Acting like a premier

A headline in Saturday’s Chronicle-Herald called Premier Darrell Dexter’s churlish attack on a member of the Electoral Boundaries Commission “out-of-character.” It was certainly at odds with the avuncular tone we came to expect from Dexter in opposition — as premier-in-waiting, he took pains to maintain an aura of moderation and reasonableness — but it is of a piece with the increasingly partisan tone in statements from the premier’s office this summer.

The previous Friday, when it appeared the deal to reopen the Point Tupper paper mill had come a cropper, the premier’s official announement included this incongruous paragraph:

There are some who would have been happy for us to turn our backs on those workers and their families the day it was announced that the mill would be idled. Even though we could not reach a deal in the end, I can proudly say that we did not abandon those people and we will not do so now either.

Given the human calamity expected to follow the plant’s permanent closure,  couldn’t the premier have toned this down a bit? Who, exactly, would have been happy to turn their backs? I’m aware of many Nova Scotians who think the province gave too much and got too little in horse-trading with Pacific West Capital Corp.’s Ron Stern, but it’s hard to imagine John Hamm or John Savage denigrating dissenters’ motives in such terms.

When the mill rose from the dead 24 hours later, the premier said, “We didn’t do this because it was popular – we did it because it was the right thing to do.” This, too, made it seem as though our government were more focused on the announcement’s political impact than its effect on 1,600 mill workers, woodsworkers, truckers, and their communities.

In Tuesday’s attack on the Electoral Boundaries Commission, the premier singled out one member as having allegedly, “joined the commission for the sole purpose of simply trying to cause difficulty.”

I couldn’t agree less with the dissenting member, who wanted to retain grossly imbalanced, ethnically defined ridings, but that doesn’t lead me to believe he’s a Liberal hack bent on trouble-making. The commission is a body whose members, by definition, range across the political spectrum.

A friend who is not a New Democrat, but who has seen governments come and go, offered this assessment:

Clearly the direction is coming from the top…. I suspect it’s a reaction to finding themselves in circumstances they have never experienced — being in power and on a slide at the same time. They had better find their senses soon or this will all have been a bad experiment and they will never, ever recover (cf. Bob Rae in Ontario).

They are fortunate they are in a three party system; it makes the climb back a lot easier if they get grown up about it.

The premier’s growing inability, or unwillingness, to rise above the partisan fray harkens back to his defensive handling of the MLAs’ expense scandal, and his attendant deafness to the public mood.

Nova Scotians expect a premier to act like a premier. As for what is or is not in character, time will tell.