Stephen Harper started offending large parts of the nation almost as soon as he became a national political leader. Out east, we particularly remember him mouthing off about Atlantic Canada's supposed "culture of defeat." Nova Scotian politicians responded quickly to that one, passing a resolution in the provincial legislature criticizing Harper and "his own Party's unbroken string of defeats in most provinces."
That was in 2002. Since then, the bigot Harper steered his Canadian Reform Alliance Party to take over and rename the venerable Progressive Conservative party, and he's now prime minister of Canada. Meanwhile Nova Scotia's historic legislature---first democracy in the country---has come to embody the worst prejudices about the east coast work ethic. From 2004 to now, no provincial legislature has sat less. Talk about actions speaking louder than words.
If you keep your shift key down and click on the more than one year, you can see the progressive decline in working days in the NS legislature, and how poorly we compare with other provinces in general
So far this year, every provincial and territorial legislature in the land has already opened. Except Nova Scotia's. Our lazy legislators are finally taking their seats in Province House today, April 30. The MLAs are widely expected to sit for a few days of business, then disagree about the budget and trigger an election call. Meaning our enjoyment of the hard-won summer weather gets interrupted by an attention-seeking bunch of stereotypical Nova Scotians: layabouts who put in minimal time at the office while earning a steady government check.
OK, it's easy to call them lazy legislators---I just did it again---but not entirely fair. Listening to constituents' concerns is as important as following debate in the legislature, and politicians are practically always on duty. During weekends. In the grocery store. At barbecues. (They love barbecues.) And anyway, Nova Scotia premier Rodney MacDonald isn't trying to avoid his job by not calling in the legislature---he's trying to keep it.
RodMac doesn't fare well in Province House, what with the media scrutiny and whatnot. The patronage appointments, bad policy decisions, cabinet ministers driving while dumb. It all seems soooooo much worse when people keep asking about it.
Rod Mac, step off! You think it's hard to politic in the NS, "what with the media scrutiny and all"? Try moving and shaking in the Big Apple.
Compounding matters, MacDonald's blunt political style comes across all-too-often as clumsy carpenter, bonking his head when he pulls the hammer back, and smashing his thumb when he swings. Less time in the legislature should lead to less chance for accidents.
Unfortunately for the premier, there's only so much you can't do. The province needs a budget, especially during this year of global economic woe. Governments everywhere are dropping serious coin to stimulate the economy back to health, and Nova Scotia's is no exception.
RodMac announced a $1.9 billion Building for Growth package on March 11, promising such a construction boom on roads and stuff that provincial household income increases by $900 million. Spending $1.9 billion to put $900 million into Nova Scotian pockets sounds a tad inefficient, but that's the MacDonald scheme. "I am also confident that our plan to stimulate the economy will create jobs immediately and provide long-term benefits," he says.
To protect the job he's most concerned about, RodMac is using the $1.9 billion idea to blackmail his political opponents. If the opposition approves the budget---keeping him in power---the economic stimulation can begin. If they force an election...well, who knows if there will ever be a recovery?
"I'm not going to allow the business of the people of Nova Scotia to get tied up in politics in the House. It's too important and we need to see this budget go through," RodMac told the Chronicle-Herald. He also warned "this is no time for politics to get in the way of the economy."
Strong words from the premier, although any need for urgency is his own creation. He could have called the legislature back earlier, putting off a few grocery store chats to better grapple with the economic mess. Instead he's choosing to hold the province hostage, praying we've all become as desperate as him.
Comment on the premier's strategy and thrill to charts of lazy legislators since the '80s in the online version of this column at thecoast.ca.