NDP rights and wrong — readers comment

Many of those who responded to my posts on the Dexter government’s mistakes and accomplishments (here,  herehere, and here) were disappointed New Democrats.

To my complaint that a small cadre of apparatchiks in the premier’s office exercised far too much central control, a party supporter employed in the administration offered this colourful label:

[A] group of too-young, nasty, disconnected, Harper-style assholes.

Another longtime party supporter on the party’s left flank wrote:

One of the most disappointing failures of the government was not bring more talented, knowledgeable, and competent people into the government and the party.

In every area the government claims to be interested in improving—the environment, poverty, health care, metal health, economic development, law reform, poverty reduction—there are activists who have toiled for years to bring about change. Many of these people are highly competent, and often more knowledgeable about these issue then either the elected politicians or the departmental bureaucrats.

Many, but certainly not all, are (or were) likely NDP supporters. They represent of pool of talent and possible new ideas that has been left almost completely untapped. I’m not suggesting that they should have immediately done a wholesale house cleaning, either in the government or the party but they should have immediately began recruiting among their ranks and brought them into influence as opportunities arose.

If they had, perhaps some of the mistakes you listed might have been avoided and we might also have seen much more solid progressive legislation. I think the similar case can be made for the approach to cabinet selection.

On the positive side, in spite of making some major mistakes and ignoring for too long concerned voices from their base, they have generally been more competent then any recent government, and much more competent then either of the opposition parties are likely to be. They have also made major positive change in a number of areas such as health care and the environment. Yet in spite of this it seems as if we are about to return to mediocre ineptitude.

Over the last 48 hours, polls have tightened from the breathtaking 30-point Liberal lead reported by Corporate Research Associates early in the week, to a merely commanding 18-20 point lead Thursday. The prospect of the Liberals carrying all but a handful of seats seems to have given some citizens pause, including one Halifax voter who was overheard to say:

I don’t like [the NDP], but the government wasn’t THAT bad.

On the weekend, a closer look at the Liberals’ election-lite platform.



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


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.


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.

Those permanent socialist hordes

Citing the latest of several Corporate Research Associates polls showing Darrell Dexter’s New Democrats with a comfortable lead, longtime Progressive Conservative Rob Smith has a piece in today’s AllNovaScotia.com [subscription required] proposing some form of Liberal-Tory co-operation to prevent what the news service alarmingly headlines, “Socialists forever.”

Beware of blue Bolsheviks!

This argument would be more persuasive if the Dexter Government had shown any sign of being either permanent or socialist. Dexter won office less than three years ago,  and he did so by turning quietly away from the strident leftist approach of previous NDP leaders, and toward centrist policies where Nova Scotia voters have traditionally found their comfort zone. The phrase, “for today’s families,” doesn’t exactly call to mind Rosa Luxemburg.

The NDP’s historic breakthrough reflects two longterm political trends.

  • As Western Canada and — to a lesser extent — Ontario turned sharply right over the last 20 years, Nova Scotia remained true to what might be called Red Tory values: We remain economically moderate and socially liberal. The widening gulf makes us look uncharacteristically leftish by comparison, but it’s the Uppity Canadian leopards who’ve changed their stripes, not us.
  • Over the same period, party divisions within Nova Scotia have coalesced into three clear zones: Liberal Cape Breton; Tory rural mainland; and NDP Metro. Dexter won the last election on the strength of inroads not in Cape Breton, where he picked up no additional seats, but in the rural mainland, where loyal Tories winced at the Rodney Interregnum.

If Dexter were recklessly pursuing ideology over the province’s best interests, an opposition coalition might be in order. I believe the Harper government’s US Republican-style extremism should cause Liberals, New Democrats, and disaffected Stanfield Progressive Conservatives to explore avenues of co-operation.

But to argue that anything Dexter has done is so far outside the mainstream, or so redolent of permanent hegemony, as to inspire a Tory-Liberal Union is, forgive me Rob, just silly.

Orange is as orange does

Labor lawyer Ron Stockton, who is also president of the Lunenburg NDP Association, protests that the insulated lunch bags distributed to Grade Primary students in Nova Scotia  the Annapolis, Cape Breton-Victoria, South Shore, and Strait regional school boards this month and next (and pictured here) do not appear to be NDP orange, but rather, red with orange trim.

If the government were Liberal would you have levelled the same criticism?  If a PC government put out materials that were blue (admittedly a much more commonly used colour) would you have criticized them?  At my age I like things to be as colourful as possible (just as I did when I was a kid).  I love the look of it even though I may have used more orange than red and added a bit of glow-in-the-dark green.

The confusion is, I’m afraid, an artifact of the way computer screens reproduce color shades. The bag is NDP orange. Here’s a close-up:

Contrarian reader Paul Taylor asks a bonus question: Where were the bags manufactured and printed? For the answer, we turned to the information label affixed to the bag, as required by the Textile Labeling Act (apologies for the poor resolution):

That would be Sweda USA, an “integrated supplier and manufacturer of promotional products that provides innovative marketing solutions for the advertising specialties industry,” and China, a manufacturing powerhouse in Asia. Jobs here? Not so much.

And while on the subject of full disclosure, this is as good a time as any to reveal that last Friday, at 10:30 pm, I joined the federal New Democratic Party, just before the midnight deadline for qualifying to vote in the leadership race. I intend to vote for whichever candidate is most open to cooperating with the Liberals in defeating the Harper Government and allowing Canada’s moderate-left consensus to govern, probably this one. When the Liberal leadership voting deadline rolls around, I’ll probably join that party, if they’ll have me, with the same goal in mind. And I voted Conservative in two of the last three provincial elections. Go figure.

But I still think the Nova Scotia New Democratic Party should reimburse the province’s taxpayers for this shameless bit of political promotion aimed at schoolchildren and their parents.

The Liberal mailing list flap

On CBC Radio last week, Contrarian’s old friend Ralph Surette said Nova Scotia Liberals had dumped their last nine leaders — every one since Gerald Regan — before they could fight a second election.

That’s not quite true. The Liberals have had only seven leaders since Regan, and two of those took the party through two elections. Still, the record is fratricidal:
Liberal Leaders 250

The operative question is whether the Liberals will repeat this pattern when they review leader Stephen McNeil’s leadership Friday. A covert campaign to unseat McNeil has featured an inept website and a mass mail-out using a purloined copy of the party’s email list.

Party president Derek Wells launched an investigation into this breach of  party security, a move some criticized as merely prolonging a bad-news story for leader McNeil. I’m not so sure. It’s never pleasant or easy for a leader to fend off this kind of clandestine back-biting.

If anyone looks bad, it’s  Deputy Leader Diana Whalen, who has never recovered from her bitterness at losing the 2007 leadership race to McNeil by 68 votes. Suspicion focused on Whalen when the source code for the unauthorized email turned up an address containing the letters, “dboudreau.”

Doug Boudreau, Whalen’s constituency assistant and the son of former Finance Minister and one-time leadership candidate Bernie Boudreau (who supported Whalen in the leadership campaign), offered an eyebrow-raising “no comment” when asked if he sent the email.

Confronted by reporters, Whalen fueled these suspicions by refusing to ask Boudreau whether he had done so, on grounds that she wouldn’t take part in “a witch hunt.” She didn’t say why asking an employee whether he made improper use of  party lists constitutes a “witch hunt.”

Whalen likewise refuses to say whether she supports McNeil’s leadership, invoking the specious “principle” that party “elites” should not tell the rank and file how to vote.

This is tawdry behaviour. If Whalen wants McNeil defeated, she should have to ovaries to say so, publicly and forthrightly. If she wants McNeil to win the next election, common political sense dictates closing ranks behind him in the leadership review. Campaigning secretly to defeat him while maintaining a dubious public posture of neutrality doesn’t speak well of her integrity or her truthfulness.

Undermining McNeil is nothing new for Whalen. Readers may recall when then-Justice Minister Cecil Clarke got into hot water for refusing to allow a vote on a private member’s bill by Walen that would have established a committee to combat domestic violence. Clarke was retaliating against Whalen’s vote in committee to kill a bill cracking down on copper thieves (a bill other members of her caucus supported).

Whalen claimed fences, er,  scrap metal dealers in her riding had not been given sufficient chance to review the bill. In fact, rampant theft of copper from live power lines posed a grave risk to public safety at the time, and Whalen had deliberately sabotaged a deal between the minority Tory government and the Liberal caucus to pass both bills. Given a chance undermine McNeil, the risk of potential electrocution didn’t factor in.

In the ensuing uproar, Clarke was accused of putting scrap metal ahead of battered women, a phony meme gullible (or lazy) press gallery reporters embraced with alacrity.

McNeil shows leadership

We can’t say whether Liberal leader Stephen McNeil read this particular Contrarian entry, but he did both the right thing and the smart thing in helping astonished New Democrats speed passage of political financing reform through the house in a single day.

It’s the smart thing, because McNeil couldn’t prevent passage of the new law, so why encourage days of debate focusing on past Liberal wrongdoing? It’s the right thing, because no party should enjoy a permanent finger on the political scale based on a 40-year-old shakedown racket. McNeil explained it this way:

It was my direction—and I take full responsibility—that this issue needs to be behind us. It needs to be behind the party, and [let’s] get on with doing the business of bringing our Liberal values, Liberal views, and engaging Nova Scotians about, not only how we hold the government accountable, but the things that matter to them and how we put together public policy.

McNeil is entitled to the benefit of the doubt. He wasn’t around 40 years ago. Now that the authority has passed into his hands, he can take credit for acting decisively and correctly: A mark of leadership.

Barrow, MacFadden, and ‘Suitcase’ Simpson: the final chapter


That’s how the Liberal Party of Nova Scotia obtained the money it would be blocked from using by a government bill introduced in the legislature Tuesday. Liberal leader Stephen McNeil should think hard before crying victim.

Justice Minister Ross Landry, who introduced the bill, suggested the Liberals give the tainted funds to charity. A better idea would be to give it back to the provincial treasury, because that’s who they stole it from.

Stephen McNeil 2cfw-bw-sMcNeil may think voters’ memories are too short to remember the details, but a few of us old coots are still around to remind them.

The money in question came from two ‘trust’ accounts, the Hawco and Howmur Funds. They came to light in the 1983 influence-peddling trial of three Nova Scotia Liberal Party fundraisers, Sen. Augustus Irvine Barrow, Clarence MacFadden, and the colorfully named James G. “Suitcase” Simpson.

The three bagmen oversaw a Liberal Party toll-gating scheme from 1970 to 1978, while Gerald Regan was premier. As the Supreme Court of Canada (R. v. Barrow, [1987] 2 S.C.R. 694) described it:

In October of 1970, the liberal party defeated the then Government of Nova Scotia in a general election and formed the new government which held power until 1978. During the period from 1970 to 1978, the Committee collected contributions amounting in total to $3,836,468.13, of which $2,770,773.52 was deposited in one bank account and $1,065,694.61 in the other. A police investigation commenced in the autumn of 1978 resulted in the seizure of many documents from government departments and agencies and also from several wineries, distilleries and other corporations. The evidence revealed that the contributions made by liquor and wine companies dealing with the government were based on a fixed amount per case of products sold to the Government. Other companies doing business with the government paid a percentage of monies they received from government work which ranged from three to five per cent.

Simpson plead guilty and paid a $75,000 fine. MacFadden and Barrow were found guilty at trial; MacFadden paid a $25,000 fine, but Barrow, for whom conviction would have meant expulsion from the Senate, appealed and won a new trial on a technicality. He was acquitted at a second trial.

At the first trial, Hugh Rynard, president of Acres Consulting Services Ltd., testified:

One of my functions was to insure that we as a company did whatever was necessary to improve our ability both in obtaining work and in execution of our work. And I was told that it would be in order for me to seek an appointment with Mr. Barrow.

Rynard and Barrow met on March 7, 1973 so Rynard could pitch the bagman on the company’s expertise. According to Rynard’s undisputed testimony, Barrow:

told me during that conversation that we would be expected to pay from three percent to five percent of the fees generated from Provincial Government work to the  . . . into the coffers of the Liberal Party.

For years, the Liberal Party used interest off these secret funds to finance campaigns and, in at least one notorious example, to pay a secret salary to Liberal leader Vince MacLean.

The funds returned to the public spotlight in the early nineties, thanks to late George Hawkins, a courageous Liberal who spent years trying to convince fellow Party members to give up their ill-gotten gains, and apologize for taking them in the first place. “Since the beginning of the Regan administration,” Hawkins said, “the Liberal Party… has been living… from the proceeds of crime.”

Even before the Barrow-MacFadden trial, Hawkins knew the source of the money because, ironically, his father, a Liberal stalwart, had set up one of the funds. There is little doubt that Nova Scotia Conservatives carried out similar shakedowns during the Robert Stanfield and G.I. Smith administrations, but the party’s financial records were destroyed in a mysterious fire around the time the RCMP began making inquiries.

Thanks to pressure from Hawkins, the Liberal Party eventually agreed to audit the funds, and relinquish to the province any money that proved tainted. But as Kings College Journalism prof. Steven Kimber recounts, the party’s actions fell short of this promise:

After another year of obfuscating, the party released its so-called “audit,” which wasn’t. Instead, the auditors, “as specifically agreed,” only perused the actual trial transcript and identified $1,287,473.14 “proven or alleged to have been obtained” through kickbacks. “This procedure,” the auditors noted dryly, “does not constitute an audit.”

Liberal House Leader Manning MacDonald likes to pretend the funds were “cleansed many years ago” through this process, but this is malarkey. Most, if not all of the money that remains in the funds was stolen from the taxpayers of Nova Scotia.

Steven McNeil has a decision to make. Will he continue the long tradition of lying about the source of this money? Or will he support Bill 44, a measure that would finally put this sordid chapter of our history to rest?

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 [cont.]

The indefatigable Wallace J. McLean (note correct spelling; mea culpa) has risen to contrarian‘s challenge, and defended his view that the MacDonald government’s paving proposals were as politically skewed as the Harper government’s selective approvals thereof.

This time he buttresses his case with a map, using traditional party colors in two shades: darker for ridings in which the government proposed  paving; lighter for those where it did not.

NS-highways - medium

Turning this map back into numbers, the Rodney government proposed work in two out of six rural Liberal districts (33%); three out of eight rural NDP districts (38%), and 13 out of 21 rural PC districts. That’s 62% of them.

Contrarian concedes that McLean has demonstrated a provincial Tory skew from which many will impute deliberate bias. But the provincial skew does not approach the 4-to-1 edge the Harper-MacKay Reformers Conservatives bestowed upon their own ridings. In either case, the new NDP administration has a chance to banish this ancient and corrupt system by implementing its promise of a five year paving plan to get the politics out of paving..