Keeping the ship afloat in Nova Scotia politics: Advice for a new premier-designate

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Dear Mr. Premier-designate,

I see that you're 48 years old. Just a young guy. I voted before you were born. I've been watching governments come and go ever since. Here's what I learned. There may be something you can use to keep the ship afloat in this storm-tossed province.

You're eager to act, to make your mark. Here's my first counsel: Don't be too eager.

Just as curiosity killed the cat, impatience, even for the most virtuous of reasons, sank many a premier. Look at Darrell Dexter. He was genuinely concerned about jobs and our aging population. But he went at it too hard, too fast, got stuck in some bad ruts and it was game over.

Contemplate this: Your most important decisions, whatever the issue, will be whether to act sooner or later, whether to shoot now or rag the puck.

In your case, I have some firm advice: Rag the puck.

When, during the election campaign, you declined to make any promises you couldn't keep, I thought, "That's a smart young fellow." But then you went on to make some -- not so much that you can't keep, but that you shouldn't have made in such sharp terms: Trashing the health boards, and giving Nova Scotia Power a few whacks.

Any too-fast moves on these before you have your ducks in a row could spin backwards so hard that, two years from now, people could be calling the Dexter government the good old days.

And take with a grain of salt calls by spin-doctors, the media and others who say you have to move quickly and decisively to establish your "brand." I have a saying to cover that. If the choice is between doing nothing and doing the wrong thing, do nothing. You can always do something tomorrow. If you do the wrong thing, you'll never shake it.

Here's more. Waste no time dumping blame on the previous government. Even if blame is due, blaming is old stuff. But in fact the story here is different. Dexter was actually righting the ship before your big wave took him down.

The fruits of Dexter's agonized labours are actually there for you to pick. There's a Yarmouth ferry coming after all, the finances (despite your campaign trail claims) are under better control than they've been for a long time, the Irving contract and the Halifax convention centre (despite both sucking too much public money) will produce jobs during your tenure, there's a promising inquiry on the rural economy at work, and one on that troubling business of open-pen salmon farming, which you would do well to speed up.

So, if you want to keep things level, you'll acknowledge that the NDP moved forward on many fronts -- including, crucially, on health care -- and carry on from there. Any instinct to chuck it all and start all over will be a move backward for both the province and yourself.

Or consider one that's in the news already: Efficiency Nova Scotia. Like many, I was skeptical about this outfit. Now it's getting kudos as a unique -- that is, independent -- organization, and is taking off. It's in high demand by the public and getting results. It's doing what I've been waiting 20 years for someone to do -- rolling out solar hot water and heating throughout the province. Taking its funding off the power bill and putting it under NSP sounds like crippling it. I'll be very cranky if that happens.

Here's something else you must do. Unlike the back-of-the-envelope nature of most of your electoral platform, this one is more firm. It's the question of poverty and associated issues. In 2009, you yourself called for a poverty-reduction strategy. The NDP made some moves, but not enough. See to it that you follow through.

And among the other inescapable ones -- education, environment -- it would be to your credit to pay attention to this one: arts and culture, which has a reach, as much economic as cultural, that can be surprising. The financial troubles of NSCAD will figure into that. Look it over.

You have good instincts, Mr. Premier-designate. But here's a kink. I don't trust your party, and maybe you shouldn't either. It took it 30 years to get rid of that dirty trust fund that did so much to destabilize Nova Scotia politics. Some say it could still crawl out to bite you. Meanwhile, your party has always had more career creepers than others. If they're around you now, be doubly wary.

A niggling question is how much the Liberal party has changed since the 1990s when Premier John Savage was almost overthrown by the internal forces of old corruption. If it has changed, you can thank the NDP for making corruption unfashionable.

Keep all that in mind. Now, go. Good luck.

This article was first published in the Chroncile Herald.

Photo: Nsliberal/Wikimedia Commons

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