E-Day in Nova Scotia: A breakdown of the parties' campaign promises

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Since it was called on May 4, the Nova Scotia election has forced voters to question their political tastes.

The Conservatives began the trend with an odd promise to spend liberally, while the Liberals and New Democrats followed with conservative spending strategies. Meanwhile the NDP has strayed from their socialist and environmental-leaning roots to a more right-winged approach.

Shifting party lines might be one reason Nova Scotians could see an NDP government tonight; the latest polls show Darrell Dexter poised to win a majority.

This is the election to challenge traditional loyalties; the three major parties have already challenged their own. So whether you’ve made up your mind or not, it couldn’t hurt to don a blindfold before marking your ballot today.

Below is an analysis of the three main parties’ commitments to four major issues this election: health care, education, the environment and the economy. Some party priorities may surprise you.

The Conservatives

This party might leave an oily taste in your mouth. The day after the election was called, the Nova Scotia Environmental Network sent a pop quiz to the four parties testing for strong environmental commitments. This party scored the lowest of four with 52 per cent.

Of the 25 questions on a variety of environmental issues all over the province, the Conservatives fully committed to five. Among their rejections were the ideas of a legislated ban on uranium mining and the extension of the Georges Bank moratorium on oil and gas development -- two major issues in the eyes of environmental advocates.

The Alliance of Nova Scotia Student Associations (ANSSA) doled out a similar report card for the parties, grading each of them on their commitments to ANSSA’s recommendations prior to the release of party platforms. The Conservatives earned a C-.

Though they made six major commitments -- including the introduction of a tuition freeze and reduction plan, plus $114 million for maintenance and upgrades to universities -- ANSSA pointed out the party failed to outline a plan past year one if elected. The Liberals and the NDP both outlined four-year-plans for education.

Like the New Democrats, these guys agree that Nova Scotia’s economy needs top billing on the list of priorities. With the funds saved by not increasing the wages of MLAs and political staff, they will balance the budget, cut small business tax by 2.5 percentage points, double Arts funding in 2010 and spend $14.4 million to upgrade the Bluenose II.

Numbers two through five on the Conservative priority list look like this: developing rural areas, combating crime, improving health care and education and, finally, improving roads and infrastructure.

Health care and education, number four on a list of five priorities, at least made the list. Unfortunately the Conservatives listed this priority under the heading “Defending Nova Scotia,” which is (perhaps) a little euphemistic.

Though their plan likely won’t quell bad health habits, the Conservatives want to charge a five-cent tax for every cigarette sold. With this tidy income, they will invest $260 million over ten years to supply 1,320 long-term care beds by 2015, plus invest $1.2 million for additional seats in nursing and medical schools.

The Liberals

This party scored only five per cent higher on the environmental quiz than the Conservatives, with a 57 per cent total commitment to the province’s environment. Like all the other parties, these guys committed fully to the 2007 Environmental Goals and Sustainable (buzz word) Prosperity Act that optimistically claims Nova Scotia will be “one of the cleanest and most sustainable environments in the world by the year 2020.” NSEN says this party scored the highest on issues of local and sustainable food, but like the Conservatives, would not support a ban on uranium mining or oil and gas development off Georges Bank.

At least this party gets a shiny apple for their education efforts. ANSSA graded the Liberals highest of the four with a B-, meaning they plan to implement most of the organization’s recommendations. Of the four parties, ANSSA recognized the Liberals’ four-year education strategy as the most comprehensive. As outlined in the report card, this party promises to reduce university tuition to the national average by 2011.

Buzzwords were prevalent and undefined throughout this party’s plan, with the word “sustainable” appearing 11 times. The Conservatives mentioned the word six times and the New Democrats mentioned it once.

The Liberals plan to achieve the vague goal of a sustainable economy by removing the province’s gas regulation system, reducing the small business tax by four percentage points, removing the provincial tax on funerals and declaring a mid-February holiday.

Students might just love this party, because they’re promising free tuition to 20 medical students every year for five years as part of their health care and education plan. In addition to these fresh faces, they’ll hire British physicians from across the pond. The Liberals also promise, without much detail, to reduce wait times.

The New Democrats

In Environment 101, the NDP scored higher than the Conservatives and the Liberals with 73 per cent. They graduated with the honourary title: “Party Most Likely to Make Environmental Promises.” But NSEN pointed out that the party had slipped in their environmental commitments since 2006. The problem, they explain, is this year these guys prioritized the economy over the environment. Still, the New Democrats were the only group of the three to support a ban on Uranium mining and a moratorium on oil and gas development off Georges Bank.

When it comes to education, NDP Leader Darrell Dexter had to give ANSSA a written and signed commitment to education because it was not mentioned in his platform. Even so, the student group concluded this party was unlikely to implement their recommendations and awarded the group a solid C. Like the two other parties, the New Democrats agreed to reduce tuition to the national average by 2011. They also agreed to give up to $15,000 to university grads who stay in Nova Scotia after school. Though ANSSA said they admire this party’s efforts, they were not impressed by the “lack of detail and comprehensive vision” in the NDP platform.

Clearly this party’s detail is dedicated to their first priority: the economy. It’s the same top priority chosen by the Conservatives. But the NDP promises to create 2,200 jobs while maintaining roads with a doubled road-resurfacing budget so new hires can drive to work. And in response to the flood of Nova Scotians leaving the province via those roads, the New Democrats are determined to double immigration. It’s a very different approach compared to the other parties, who plan to give certain Nova Scotians incentives to stay put.

Meanwhile, Doctor House would praise the New Democrats for performing health care miracles if they stick to their promises. This party plans to open enough new hospital beds to ease overcrowding in the province’s Emergency Rooms and hire enough doctors to ensure those ERs stay open. These guys also vow to reduce surgery wait times, improve access to primary care and ease the financial burden on seniors.

Today Nova Scotians are heading to the polls for the fifth time since 1998. When the polls close tonight at 7 p.m. AT, the province is likely to have elected an NDP majority, or at least a minority. The likely reason will be the New Democrats’ willingness to cross party lines and copycat Conservative priorities. There is no doubt Nova Scotians want change, but it remains to be seen if they’ll get it.

Hilary Beaumont is a freelance journalist in Halifax who has written for The Coast, The Metro and Halifax Media Co-op.

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