Waiting for NDP policy

Dexter at the Pride Parade - mediumSeven weeks after electing Atlantic Canada’s first NDP government, Nova Scotians have seen little if anything in the way of policy initiatives from Dexter and Co. Senior civil servants, however, seem practically giddy with delight at the NDP’s methodical approach to policy.

“They actually read the briefing books,” exclaimed one official, referring to the massive tomes each department prepares detailing the policy issues an incoming minister will face. “They read them, and they ask intelligent questions. They are really into policy.”

“They read everything,” said a communications officer in a  high profile, policy-intensive department. “They come back with good questions.”

“I’m sure the MLAs who made up the last government came to Halifax truly motivated to improve the way Nova Scotia is governed,” said still another official. “But no one would mistake them for policy wonks. These guys”—referring to the NDP caucus—”were drawn to public life by a keen interest in policy.”

Cabinet ministers and their executive assistants (hired and assigned from the premier’s office on the basis policy chops and party loyalty) have hunkered down to examine the pressing issues in each department.

Dexter’s most important move so far was to split Cabinet’s all-powerful Treasury and Policy Board into two freestanding units: Treasury Board (with Hamm-appointee Greg Keefe as deputy minister) and the Policy and Priorities Committee (with veteran New Democrat Rick Williams, a former Dal professor with a longstanding interest in community development, as deputy).

Reflecting his tight grip on the new government, Dexter will chair the policy committee himself. His right-hand MLA Frank Corbett will serve as vice-chair, with Maureen MacDonald, Graham Steele, and Ross Landry rounding our the membership.

The choice of Williams is the first public move that puts a clear NDP stamp on the new government. As an activist professor at the Maritime School of Social Work, Williams was deeply committed to community organizing. He helped form both the Maritime Fishermen’s Union and the Coastal Communities Network.

Dexter has given the committee a sweeping mandate, including:

  • provide leadership in the development and implementation of the core program of
    the government;
  • communicate the government’s priorities to deputy ministers and departments;
  • ensure effective accountability in the formation and implementation of public
    policy; and
  • identify and prioritize policy issues, select policy initiatives and direct action on
    policy issues and initiatives.

[Complete list here.]

Dexter’s New Democrats cruised into office aboard a slender platform of seven basic policy planks, two of which (keeping emergency rooms open, and subsidizing dirty coal-fired electricity) were breathtakingly ill-advised. No one can fault them for taking time to study the briefing books and prepare methodically crafted policies.

Once the homework is done, let’s hope they summon greater courage to deliver needed but distasteful medicine than they showed in the campaign.