Tagged: PC Party of NS

Six things the NDP did right – part 2

Here is the final instalment of my four posts on the NDP government’s mistakes and successes. Mistakes here and here. Successes, part one, here, part two below. Between now and election day, I’ll post a selection of reader responses, more of which are always welcome.

4. Wilderness protection

protected-lands

Two hundred years from now, few Nova Scotians will know whether the provincial government balanced its books in 2013, or how much power rates increased between 2009 and 2013, or even who Darrell Dexter was. But they will know that a significant amount of Nova Scotia’s spectacular wilderness areas was permanently protected for the benefit of people and wildlife.

Building on a foundation laid by Mark Parent, environment minister in the Rodney MacDonald government, the NDP has taken Nova Scotia from a mediocre record of wilderness conservation to a position of national leadership.

The Protected Areas Plan for Nova Scotia, released in August, capped several rounds of public and stakeholder consultations to identify lands worthy of protection. It increased the total percentage of protected lands in the province from 9.4 percent (second lowest among Canadian provinces) to 13 percent now (second only to British Columbia, at 14 percent). The total will grow to about 14 percent as new sites are protected over the next few years. The newly protected lands include 700 kilometres of coastline and about 2600 lakes and watercourses.

The plan won praise from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Nova Scotia Nature Trust, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, and the Ecology Action Centre, whose wilderness co-ordinator, Raymond Plourde, lauded the government for “hard work and steadfast support for conservation.”

Extending the percentage of protected areas to 14 percent of the province assumes the government to be sworn in next month will continue the plan. The Liberal Party platform [PDF] says the party “support(s) the protection of land,” but at least one Liberal candidate, Lloyd Hines, running in Guysborough, has called for a halt to further land protection.

The Mining Association of Nova Scotia accused the government of putting future economic growth at risk by permanently protecting land from economic use. It will lobby the incoming government to allow land swaps, so mining and quarrying companies can access the protected land.

5.  A five-year highway plan

For decades, Nova Scotia governments have tried to control budget deficits, some more successfully than others. Nova Scotia has another kind of deficit we rarely hear about: a highway infrastructure deficit. The province has about 23,000 km. of roads, and for years, we’ve been wearing them out faster than we fix them.

Paving and politics are deeply entwined, which means road construction and maintenance decisions haven’t always reflected objective criteria. The Dexter Government took several useful steps to arrest and begin reversing the decline of our highways:

  • It produced and published a five-year plan for highway and bridge maintenance and construction. The plan’s annual updates are readily available on the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal website. Four instalments have been produced so far. They are not perfect. They are vague about the timeframes for multi-year, 100-series highway expansion projects, but they represent a big improvement over plans drawn up on a napkin in the minister’s back pocket.
  • The province improved its criteria for maintaining paved roads. In the past, when paving decisions weren’t based on pure politics, they were prioritized on a worst-first basis. Roads in the worst condition got paved first. This sounds logical, but it ignores a key fact about highway engineering. At a certain point in their lifespan, paved roads begin to show signs of deterioration. If early steps are taken to repair the damage—by sealing cracks, applying a mixture of stone chips and asphalt, micro sealing with a thin layer of asphalt, or applying a single layer of asphalt—major reconstruction can be delayed for several years.
  • The Dexter Government took two bold steps to rectify the costly consequences of non-competitive bidding on major highway jobs. It purchased a paving plant and deployed it in rural counties where a lack of competitive bidding led to construction costs that were much higher than in neighbouring New Brunswick. The government established a provincial chip-seal crew for the same reason. Predictably, the paving cartel went ballistic and hired a PR outfit to plant horror stories with business-compliant reporters bemoaning delays and cost overruns in the civil service paving crews. But paving bids plummeted by amounts that dwarfed the provincial overruns.

[View Larger Map]

The interactive map above, cribbed from the department’s website, shows that highway projects are still over-concentrated in government ridings. To some extent, this is inevitable given the NDP sweep of rural ridings in 2009. But the steps outlined above represent a serious effort to address highway deterioration that a new government would be imprudent to abandon for short term political gain.

6.  The Maritime Link

The natural gas industry, the wind power industry, the province’s two opposition parties, and a bogus citizens’ group that is really a front for the gas industry have had a field day parlaying voter resentment over recent power rate increases into skepticism about the wisdom of developing the Maritime Link to receive electricity from Muskrat Falls in Labrador. The quality of their arguments has ranged from shallow and self-serving to intellectually dishonest.

hi-muskrat-falls-river-2012-8col

Simply put, the government that takes office next month would be nuts to pass up the chance to open a power corridor to Labrador, site of the largest untapped hydro resource on earth. [Disclosure: In 2011 and 2012, I carried out writing projects for Emera involving the Maritime Link.]

Historically, the big problem with Nova Scotia’s electrical system is a lack of diversity. When oil was cheap in the ’50s and ’60s, we over-committed to oil-fired power plants, only to see the price of oil increase almost tenfold in the 1970s. We repeated the mistake in the 1980s, replacing all those oil-fired plans with coal plants. This made sense at a time when coal was cheap, mining it created local jobs, and no one had heard of climate change. But the last big mine closed in 2000 2001, and since then we’ve sent hundreds of millions of dollars a year to coal brokers in faraway lands, with no local local economic benefit. Once again, we found ourselves at the mercy of  wild swings in the price of imported fossil fuels.

The obvious solution is to diversify our electricity supply, and increase our access to market priced electricity, so we will never again find ourselves shackled to world prices for fossil fuels. In short, the solution is a little coal, a little natural gas, a little wind, a little hydro, eventually a little tidal, and occasional purchases from the North American grid—something we can’t do today, because our slender electrical connection to New Brunswick is too frail to support significant imports.

The Maritime Link serves this strategy in several ways:

  • It assures Nova Scotia a 35-year supply of clean, renewable energy sufficient to meet eight to 10 percent of our current electricity demand (and much more than that in the first five years, owing to a quirk in the arrangement with Nalcor, the Newfoundland energy utility).
  • Because Muskrat Falls is the small first step in a series of massive hydro developments planned in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Maritime Link will give us preferred access to that additional clean renewable energy when it comes on line.
  • When Newfoundland’s lamented contract with Quebec for power from the massive Churchill Falls generating station expires in 2041—not that far off in utility planning terms—the Maritime Link will also give us preferred access to that clean renewable energy.
  • Because Newfoundland has its eye on the massive electricity demand in New England and New York, construction of the Maritime Link will lead to construction of a robust transmission corridor between Cape Breton and Boston. This, too, can only increase our options for power purchases and sales at market prices.
  • At the moment, we have maxed out the capacity of our electricity grid to absorb intermittent power sources like wind. Hydro power makes an ideal backup for wind power because, unlike coal-fired plants, it can be ramped up quickly when wind turbines tapers off due to diminishing winds. The Maritime Link will enable further expansion of clean, renewable wind power in Nova Scotia.

These advantages are so solid and so varied as to make Nova Scotia’s embrace of the project the obvious choice. Against them, the project’s critics, all of whom have some vested interest in a competing fuel source or in defeating the current government, draw comparisons to the spot price of whatever fuel source is cheapest at the moment. They pretend we can base 35-year power planning decisions on the assumption that prices will stay that low for three decades.

This is rank nonsense. Every serious energy planner knows the only reliable thing about fossil fuel prices is that they are sure to gyrate wildly, while trending relentlessly upward. Last year, the prospect of tapping massive shale gas deposits made natural gas the darling of the day, but now gas prices have gone up again, and some energy experts contend the shale gas bubble is poised to burst.

By contrast, hydro projects look expensive at the start, but like the sweetest of bargains five or 10 years into their decades-long lifespans. The notoriously low price Hydro Quebec pays for power from Churchill Falls—currently one-quarter of a cent per kilowatt-hour—was actually above the market price when the contract was signed in late 1960s. All the costs of building a hydro development are payable up front, but because they use no fuel, hydro plants go on producing for decades at stable prices that look better with each passing year. Can any of the Maritime Link’s naysayers claim coal and gas prices will not increase over the next 35 years?

When analysts pick over the bones of the NDP’s almost certain defeat in next week’s election, they will focus on the issue of electricity rates. The NDP government has been honest about the short-term costs of converting Nova Scotia’s electricity system from its decades-old over-reliance on imported fossil fuels to a diverse mix of renewable sources, and it made the right decision committing to the Maritime Link. Opposition parties have pandered to public resentment over recent power rate increases, while offering magical promises to freeze rates and lower renewable targets (in the case of the Tories), or to abandon energy efficiency and adopt deregulation strategies that have proven disastrous in other jurisdictions (in the case of the Liberals).

That this contrast—honesty and sound decisions vs. pandering and magic solutions—will see the NDP driven from office is surely the most dispiriting aspect of recent public discourse in Nova Scotia.

Thoughts on election timing

Since 1970, four Nova Scotia governments have delayed elections into the fifth year of their mandates. Three of the four got clobbered.

  • In 1978, Gerald Regan’s Liberals went almost seven months into their fifth year, then dropped from 31 seats to 17.
  • In 1993, Donald Cameron’s Progressive Conservatives went almost eight months into their fifth year, and fell from 28 seats to 9.
  • Almost five years later, Russell MacLellan led the Liberals from a commanding 40 seats to a humiliating 19-seat tie with the New Democrats, allowing him to govern only briefly with the slenderest of minorities.
  • In 2003, John Hamm went just 10 days into his fifth year, and came up two seats short of a second majority.

Darrell Dexter’s is the fifth government since 1970 to linger into a fifth year. If my guess is right, and he schedules an election for October 1st or 8th, he’ll have been in power four years and four months.

dexter_4Dexter would not have held off so long but for a terrible string of polls starting in spring of 2012, when Stephen McNeil’s Liberals surged into a first-place tie. The latest Corporate Research Associates poll, in June, showed the Liberals with 45 percent of decided voters, to the NDP’s 26 percent, and the PCs’ 24 percent. The N-dips claim their own confidential polls are better, but they’d have to be much better to offer any encouragement at all.

Polls taken between elections may tell you which way the wind is blowing, but they don’t tell you how hard. That last CRA survey found 55 percent of respondents undecided about how they would vote. People just haven’t turned their minds to the question yet.

That’s why I don’t think Dexter will call an election before Labour Day. To win a second term, the NDP needs to win the campaign. A plurality of voters needs to decide that Dexter looks, sounds, and acts more like a premier than McNeil, whose crowd-pleasing but benighted policy proposals, especially on energy, may not hold up under election scrutiny.

For that to happen, voters need to be paying attention. They won’t do that in the sweet summer days of August.

Even then, it may be too late. There’s a lot of anger out there—some of it warranted, some of thoughtlessly peevish. If voters get a notion to throw the bums out, no election timing legerdemain will stop them.

And speaking of begrudgery – updated

In response to this, someone called Peter Watts or perhaps Paul Buher, writes from a cryptic email account:

You, sir, are a pig, and no different than Darrell Dexter.

You hide under the guise of a political blog during the day, only to be writing for the NDP at night. A $15,000 pay cheque isn’t too bad I suppose. Good for you.

I have news for you. Anything you write on that virulent blog from this day forward is tainted with the stink of NDP orange, corruption, and self-serving interest. As I said, you sir, are a pig.

I wonder how Mr. Whateverhisrealnameis would feel to learn that Rodney MacDonald’s Tories hired me to write that government’s energy strategy.

Andrew Terris chimes in:

15K for 26 pages of text with lots of white space?

SWEET!

On the other hand, an erstwhile Daily News colleague writes:

That was a breathtakingly shoddy piece in the Herald this morning. Seems like Dan et al have made up their minds about the Dexter government.

I’ll leave it to others to decide whether the Herald’s shoddiness was breathtaking in this case, but I do think Judy Myrden’s story falls into a category of invidious reporting sensible people can see through without knowing much about the topic. She calls it a $42,000 press conference, but cites only $11,000 in costs (including transportation, catering, audio-visual, and event-management) related to the event.

The other $31,000 was part of the process of producing the plan, an effort that included several government departments, and discussions with interested companies, organizations, and individuals. Myrden falsely conflated production costs with news conference costs to make the latter appear four times larger than they were.

The sad thing about this is that if Myrden, or any other Herald reporter, would bother to read the energy plan, they would find it choc-a-block full of issues vital to Nova Scotia’s future—questions that could use robust discussion, debate, criticism, and even, dare I say it, investigation. Alas, that would take time, effort, imagination, and intelligence. Unlike finger-wagging.

Perhaps all provincial announcements should take place in Halifax, the centre of the known universe. Perhaps government should aways communicate with one hand tied behind its back, issuing reports written in bureaucratese and printed in gray ink on newsprint, Enver Hoxha-style.

[Update:] Stan Jones writes:

Sorry, Parker, but when you are sucking $15,000 from the same tit as the MLAs I really don’t think your opinion is going to sway me.

Perhaps Mr. Jones, who bills himself as a consultant specializing in social, health and educational research, is too pure to take government money. I’m not. About a quarter of my consulting work is with government. I relish these assignments because they give me a chance to work on the most important and difficult public issues facing our society, and to interact with thoughtful, energetic, well-motivated people.

The cynical assumption at play here is that doing government work automatically makes one corrupt. If that’s true, then it stands to reason that the most important and difficult decisions of our time will be worked on only by corrupt people, while all the good people (like Jones, Terris, and Watt) stand on the sidelines. Enjoy your purity, folks. Some of us want to tackle these issues.

Less pure readers can check out the Energy Plan here. They tell me it’s a pretty good read.

Robo Ian or Principal Bert?

Today’s Antigonish by-election is a foregone conclusion. N-dip Moe Smith came within 275 votes of knocking off popular Tando MacIsaac in June’s general election. Tando having abandoned the seat so abruptly, and the NDP firmly ensconced in Province House, Smith will take the riding in a walk.Allan-MacMaster-c

Inverness is a different matter. The riding is festooned with election signs in roughly equal numbers. Although then-Premier Rodney MacDonald out-polled his nearest rival by 3,431  votes in June, would-be Tory successor Allan MacMaster is widely expected to place third today. The premier’s abandonment of the riding, like Tando’s of neighboring Antigonish, will hurt MacMaster, as will the traditional Liberal stronghold’s penchant for snuggling up to the government side of the House.

ianmcneil-cLiberal Ian McNeil, a former CBC Radio host (and—disclosure—a friend of Contrarian’s),  was widely regarded as the man to beat at the outset of the campaign. While hosting CBC-Cape Breton’s Information Morning program, McNeil endured a grueling three-hour daily commute to maintain his East Lake Ainslie home in the riding. A man with strong rural sensibilities, McNeil created the CBC’s Party Line feature, and he has hosted musical events and community forums in every fire hall and church basement in the county.

Bert_LewisCBC-Cape Breton’s signal does not reach the southern end of the constituency, however. So McNeil is not as well known in riding’s largest population center, the town of Port Hawkesbury, where NDP candidate Bert Lewis is recently retired as principal of the Nova Scotia Community College campus. You have to wonder whether the 11th-hour NSCC strike settlement, details of which are conveniently unavailable, will help Lewis.

A much weaker NDP candidate placed second in June, a first for the party, albeit with only 20.5 percent of the vote. But it’s a government-prone riding, and this time, voters know which party is in government.

If McNeil loses, I suspect it will be because of a misstep. More than the other two candidates, he has blanketed the riding with robo-calls, and these aren’t sitting well with voters I’ve heard from.

Paving the way for Tories – another view

Some days ago, contrarian reader Wallace J. McLean challenged contrarian to determine how many of the paving projects Nova Scotia submitted for federal stimulus funding were in provincial Tory ridings. “Too much work,” we said, and went back to surfing Digg and Stumbledupon.

Well, turns out Wally is a blogger himself, and after days with a magnifying glass comparing project lists with the boundaries of Nova Scotia’s 52 provincial ridings, he offers an answer:

Of the 37 projects put forward by the late Macdonald government in NS, five were located in Liberal districts, and five in NDP districts, based on the 2006 election results…. Twenty-six were located in districts which the Tories held, or had won in 2006.

Read more »

NDP & Grit riding associations race to avoid deregistration

Three NDP and one Liberal riding associations are racing to comply with financial disclosure requirements that could result in their deregistration. As reported earlier, the entire Green Party also faces imminent deregistration.

Joanne Lamey, provincial organizer for the Nova Scotia New Democratic Party confirmed that three NDP riding associations have been warned of possible deregistration for failure to disclose financial information.

She said financial statements for the Digby Annapolis, Yarmouth, and Inverness riding associations were in various stages of completion, and she expected to submit them “very quickly—perhaps this afternoon.”

Glennie Langille, who was co-chair of communications for the Liberal campaign, said one riding association had been asked to supply tardy financial statements, but she denied the deadline was imminent. She refused to identify the riding association because no official action had been taken against it. Read more »

Live-blogging the debate — feedback

Reader Lucas Byers comments on contrarian‘s annoyance at Premier Rodney MacDonald’s use of first names to address voters, regardless of age:

You’d like me as your call center rep. I worked in three different ones over six years, and only ever called my caller Sir, Ma’am, Mr Lastname, Ms Lastname, unless directed not to by the caller.

Sad that years of Conservative rule has only provided me with six years of call center [experience];  even sadder we’re about to elect the Orange Menace to a majority. Maybe I’ll be able to get a union job at McDonalds. I guess Nova Scotian voters are Masochists.

An NDP majority in the making

The latest poll from Don Mills of Corporate Research Associates shows the NDP at 44 percent. More importantly, it shows them in first place in the rural mainland. results-60-06

Some will say the NDP vote is highly concentrated in metro, where they will “waste” votes by winning with unnecessarily huge majorities. Elections are won by seat totals, not vote totals.

Still, 44 percent is well into majority territory. In the last 14 Nova Scotia elections, no party has ever won more than 40 percent of the vote and failed to win a majority. John Hamm won a majority in 1999 with 39% of the vote.

The only partial exception is the 1960 election, when the Liberals won 46% of the vote and exactly half the seats in the legislature. However, one riding was controverted, and another ailing member failed to take his seat, so the Liberals ruled unimpeded until the 1974 election. In any case, the NDP was a small regional rump in Cape Breton at that time, and its vote was highly efficient in winning two seats.

In contrarian‘s view, polls taken between elections mean little, because the public isn’t thinking about casting ballots. Once the writ is dropped, voters turn their mind to the question, and that’s when polls become meaningful. Some dramatic bombshell could still change things, but the strong trend in the NDP’s direction since the election was called shows that voters have finally decided to give Dexter’s New Democrats a chance to govern, for better or for worse (for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, etc., etc.)

Sticky note: youth policy

youth-policy

Poll: NDP: 37, Lib 30, PC 28

Don Mills of Corporate Research Associates has released his latest poll, one of the few that will be taken during this campaign. It shows the NDP inching up toward, but not yet reaching, majority territory. The Liberals are also gaining, while the PCs are slipping behind.

Read the CRA news release or download the detailed tables.

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