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Hard choices welcome new Nova Scotia premier into office

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Stephen McNeil doesn't even have the key to the executive washroom -- premier's desk, top left-hand drawer -- and his administration-in-eager-anticipation is already being sideswiped by economic events over which it has little control and less influence.

Just two days after his Liberals were swept into office on an electoral toss-those-rascals-out-and-let's-see-what-these-rascals-will-do roll of the dice, Blackberry, the former tech giant, announced it was closing its Halifax office and laying off 350 workers.

That's no surprise to anyone who has glanced at a newspaper in the last two years. And there is nothing -- no grant, incentive, free toaster -- the new government can offer to change its mind. Even if it wanted to.

That said, those 350 skilled, soon-to-be-job-searching workers are now McNeil's responsibility.

He will face the same urgent but unpalatable short-term choices as his predecessors: suck up to footloose multinationals with the usual fruit basket of government incentives, or watch those workers take their skills, salaries, taxes and futures elsewhere.

There are longer-term choices too, of course, but they are longer term.

See "toss-those-rascals-out" above.

To complicate McNeil's final, before-the-real-reckoning days, Nova Scotia Power Inc. announced Thursday it was considering outsourcing what could amount to 250 skilled union jobs as part of a search for $27.5 million in cost savings ordered in last year's power rate settlement -- a deal that will still see power rates increase by three per cent this January.

The union says the move could siphon up to $14 million a year in wages and benefits out of the provincial economy.

While everyone was quick to insist NSP's we're-contemplating announcement had nada to do with McNeil's election, it was lost on no one that McNeil's platform -- such as it was -- centred on a promise to rein in power rates by making NSP shareholders swallow everything from the $46 million costs of Efficiency Nova Scotia to its traditionally guaranteed rate of return.

Without saying so, NSP -- it of the salty fog and your-power-will-be-restored-someday -- is making it clear that if pushed to shove by the new government, it will shove workers and the economy that depends on them under the shareholder bus.

Welcome to your new office, Mr. Premier. And good luck.

This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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