold them back from announcing more. “They have a very old-fashioned view of politics,” another observer tells me. “They think the public wants tangible things they can see: new buildings, new roads. So, they’ll promise those types of things.”
I’m also told that there’s an implicit agreement between the parties to set aside a potentially explosive battle over health-care workers’ right to strike. The threatened PC bill taking away that right will once again fail to materialize this session.As for the NDP, leader Darrell Dexter is happy to lay low and work on extending his approval ratings into rural ridings. The strategy is to concentrate on good governance issues such as surgery wait times and avoid raising big-picture restructuring that will frighten the little-c conservatives in the countryside. The hope is that Dexter will be seen as the only alternative to the incompetent MacDonald.And so, not much will happen. Perhaps the pols will try to extend the session a bit to lessen the sting of being labelled “Canada’s laziest legislature,” but once the budget is approved, the government will try to recess as quickly as possible to avoid an opposition free-for-all against them.
This isn’t necessarily all bad---there’s still a lot of constituency work that gets done out-of-session by all parties. But, the less the legislature meets, the more decisions are made at cabinet, behind closed doors, and the more we drift politically on autopilot.
Nova Scotians seem to enjoy minority governments and there’s a place and time for comfortably muddling through. But there are, presently, gigantic environmental issues that need addressing and as hard decisions about, for example, greenhouse-gas emission reductions are avoided, those issues loom larger and become harder to solve. What’s needed now in Nova Scotia is bold leadership. But what we’re getting is yawning complacency.