Remembering the scandalous past to judge the future of Nova Scotia politics

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

Please support our coverage of democratic movements and become a supporting member of rabble.ca.

"Surely you'll agree that this is the worst government we've ever had."

So said a fellow I occasionally correspond with, a businessman on the Eastern Shore -- a Tory, he told me, but one who took the beau risque last election and voted NDP, and one who is now furious with the Dexter government over the open-pen salmon farm issue and other things.

Startled at the proposition, I answered: "You must be a young fellow who doesn't remember the mayhem of the Buchanan and Savage governments."

He wrote back: "Oh, yes. I forgot."

How easy to forget. But here's something to remember. The NDP is in power in Nova Scotia today -- an extraordinary fact, if you think about it -- because of the ruinous track record of the two other parties going back to the 1970s.

So if the main question is, "Does the NDP deserve four more years?" the question on the flipside is, "Should the miscreant parties be let out of the penalty box so soon?"

Maybe everybody hasn't forgotten. Maybe that's the torment implied by the 55 per cent undecided that showed up in the recent Corporate Associates poll. Maybe we're actually chewing on it pretty hard.

This flipside question applies particularly to the Liberals, well ahead in the poll among the 45 per cent who have what appears to be an opinion. It applies because the Liberal party has once again failed to drive a stake through the heart of the Dracula of Nova Scotia politics -- their tainted trust fund.

In my lengthy watch of Nova Scotia politics, I long ago concluded that fund was the prime mechanism in the process that destroyed the Liberal party in Halifax, broke up the two-party alternation and ultimately brought the NDP to power.

The fund, amounting to several million dollars, was raised in the 1970s from illegal rakeoffs from liquor store sales. When the Buchanan Conservatives won in 1980 and proceeded to blow money out of every window, starting the buildup of debt larded with scandal that has bedeviled every government since, the Liberals failed to dislodge them through four subsequent elections, mainly because of that trust fund and associated scandals.

Recently, the Liberals have tried to lay the thing to rest by creating an Ottawa-based think tank and laying down $2.2 million in it.

The NDP makes these charges: The think-tank is Ottawa-based to avoid disclosure under Nova Scotia laws; $1.6 million of it has been mysteriously hived off since Stephen McNeil became leader in 2006, and the attack ads against the NDP have likely been funded with it.

Whatever the little facts of the matter, the big fact is that it should be an old story now, but it's still undead and raising questions nearly 40 years later -- which must be a record in bad scandal management, and which must taint any claim the party makes to govern competently and transparently.

The rest of the story is that when the Liberals of Dr. John Savage finally did defeat the Conservatives in 1993, he made an honourable effort to right the ship.

The seas of debt and scandal left by the Tories, plus federal cuts, made that impossible; but worse, he was almost ejected from the premiership by his own base for refusing to fire the Tory foremen on the roads, underlining the hillbilly politics still alive in the party.

Tory John Hamm won by surprise in 1999, and made some headway in stabilizing things. His government melted down under new premier Rodney MacDonald when he left.

The Tories, although their Buchanan government forbear was the prime instrument of ruination, are dragging no long-term taint equivalent to the trust fund -- only the more usual political debacle, now more or less forgotten, that was the government the NDP defeated.

It must be the occasion of some internal soul-searching that it's the Liberals, and not they, who are challenging the NDP. However, John Hamm brought the Tories from third-party status to victory in 1999, and everything is in the air.

Our politics have stabilized further under the NDP. With the holy grail of Nova Scotia politics -- the balanced budget -- more or less attained, the NDP should be ready to breeze into a second term.

That it's not is because the premier has practised politics like a rhinoceros in a lingerie shop, leading with the horn.

What it looks like to me now is minority government, NDP or other, and more or less all three parties in the penalty box as we resume our heavy grumbling.

Stay tuned.

Ralph Surette is a veteran freelance journalist living in Yarmouth County. This article was first published in the Chronicle Herald.

Photo: Sean_Marshall/flickr

Related Items

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.