Nova Scotia: Why a Dexter NDP government defeat would be a progressive victory

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Photo: BC Gov Photos/Flickr

Just recently, a Nova Scotia NDP video made the rounds on social media, in anticipation of a provincial election which will likely come sometime this year. Those within the NDP ranks shared it widely, and were adamant that Premier Darrell Dexter deserves our support for re-election. 

The video, when considering Dexter's record, is unfortunately completely misleading.  It contains half-truths and distortions about cutting the provincial debt while protecting public services and creating well paying jobs, while referring to Dexter as a "genuine leader".  It is very short on substance, and heavy on spin and misleading PR, which in a sense is the best way to summarize the Dexter government's progressive credentials and commitment to social democracy and justice.

Dexter government has been an austerity government

Throughout his first mandate, Premier Dexter has embraced the Tony Blair inspired 'Third Way', by serving the interests of the corporate elite and the 1%, with an agenda which greatly resembles the neo-liberalism of the Liberals and Conservatives, while governing as the NDP in name only. 

Dexter has mandated austerity, corporate welfare and tax breaks, outsourcing and privatization of public services and union jobs, turned his back on organized labour and made life much more difficult for students, workers and the impoverished.  In the process, Dexter has ruined the Nova Scotia's NDP reputation while damaging the party brand across the country.  A Darrell Dexter defeat in the next Nova Scotia provincial election will ultimately be a progressive victory, as Dexter will therefore not be hailed as a party stalwart, such as Roy Romanow, who ushered in brutal austerity measures in Saskatchewan and remains a renowned figure with both the party brass and media.

Upon election to a majority government in 2009, Darrell Dexter faced a looming deficit and had a clear choice: balance the budget via more revenue and taxation, or neglect traditional social justice principles by embracing austerity. By the second year of his mandate, Dexter chose to cut substantial funding to education, health care and post-secondary education over a four-year period estimated at $772 million. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (Nova Scotia), the overall impact of these cuts is a loss of 10,000 jobs, while public service cuts by the federal government are making things worse. The alternative budget presented by the CCPA-NS allows for the budget to be balanced by 2015-2016 through raising revenues and saving smartly, as opposed to the austerity approach of balancing the budget by 2013-2014 to coincide with an election cycle.

Harsh cuts to education

Dexter's cuts to education have been particularly harsh. The Dexter government will be cutting post-secondary education up to ten per cent, while tuition for full-time undergraduate students rose by 5 per cent in 2012 according to Statistics Canada.

Nova Scotia's university students are charged with the second highest graduate and third highest undergraduate tuition fees in Canada, despite a three year cap on tuition. Nova Scotia students graduate with an average debt of $31,000. At the secondary and elementary school levels, more than 150 teachers and 40 educational workers and support staff will lose their jobs, with larger class sizes and fewer courses.

The Dexter government not only saw all of this coming, but endorsed it in their Report on the University System in Nova Scotia. In addition, Dexter commissioned ex-Bank of Montreal Vice-President Tim O'Neill to recommend scrapping a tuition freeze while allowing tuition fees to rise.  You would think that the Quebec student movement and accompanying solidarity rallies held across the country this past summer would possibly resonate, or find some sympathy within an NDP provincial government. Or perhaps Dexter would begin to pay attention when Halifax MP and federal NDP Deputy Leader Megan Leslie calls you out. Regardless, it seems that Dexter is more inclined to listen to bankers than the concerns of students. 

Labour: Dexter does little for NDP's natural constituency

The NDP has traditionally been an ally and defender of organized labour: going to bat for unions and improving the overall conditions for workers. Yet the Dexter government has done very little for this natural constituency and solid foundation of support. While the Dexter government made some minor changes to the Trade Union Act, in which Nova Scotia's labour board or an arbitrator can resolve a first collective agreement if a union and firm could not conclude one on their own, this is essentially all they have done for workers.

In an appearance before the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, Dexter told the audience that "we don't see it as necessary to go any further" in regards to championing the interests of workers. He gave a flat-out "no" to making it easier for workers to organize and consolidate unions in their workplace. Dexter refused to change the laws. He could have made it much easier: that only a specific number of workers have to sign cards for union certification.

Right now in Nova Scotia, forty per cent of workers have to sign a union card in order to initiate a vote for certification. But back in 2005, when the NDP were in opposition, current Deputy Premier Frank Corbett introduced nearly the exact same legislation, but with a sixty per cent requirement of workers' signatures to complete certification. In fact, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives called the Dexter government out again last spring, for its inability to improve wages, parental leave, overtime and vacation stipulations, and pay equity.

However the worst is not merely the Dexter government's refusal to champion the interests of Nova Scotia workers, but rather its embrace of privatization of public service union jobs. The Dexter government just recently concluded a deal with IBM Canada in which the province's SAP computer system, a public service maintained by union workers, will be outsourced to the multi-national in an un-tendered agreement.

Currently, Nova Scotia's SAP system administers human resources, budgetary, payroll, procurement and other related data from various municipal organizations, school boards, housing and district health administrators, and government branches. In addition, 120 workers, 73 of which are unionized, currently administer the SAP system, yet IBM will only hire 75 of them on two year contracts, without the same benefits or job security. So far, many of the unionized workers have declined the move to IBM. Joan Jessome, the president of the Nova Scotia Government & General Employees Union, voiced the concerns shared by those committed to public services and quality jobs. "They have opened the door to the privatization of the public service. It really makes us nervous, and we will be fighting it."

It is unfathomable that an NDP provincial government would be privatizing a public service and union jobs to boot; that an NDP government would completely turn its back on organized labour, a traditional pillar of bedrock party support. To add insult to injury, this move by the Dexter government has the complete backing of Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie. "Whenever the government is outsourcing jobs in order to create other private sector jobs in the province, I’m prepared to support that as long as they are not offering payroll rebates just to move existing jobs around."

Discarding seniors and the working poor

In the Dexter government's rush to embrace neoliberalism and neglect natural grassroots supporters like students and organized labour, another constituency Dexter is discarding are urban residents, particularly seniors and the working poor. The Dexter government has abandoned rent control, resulting in skyrocketing rent which is unaffordable for seniors and students.

Halifax councillors reported receiving an increase in complaints; that the rent increases are simply unaffordable for workers, students and seniors. But by neglecting natural NDP supporters, it seems Dexter has found himself new supporters: landlords. The Investment Property Owners of Nova Scotia were reportedly "thrilled" that the Dexter government had no intention of resurrecting rent control, which will only increase landlords' bottom line, with rent increase complaints continuing to increase.

However, the new base of support that the Dexter government has been very keen on attracting is the business elite. Dexter has gone on a corporate welfare spending spree, lavishing hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars on lucrative, private corporations.

The Dexter government maintains that this kind of spending is necessary in order to create jobs, yet if they were truly serious about job creation and remained true to core NDP values, they would be pursuing traditional, successful and admirable initiatives such as: full employment, public works projects and the growth, promotion and support for worker cooperatives, credit unions, and championing democratic workers’ control of the means of production through nationalization.

Corporate welfare

Regardless, the Dexter government has the corporate welfare fever: $304 million to Irving Shipyard ($260 million of the loan is forgivable while only $44 million is repayable) while refusing to release the conditions and details of the agreement, to build combat vessels worth $25 billion over the following thirty years, which has the full support of both opposition parties; $25 million for Cooke Aquaculture ($16 million repayable, $9 million forgivable), an open-pen salmon farming corporation, which just recently had to destroy 700,000 fish due to an epidemic of infectious salmon anemia near Shelburne Harbour; a nice tax break to Imperial Oil, which the Dexter government argued was necessary in order to avoid Imperial Oil closing its Dartmouth refinery, but will close this year anyways. While the Dexter government has engaged in a corporate welfare blitz of hundreds of millions of dollars, it can't find $25,000 to fund the Yarmouth homeless youth centre.

In addition to Dexter's love of the private sector and corporate interests, including the aforementioned tax break for fossil fuel industry giant Imperial Oil, the Dexter government also seems to have its sights set on hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.

While Dexter recently delayed a decision to review this controversial method of natural gas extraction in Nova Scotia for two years (conveniently put off until after a provincial election), PetroWorth Resources Inc. had already been granted permission by the province to drill an exploratory well at West Lake Ainslie. Also, seven million litres of potentially radioactive fracking waste water was recently processed through Windsor's water processing plant, and then released into the Minas Basin. To date, water used for fracking in Nova Scotia was placed in holding ponds in Noel, Kennetcook and Debert. Standard water treatment plants are not designed to remove the kinds of chemicals and natural radioactive materials in water from fracking. 

What also can't be neglected is the recent report from Nova Scotia Auditor General Jacques Lapointe, regarding the market projections of the newly planned $150 million Halifax convention centre. Lapointe blasted the projections made by Trade Centre Ltd., that $754 million would be generated in spending as a result over the next decade, stating that he was expecting a much more comprehensive analysis and some realities of the industry were ignored.

"The financial management of this organization is very poor. So the fact that the financial projections they put together would also be poor would at least be consistent." The report found that expenditures could fall by $75 million if market projections are off by 10 per cent or fewer, and the financial rewards would fall by $377 million if the market projections are off by 50 per cent or less. The report also indicated that Dexter refused Lapointe's recommendation that a third-party conclude whether a new convention centre was needed. Given Dexter's penchant for handing out tax payer dollars to, and doing favours for corporate interests, this seems like the case once again. 

No democratic reform on the agenda

Furthermore, the Dexter government hasn't acted on legislating proportional representation, which Jack Layton (and now Tom Mulcair) made a high priority for the NDP. While the federal and provincial parties don't necessarily share the same platform, the Nova Scotia NDP's lack of movement on this crucial issue, reforming Canada's antiquated democratic institutions, is hurting the federal party's credibility. Instead of making Nova Scotia's electoral system much more proportional, the Dexter government has been accused of engaging in gerrymandering: Dexter, along with four cabinet ministers, appeared before a Nova Scotia Electoral Boundaries Commission meeting, with the four ministers urging the commission to relocate strong NDP polls into currently held NDP ridings.

Simply put, the Darrell Dexter NDP government needs to lose in the upcoming provincial election. It has abandoned the progressive and social justice values of the NDP. The Dexter government has placed the interests of the corporate elite and the 1% ahead of the people it claims to represent, making life much more difficult for them.

The NDP provincial wings and the federal party cannot be seen as another subservient instrument of the neoliberal agenda of the 1%, and must provide clear distinctions between itself and the Liberals and Conservatives and oppose austerity. Otherwise, we can continue to expect growing cynicism and political apathy, lower voter turnout, a tarnished brand and more electoral defeats, as Adrian Dix and the BC NDP running on a right-leaning platform were roundly defeated.

While a loss of government certainly is a major set back for any political party, it will ultimately be a progressive victory, as the election and success of pro-austerity, neoliberal NDP governments ultimately emboldens the 1%. It is up to the grassroots and activists within the Nova Scotia NDP to take back their party: to reject the disastrous Third Way, and make social justice and democratic socialism priorities once again.


Chris Brisbane is a freelance interviewer and writer.  A former Associate Producer at the CBC, he is a graduate of the University of Toronto and Centennial College.

Photo: BC Gov Photos/Flickr

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