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Stephen McNeil's new brooms: Sizing up Nova Scotia's Liberal government

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

One of the interesting early smoke signals from the new Liberal government is the one they aren't sending -- that the sky is falling. The Liberals did not, as the previous NDP government did, order up an immediate full-blown independent report on the state of the province's finances, a report whose conclusions changed the course of the Dexter government's first term and, arguably, put paid to its hopes of a second.

Could it be that those godless, investment-scaring tax-and-spend socialists managed to put the previous Tory government's mismanaged fiscal house in order in their four years, allowing the Liberals to seamlessly begin governing as if the hobnailed boots of the apocalypse were not already upon our necks?

Or are we just waiting for the other, reality shoe to drop?

Time will tell.

Which is probably the safest thing to be said at this point about Stephen McNeil's new brooms.

They are governing with a certain confidence-inducing confidence: fleshing out their promised pubic inquiry into the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children, making sure $60 million in federal social housing funds get spent wisely, launching a full-scale review of MLA compensation, pledging a happy-making winter holiday and telling other jurisdictions to keep their fracking waste to themselves, thank you very much.

At the same time, they have shown how easy it is to slide comfortably into governing's perks. They swiftly shredded their opposition argument to remove political control from funding decisions at the government's business slush fund. Not to worry, they say, they'll be more transparent about it. That's… comforting.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the government's first order of business when the legislature opened last week was a bill aimed at "breaking" Nova Scotia Power's monopoly on the electricity grid, allowing independent power generators to sell directly to customers.

Which sounds good and was the centerpiece of the Liberals' energy-focused winning election platform. But it came with the implicit promise of lower power rates, which even the government now admits won't happen as a result.

At best, the move will be a no-gain-no-loss symbolic gesture; at worst, removing big customers from the NSP grid will drive up costs for the rest of us.

Time will tell. For us. And for Stephen McNeil's new government.

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

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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