Sharon Fraser's Blog

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Sharon Fraser is a former editor of rabble.ca. She is also a former editor of several major Atlantic provinces publications, a long-time political commentator with both CBC Radio and CBC-TV, a political newspaper columnist and a freelance writer for publications across the country and internationally. (And yes, her husband held a high position in the Nova Scotia NDP government.)

The NS NDP: A legacy worth honouring

| October 23, 2013
The NS NDP: A legacy worth honouring

Over the years, I have watched many nights of election returns under a cloud of doom and gloom. I’m almost never on the winning side. It’s usually the winner who’s the cause of my despair – think Mulroney and Harper – but every so often, it’s the losing person/party/government that causes my plunge into despondency.

I well remember the night that Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter – it was 1980 – and I have often wondered since how different the world might be if that result had been different. Imagine if the world had never been subjected to the Reagan-Thatcher partnership – with Mulroney tagging along later, trying to keep up with the big kids.

Carter didn’t come close to being a perfect president. He acknowledged mistakes and admits to poor judgment on certain issues. But he also said that, “allowing Ronald Reagan to become president was by far my biggest failure in office.”  Years later, his wife, Rosalynn Carter said, “It was impossible for me to believe that anybody could have looked at the facts and voted for Reagan.”

When voters were asked why they chose Reagan, most said it was “time for a change.”

Nova Scotia in October 2013 is a long way from Washington DC in 1980 but once again, Nova Scotia’s election was one in which I mourned the loss of a government and I expect there will be many who will try to evaluate the innumerable ways Nova Scotia will change as its government changes.

The Nova Scotia NDP came to power in 2009 after a campaign in which voters announced they were ready for a change. And change is what they got. It has been well-documented that the province’s finances were not in good shape but that wasn’t all. Whole departments were in chaos; the bureaucracy was directionless. One former cabinet minister from an earlier government said she had never seen a more dysfunctional workplace than the department she was responsible for a few years before.

This is where the NDP government started, clearing out many years’ worth of detritus left over from many previous administrations. Within months, people who worked for the government could feel a difference.  Someone was in charge and government workers knew why they were coming to work every day.

After two years, there were people speaking openly about how much better their departments were running; after four years – after the election, in fact – a high official at Capital Health (Nova Scotia’s largest provider of health services) told a friend of mine that he had never seen things running so smoothly and it was clear that the government had a long-term plan.

So the NDP government worked on getting Nova Scotia’s House in order. At the same time, it efficiently handled the day-to-day, week-to-week, year-to-year business of the province. Finally, it put in place strategies for long-term development in areas such as energy, health, education and employment – unheard of in earlier governments.

This was an intelligent, innovative and activist government – dealing with past, present and future at the same time.  Much of what the NDP government accomplished will make life easier for the government that’s taking over although it remains to be seen whether the new government will begin by dismantling and tearing down.

Still, people would say to me, “But it’s an NDP government. I wish it would do something for the poor.” I would acknowledge that the government didn’t show up at the door of the poor with a bucket of cash but I would usually point out that it raised the minimum wage four years in a row, despite opposition pressure to limit increases.

And, I would add, the government did this:

- It took the provincial tax off power bills and home heating. (In fact, the Liberals voted 8 times to tax home heating and energy.
- The NDP is covering the cost of insulin pumps and supplies for eligible youth to age 18 and supplies for people 19 to 25 with type 1 diabetes, who use an insulin pump.
- The NDP increased the Nova Scotia Child Benefit by 40%.
- The NDP introduced and indexed the Affordable Living Credit to provide financial support to 240,000 households who earn less than $30,000.
- The NDP also introduced and indexed the Poverty Reduction Tax Credit to support about 15,000 of the most vulnerable low income Nova Scotians, many of whom have disabilities.
- Over a thousand more children a year have places in daycares and pre-schools around the province, making childcare more affordable for Nova Scotian families.
- The NDP took the HST off more family essentials including children’s clothing, footwear, and diapers.
- The NDP created Nova Scotia’s first Affordable Housing Strategy, with model projects already starting.
- The NDP increased income assistance personal allowances enabling approximately 31,000 adults to better provide for themselves and their families.
- The NDP’s new consumer protection cell phone legislation caps cancellation fees and ensures Nova Scotians are told about any changes that may increase their bills.

I could also say:

- The NDP ensured that nearly 18,000 low-income seniors who receive Guaranteed Income Supplement pay no provincial income tax. Next year even more low-income seniors will pay no provincial income tax.
- The NDP expanded the Caregiver Benefit, restorative care and self-managed programs to allow seniors to manage their own care and stay in their homes and communities longer.
- The NDP increased the Property Tax Rebate for seniors by $200 to a maximum of $800. Seniors receiving the GIS may qualify for a rebate on their municipal property taxes.
- The NDP ended the injustice of having seniors pay security deposits for long term care.

I would go into the same amount of detail on issues around health, education, environment, agriculture, labour and employment but it might be just as easy for you to read them here.

And now, it’s said, the people have voted – again – for change. There will be a change from the past four years but not from the 142 years that preceded them. A zebra doesn’t change its stripes. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. The incoming government will have many of the old influences lurking in the shadows and there are some Nova Scotians who wouldn’t have it any other way.

Some of the post-election commentary suggested that the NDP government was a victim of high expectations. I’m pretty sure the incoming government won’t suffer the same fate.

I don’t subscribe to the silly notion that the people are always right. Imagine what a nice world it would be if that were true. I also don’t believe that the people get the government they deserve. “The people” are not a monolith. No doubt some of them got the government they deserve – and others didn’t.

The new government has a big job in front of it, of course. One of the first things it will have to do is try to make those people who allegedly voted Liberal because of Justin Trudeau understand that he isn’t actually here in Nova Scotia.

Speaking of “the people”: My son worked the phone bank leading up to and throughout the election campaign. He spoke to one voter who said the only one she liked was Obama and that’s who she was voting for and it didn’t matter what my son said to her; she was voting for Obama.

He thanked her for her time and wished her a pleasant good night.

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Comments

Sharon,
From your point of view most everything the Dexter team did appears to be rosy. I wonder why people were so appalled by their performance that they did not vote for them again? Perhaps you should ask Dexter's Chief of Staff. 
He might tell you that unlike the NDP as a party the Dexter government was not mainly committed to principled, humble, transparent governance which results in the betterment of all, but first of all in getting re-elected. Every compromise that helped to reach that goal was right. The damage to the party is enormous, because it ruined its authencity for many years.  

Those concerned with this topic may be interested in my recent article for Rabble.ca, Election Nova Scotia: Orange crush to red tide.

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