Here's a downer. The McNeil government appears to be slipping into the rut the NDP government was in. That rut got it turfed out of office: sudden herky-jerky decisions out of central command, no one consulted, the public rattled and things blowing up. You've heard the to-do over film credits, university governance and sudden cuts to community groups. And now this one is back: our old friend the open-pen salmon issue.
Premier Stephen McNeil grumbled about a few little things but declared himself generally satisfied with the federal budget. My heart sank. Sometimes I think we're out to prove Stephen Harper right: that we do have a "culture of defeat" on the East Coast.
The proof of it would be our official acquiescence to Harperism, one of the tenets of which is that Atlantic Canada is of no account and can be safely chucked to the sharks, but also that Maritimers in particular have a residual innocence and can still be bought.
It's at risk of being lost amid the commotion over cuts to the film tax credit, but last week's budget, for better or worse, marked a milestone on the icy road to wherever it is we're going in the rickety wagon of Nova Scotia politics.
That is, after years of working up to it, a government has finally touched the brake on public spending and seriously tried to streamline public services. Backed by major reports advising this, considerable public support, a somewhat improving economy and dry runs by previous governments, the budget, in the main, represents a large consensus. Significantly, I thought, neither the opposition parties nor the public sector unions complained very much.
Have you ever been exasperated -- nay, infuriated -- by good news?
This unusual sensation hit me when I saw that story last week about Nova Scotia and New Brunswick power utilities intending to save up to $20 million a year by operating their two systems as one.
So easy -- apparently just a casual agreement, a technical shuffle, and voilà.
The infuriating part is that this bit of daylight illuminates the ruinous and sometimes outright imbecilic affair that has been our energy politics for the past 50 years, a swamp from which we have yet to emerge. Is this a sign of better things?
In other words, why couldn't this -- and other logical energy interconnections with New Brunswick -- have happened years ago?
It's getting worse.
Stephen Harper is now serving notice that he's willing to tear the social fabric of the country apart if that's what it takes to get his party re-elected. That is, if torquing democratic process, the rule of law, election rules, the tax system etc., etc., to make them conform to Harperism isn't enough, he'll throw stink bombs in the public place in the expectation that, amid the chaos, he'll be seen as the strong hand who can straighten things out.
Surely this is the last straw in the long-running calamity which is woodlands management in Nova Scotia. As predicted, the Port Hawkesbury biomass generator, making 60 MW of electricity by burning wood, is a disaster -- so much so that two high-end flooring mills in eastern Nova Scotia are shutting down mainly because the good hardwood they need is going into the biomass hopper, the latest version of the long-running arrangement wherein small operators are starved in favour of big ones.
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Stephen Harper, a master propagandist of the first order, is doing it again. He's blowing the dog whistle and he's got them running, no matter what gets trampled. This time, the overblown tune is war, terror, security, with civil liberties, prudence and rational thought underfoot.
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Nova Scotia's McNeil government is chewing on a couple of energy-related tax changes recommended by this fall's Broten report on taxation: a carbon tax, and removing the HST rebate on home energy. Plus, it's reviewing the subsidies for renewables.
Related rabble.ca story:
From now until election day, everything -- economy, security, foreign policy, oil prices, etc., and every trivial thing besides -- will erupt into a political firefight. Everything, that is, except for the core issues running under the radar that make the coming election one of the most vital in Canada in a very long time.
What's going on under the radar -- where it's kept thanks to the Harper government's expertise in propaganda and manipulation -- is the rodent-like gnawing at democratic process and the country's fundamental legal structure.