By all accounts, Tuesday's election in Nova Scotia will be a historic moment.
Nova Scotia is poised to elect the first NDP provincial government east of Ontario.
But, will an NDP government be much different?
Everyone knows about the historical social democratic roots of the NDP and its championing of workers' rights, but there has been very little evidence that this iteration of the NDP plans to turn any of these concerns into policy once in office.
What might Nova Scotians expect of an NDP government?
If the NDP wins a minority government, they will likely not implement regressive policies that would further weaken public services, (eg. no P3s, no more private health clinics).
But, even with a majority win, can we expect progressive policies? The leader of the NDP has already said he won't rescind the Michelin bill that makes it very difficult to unionize workers in any Michelin plant in the province. Would an NDP government shift Nova Scotia toward more economic and social justice and environmental sustainability? Would we see a real poverty reduction strategy with targets and timelines? Tuition rollbacks? An early learning strategy for our children? There is not really even a hint of its social democratic roots in its platform, but it is instructive to look at the NDP's record in opposition.
The NDP did lead the charge against the current Conservative government's anti-strike legislation, which would have denied nurses and other health care, and community service workers their right to strike.
In addition, the NDP did influence the Conservative government's policy agenda on a number of progressive fronts that have benefited workers. It secured improvements in the minimum wage, better overtime pay, statutory vacation time, mandatory compassionate leave, and stronger enforcement of labour standards. But, these gains were modest compared to the need.
During this election, the NDP party's strategy has been to the curb expectations of progressives in the province. It is doing so, however, by raising the expectations of Liberal and especially PC supporters. Raising expectations on the Right is a dangerous game to be playing.
The next government in Nova Scotia must deal with not only the economic crisis, but also the legacy of a decade of economic growth that widened the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us in the province, resulting in a squeezed middle-class and a growing class of working poor.
Not dealing with the growing gap will have serious implications for our economy, our health and will further weaken the bonds that hold our communities together.
Nova Scotians should not have to wait for the trickle-down effect of tax cuts or other tax measures as incentives for businesses to do the right thing. Our environment cannot wait either.
Nova Scotians expect better.
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