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DEXTER GOVT: Managing Communications with the Base on a Diet of Austerity Budgets and Tax Cuts

KenS
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Joined: Aug 6 2001

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KenS
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Joined: Aug 6 2001

When setting out to eliminate the substantial and structural provincial deficit they had inherited on coming to power, Nova Scotia Premier Dexter and Finance Minister Steele came to a fork in the road- one path to the left and one to the right.


Road on the Left Offered:

** Three years of substantial but relatively moderated service delivery cuts to eliminate the inherited, chronic, and accumulating annual budgetary deficit.

** After the last of these corrective budgets is delivered, the Dexter government still has a year within which to choose the time of the election in which they seek their second mandate.


Road on the Right Offered:

** Eliminate the deficit in two years instead of three, with an increase in service delivery stress even greater than the monetary difference. With the greatest amount of cuts implementation downloaded to local boards in a state of perpetual crisis.

** Then take the vastly intensified and downloaded service delivery cuts of two years to eliminate the deficit, and add at least two more years of equivalent service delivery cuts so that the government can offer a tax cut in time for the election.

 

Which road would a social democrat take?

 


Slumberjack
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Joined: Aug 8 2005

It depends on whether you're asking for an opinion based on our experiences with it, or in a general, idealistic sense.


Doug
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Joined: Apr 17 2001

More particularly, it depends on what other political parties are offering and on what other nearby jurisdictions are doing.


KenS
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Joined: Aug 6 2001

I can think of a lot things it would depend on.

For example, is there public pressure for the NDP to be bringing in a tax cut.

But why would it depend on what the other political parties are offering?


KenS
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Joined: Aug 6 2001

Thats a good question just as it is, but I'll make it more concrete.

Here's what the other political parties are offering.

The NDP when it came in raised the HST the same 2% points the Harper government had cut it.

They had a strong consenus across ideological lines and general wide approval at the time that the need for this was not really debateable.

Opposition parties being the barking dogs they are, of course 3 years later they are reminding everyone that the NDP broke its promise to not raise taxes.

The follow-up questions are: do the opposition parties hae any traction? Do they have any credibility in this beyond their own respective diehard bases who vote for them anyway? Is there any degree of public clamour from anywhere else for cutting the HST?


Slumberjack
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Joined: Aug 8 2005

Doug wrote:
More particularly, it depends on what other political parties are offering and on what other nearby jurisdictions are doing.

The 'nearby jurisdictions' can certainly serve as a barometer in that respect, which is why some of us take pains to bring certain jurisdictions into focus.  However; the inspiration leading toward an answer to a question of 'what would they do' doesn't exactly spring forth from a mere statement consisting of what they or others have on offer.  I'm thinking it's quite clear by now that it can't at any rate.  An answer worth giving then is best is supported by an examination of practice and probability.  Perhaps the suggestions might flow a little easier if the question itself were clarified a little, as in 'what road should they take?'  In our context we have quite a number of reasons to suspect what they would do.


genstrike
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Joined: May 1 2008

KenS wrote:

Which road would a social democrat take?

Given the history of postwar social democracy and the modern-day Blairite sub-reformism that passes for social democracy, I'd say it is more likely that a nominally social democratic government would take the latter road.


Slumberjack
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Practice.  Exactly genstrike.


Fidel
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Joined: Apr 29 2004

Fact check: Tony the Phony Blair was "New Labour" not social dem.  

Human Poverty Index In case you were asleep for the last couple of decades, your country rates below several social democracies


1springgarden
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Joined: Sep 2 2008

2011-2012 Budget Year

About Dexter NDP: Proposing tax cuts while running a deficit and cutting services is just offensive.  Why propose tax cuts at the same time you're changing school class size cap from 25 students per class to 29?


KenS
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Joined: Aug 6 2001

 

 

 

Quote:
When setting out to eliminate the substantial and structural provincial deficit they had inherited on coming to power....

Road on the Left Offered:

** Three years of substantial but relatively moderated service delivery cuts to eliminate the inherited, chronic, and accumulating annual budgetary deficit.

** After the last of these corrective budgets is delivered, the Dexter government still has a year within which to choose the time of the election in which they seek their second mandate.


Road on the Right Offered:

** Eliminate the deficit in two years instead of three, with an increase in service delivery stress even greater than the monetary difference. With the greatest amount of cuts implementation downloaded to local boards in a state of perpetual crisis.

** Then take the vastly intensified and downloaded service delivery cuts of two years to eliminate the deficit, and add at least two more years of equivalent service delivery cuts so that the government can offer a tax cut in time for the election.

 

Which road would a social democrat take?

.

 

Can we agree on this much:

Obviously, the first alternative is the one much preferred by all social democrats. Hugely preffered.

But at least in principle, there could be compelling reasons to choose the second alternative.


It is a perfectly valid and defensible position if you think the second option should NEVER be chosen by a social democrat... or if you think as genstrike that you can expect when governing that social democrats will need little push to choose the second option. But if that is your assessment, frankly I don't know why you want to be part of this particular discussion. There doesnt appear to be anything to it than the kicks of 'making a point' [again].

At any rate, I at least in principle except that there might be compelling reasons for a social democrat to choose the second 'road' / option.

Then the question is whether the Dexter government, and by extension Nova Scotia New Democrats as a group, had compelling reasons to choose the second option.


kathleen
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Joined: Mar 1 2009

The Dexter government and NS New Democrats had no compelling reasons to choose the second option except to make the business community happy. Lots of payroll subsidies for industry, including some pretty rich financial services. Lots of support for aquaculture at the expense of fishing communities. And the promise of puny tax reductions while education goes begging. I get a constant stream of their good news in response to my messages of oppostition to their austerity policies.

I'm not sure there has ever been many, if any, social democrats in the NS New Democratic Party. So I guess they didn't need any compelling reasons to act like social democrats.


KenS
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Joined: Aug 6 2001

'There arent and maybe never have been many social democrats in the NS NDP.'

I guess that puts you in this realm:

Quote:

It is a perfectly valid and defensible position if you think the second option should NEVER be chosen by a social democrat... or if you think as genstrike that you can expect when governing that social democrats will need little push to choose the second option. But if that is your assessment, frankly I don't know why you want to be part of this particular discussion. There doesnt appear to be anything to it than the kicks of 'making a point' [again].

 

 

Beg to differ with you, but I've been a social democrat since decades before I was involved with the NDP, and I am a member. And I think that includes a lot of people who defend this government.

Now, Dexter and Steele themselves. That's another matter. I don't know....

 

Not to mention that you are overlooking for what people see as a compelling reason for choosing the second option the little thing of wanting to be re-elected.

 

Count me as among the many who would never sneer at people for the fact of wanting to be re-elected... as if that in itself proves some fundamental moral or ethical shortcoming.

But I will always question, and be questioned, on whether just because I or somelse thinks something is necessary for being re-elected, that it is as true as thought. And if at least true to a degree, that still leaves whether a sacrifice is being made that is not worth it.


Sean in Ottawa
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Joined: Jun 3 2003

What tax cut?

Please correct me if I am missing something:

The NS government has stated that it wants to get books in order in two years -- in part to avoid a downgrade that would make it harder to do later. As a part of that it hiked the provincial portion of the HST for 2 years taking it back to where it was once the books were in better shape. The reduction of the provincial portion of the HST to the previous level would come over two years.

I am not endorsing everything the NS government is doing because I don't have all the facts but calling the planned removal of a temporary increase in taxes a tax reduction does not sound right to me.

So is there some other tax reduction you are talking about?


Sean in Ottawa
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Joined: Jun 3 2003

kathleen wrote:

The Dexter government and NS New Democrats had no compelling reasons to choose the second option except to make the business community happy. Lots of payroll subsidies for industry, including some pretty rich financial services. Lots of support for aquaculture at the expense of fishing communities. And the promise of puny tax reductions while education goes begging. I get a constant stream of their good news in response to my messages of oppostition to their austerity policies.

I'm not sure there has ever been many, if any, social democrats in the NS New Democratic Party. So I guess they didn't need any compelling reasons to act like social democrats.

Well they had three reasons at least-- you can decide if they are compelling:

1) the obvious one people are talking about-- being re-elected. If you do not believe you are better than the opposition and that electing the opposition would be bad for the province then you should not stand for election in the first place.

2) Bond holder rating decide on the interest a government pays and while it is unfair that they have the power they do, you cannot dismiss that as a reason to get the finances balanced a little quicker.

3) The Dexter government is the first NDP government in NS. It has a greater responsibility than any other NDP government to come in the future to establish that it can be trusted with the finances. While you can argue that it has been overzealous in this, it is fair to observe that this is an important motivation if you want to avoid a return to Liberal-Conservative dynasties. (I am concerned by some of the direction the government is following but am willing to judge them over a longer period given this political reality.

They were elected on a mandate of getting the provinces books back in order-- whether they are doing that in a prudent manner consistent with social democratic principles is of course worthy of debate but saying they are doing something for no reason may not be the best starting point.

It is not a betrayal to govern amid political realities. In fact it could be called a betrayal to squander a historic opportunity by refusing to acknowledge those. The NDP in NS, I hope are trying to change the political culture there rather than impose a new one that will only be rejected. They have so far maintained the confidence of the public but they have in so doing hurt their closest allies and friends in labour.

 

 


KenS
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Joined: Aug 6 2001

There have been a bunch of other tax cuts as well. But the HST is the biggest one by far.

1.] It was never called temporary in the first place. In some of the communications with the base- such as that survey [which I will link to again], it is implied that it was temporary. But you have to read carefully to even catch the implication. It was not and never has been offered as temporary.

At the very least, it IS strictly speaking a tax cut they are announcing. And they are billing it to the public as a tax cut- NOT as 'keeping our promise to you'. That latter was the pitching to the base in that survey. For the public, tax cut is a good thing. Not so for the base. So the two get different messages.

Public = "we bring you tax cut."

NDP base = "we need to keep [restore] our promise not to raise taxes."

 

2.] The HST tax cut will complete the overall effect of the NDP having presided over the reduction of government revenues. And steeply cutting the delivery of services to match the reduction of revenues.

Most of the reduction of revenues was not a result of actions by this government. But we did preside over and manager it happening. But more to the point, we had a choice not to preside over the reduction of revenues.

The HST increase was not pitched as temporary, and it has been accepted. Had we left the increase in place, as was our option and I always thought was going to be the case, the overall long term effect would have been to manage the flat-lining rather than the declining of government revenues.  [Decline in equalization payments and gas royalties compensated by HST increase.] Because previous governments had allowed increases in spending to become built-in, even with flat lined revenues we would still have needed some significant cuts in service delivery spending... but obviously, a lot more cutting with declining governments as ooposed to flat-lined revenues. And our government with the HST cuts CHOSE for declining government revenues.

Does that explain, and/or do you still think I might be mis-characterizing this?

 


KenS
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Sean in Ottawa wrote:

3) The Dexter government is the first NDP government in NS. It has a greater responsibility than any other NDP government to come in the future to establish that it can be trusted with the finances. It is fair to observe that this is an important motivation if you want to avoid a return to Liberal-Conservative dynasties. 

Agreed.

Consider this:

** In 2009 there was a very broad consensus that the need for the HST tax increase was not really debateable. This included media commentariat and economists typically critical of the NDP. There was a bare minimum of finger pointing despite how typical and predictable was the NDP's protestations around breaking the promise of no tax cuts: that they just had no idea how bad things were.

** For the last 3 years the honeymoon with the media has never stopped. And absolutely around anything to do with fiscal management and economic competence.

** The government's polling numbers have remained consistently high. This is not grounds for complacency, or even having a sense you are insulated from negative trust issues that can bite hard once an election campaign starts. But the consistent numbers definitely confirm the generally observable consensus that this is a competent government that does what it says and meets the goals it sets.

 


KenS
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So thats the background that brings us from 3 years ago to March. The NDP Caucus sent out a survey to members that asked if we thought cutting the HST back the 2% points was required, and if there should be wide consultations on this. You can see the "Your Ideas Matter" survey here. There had been no prior discussion of this in the party, let alone in any public media.

Within 2 weeks- before replies to the survey could have been compiled, let alone providing us as promised with the results... Dexter and Steele started musing that given how well balancing the books was going, 'maybe' it was time for a tax cut.

And just days later, there was the 2% tax cut pegged for the second mandate, in the Budget.

Keep in mind that this is after the books have been balanced, the deficit is gone, and the Schhol Baords have been told at least as far back as November, with continuous reminders, that in planning for this years' budgets, Board members need to keep top of mind that there will be funding cuts next year of the same order as last year and this year. Which means that the cuts in funding that were required to balance the provinces books would go on.... unbeknownst to Board members that there would be no deficit to balance next year, but that there would be tax cuts creating just as big a fiscal hole as was caused by eliminating the deficit.

 


KenS
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Joined: Aug 6 2001

Sean in Ottawa wrote:

3) The Dexter government is the first NDP government in NS. It has a greater responsibility than any other NDP government to come in the future to establish that it can be trusted with the finances. While you can argue that it has been overzealous in this, it is fair to observe that this is an important motivation if you want to avoid a return to Liberal-Conservative dynasties. (I am concerned by some of the direction the government is following but am willing to judge them over a longer period given this political reality.)

They were elected on a mandate of getting the provinces books back in order-- whether they are doing that in a prudent manner consistent with social democratic principles is of course worthy of debate...

It is not a betrayal to govern amid political realities. In fact it could be called a betrayal to squander a historic opportunity by refusing to acknowledge those. The NDP in NS, I hope are trying to change the political culture there rather than impose a new one that will only be rejected. They have so far maintained the confidence of the public but they have in so doing hurt their closest allies and friends in labour.

Taking all that into account is both wise, and to be expected if you are going to have a sustainable participation in electoral politics.

This discipline and patience in the trust of the NDP base gives this government a lot of breathing room. Which it must have.

 

I am suggesting that this government seriously abuses that trust.

And engages in manipulation of communication with the base that goes way beyond the spinning we all have come to expect.

The inner circle of this government consistently practices structured obfuscation in managing communications with the base.

They are good at it. I regularly watch the effects here on people who generally tend to be anything but Kool Aid drinkers.


KenS
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Joined: Aug 6 2001

It is perfectly understandable that NDP members are unaware of all these backroom machinations. Its not like the Dexter government is doing this out in the open. Most Caucus members do not know the half of it, the same as the rest of us, until some of it has to come to light as the done deal it has been for a while.

But all of us in Nova Scotia can see for ourselves how the public is in general appraising this government for its fiscal management.

And suddenly, with no prior discussion in the party, as soon as Dexter and Steele announce the tax cuts, Ministers, MLAs, and members that one talks to repond when questioned that 'we had to do the tax cuts.'

It seemlessly moved from we had to Balance the Books, to that being accomplished; but, oh, now we 'have to' do the tax cuts. [Except that the shift is not acknowledged- the service delivery cuts on into the indefinite future are still called the lofty Back to Balance.]

 

So where was the discussion that made all this necessity to do the tax cuts suddenly so apparenobvious?

 


KenS
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Joined: Aug 6 2001

If you have any doubts whether this really is a tax cut....

If you are in Nova Scotia you regularly here reference in the media to the NDP's tax cut. Only very occasionaly in some columnists punditry piece do you hear the original HST tax increase mentioned at the same time.

And calling it a tax cut is not just spin for public consumption. If Dexter Crew had said in 2009 that the tax increase was only temporary, they would never get away with calling it a tax cut now for going back to the old HST level.

They can call it a tax cut precisely because people assumed 15% was just what the HST is now.

It is only with the base that there is a potential challenge in justifying what the government is doing. So we're the ones that get the muddled bafflegab.... not that they have bothered saying much to us yet. So far, you'll probably only hear the spin ['we had to do it'] if you personally ask questions.


Unionist
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Joined: Dec 11 2005

Sean in Ottawa wrote:
If you do not believe you are better than the opposition and that electing the opposition would be bad for the province then you should not stand for election in the first place.

[ irony ]And if you believe you are the best party, you must therefore, once in power, do whatever the spinsters and pollsters tell you that it takes to stay in power. Because you're the best, after all, so to lose power would be a betrayal. [ irony off, for now]

That's the excuse I've heard all my life for a party coming to power on the support and aspirations of working people, and then attacking its base once it gets there. It's weak logic.

Quote:
Bond holder rating decide on the interest a government pays and while it is unfair that they have the power they do, you cannot dismiss that as a reason to get the finances balanced a little quicker.

[ irony on ] Why not just set up a consultative committee of bondholders, and give them veto power over each annual budget. That way, we can be sure to get it right. [ irony off ]

Really? "They have the power"? So until we have a worldwide socialist revolution (or something), don't expect the NDP to do anything in power to upset the bondholders? Mind you, when in opposition, it's a whole different story, right?

Quote:
The Dexter government is the first NDP government in NS. It has a greater responsibility than any other NDP government to come in the future to establish that it can be trusted with the finances.

Do they have a responsibility to show that they are fearless champions of workers, poor and marginalized people, youth and students, women, Indigenous people, minorities - the 99%?

In fact, being the first NDP government, had they not better prove their partisanship fast, and furiously, so that they don't end up (as in Ontario) as the LAST EVER NDP government?

Or do you believe (as the Media of the 1% would have it) that Bob Rae had his ass kicked in Ontario, not because he attacked the people, but because he couldn't "be trusted with the finances"?

I respect your opinions always, Sean, but I have problems with this apologia for a government which (like almost all other NDP governments in history) feels that its first responsibility is to prove itself to the wealthy and powerful.


KenS
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Joined: Aug 6 2001

I'd like to point out that there are two distinctly different discussions/arguments going on here.

There is whether the justifications that Sean is suggesting, can never be valid. [As Unionist for example is saying.]

Then there is what you could characterize as criticism from within the party [plus those outside who do not typically reject 95% of the NDP's actual positions taken].

My criticism is in the spirit of the latter- where Sean's reasons the NSNDP government should be given qualified trust are accepted as valid considerations.

But especially writing from Ontario, even paying attention to whatever information comes along, Sean and others could not possibly know all the requisite context and events that bear on these questions.

That said, a lot of this is not visible to most people in Nova Scotia. As noted above, everyone here can see for themselves the almost universally high rating this govt gets on fiscal and economic management, that what the opposition parties criticisms are utterly ignored, and that the public has never been told nor seen the HST increase as temporary.

But the machinations of this government that prove the cynism in continuing this "Back to Balance" charade... that is all very much opaque and kept well out of sight of everyone except those who have to make it their business.


KenS
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Joined: Aug 6 2001

What Sean was saying is that if the NDP is to practice 'sustainable government' them some austerity budgeting does sometimes have to be part of the picture.

I agree, and have said so whenever I launch into a critique of this government.

But I also suggest that this government has used and manipulated the patience and tolerance of it's support base to get it's acquiescence for an agenda that slashes jobs and delivery of services well beyond what is required to balance the books.


Sean in Ottawa
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Joined: Jun 3 2003

Unionist -- with respect-- I am referring to considerations in balance. These are not black and white and it would be as bad to make a decision on these alone as it woudl be to exclude them entirely.

 


Caissa
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Joined: Jun 14 2006

From where I sit next door in NB, it appears that Dexter is a s much of a sell-out as Rae was when he was in power. I don't see the grey.


KenS
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Joined: Aug 6 2001

The comparison to Rae though becomes a distracting red herring. Both sell-outs: fine, as far as it goes. At best, what does that tell you?

At worst, intentional or not, it becomes another smoke screen the Dexter government can use to prey upon that tolerance in the support base.

"Careful, or we'll end up like the Rae government."

NOBODY has ever seen this government like either the critics of the left OR the right saw the Rae government. And now 3 years down the road, not a chance.

The pissed off crtics here in Nova Scotia are NOT re-hashing the questions of 3 years ago whether we should have gone down the path of austerity cuts at all. We're questioning the later backroom decision to put into play the sneaky shift of continuing and deepening austerity budgeting so we can have tax cuts, and doing it under the cover of continuing the "Back to Balance."


Sean in Ottawa
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Joined: Jun 3 2003

The not black and white comment I made was with respect to what ought to be considered-- I am not judging the NS government's ability to balance these things properly. I merely entered the discussion to say these are things that I believe ought to be legitimately considered. It is how you weight that consideration and what things you don't account for that decides if you are a sell-out or not.

The NDP in Ontario had a more mixed record than some want to remember as well by the way. Their first two actions were to settle a pay equity dispute and a land claims dispute that had gone on a long time. The government in spite of the difficult economic times decided to bite the bullet rather than leave people suffering longer. Both situations could have been dragged out for a longer time and the NDP resolved them quickly.


KenS
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Joined: Aug 6 2001

There is one major propaganda obfuscation element from the government that is dished out the same for both the base as it is for general population: that the education cuts are all about matching spending with declining school enrollments.

What puts the lie to that is when the school boards announce their budget cuts, the classroom teacher cuts are 3 or 4 times greater than what is accounted for by enrollment declines. And that is on top of even larger cuts to non classroom functions, like typically 20% cuts in administration spending, substantial cuts to maintenance and busing, whole support programs axed....

The Halifax Board has not announced its budget yet. But they will be announcing some classroom teacher cuts as well- with no enrollment decline.


Sean in Ottawa
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Joined: Jun 3 2003

This is sad -- I hope people are fighting this


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