Why We Fight: A Primer on Recent NS Political History

My father was in the Navy, and his career bounced us from Ottawa, to Halifax, to Toronto, back and forth, for years, and then later, to Norfolk and London, England.

While I spent half my youth living in Dartmouth, I spent the other half being conditioned by my mother to love Nova Scotia and miss home when we lived away.

When time came to go to university, I turned down a scholarship to York to go to Dalhousie.  I was finally going home, to Nova Scotia, a province in transition.

For the previous twelve years, John Buchanan’s government had spent the province onto the verge of financial collapse.   To be fair, so had almost every other government provincially and federally in Canada.

Economically, the province was a basket case.  In short order, the Westray disaster occurred, the cod collapsed, the Lingan, Phalen and Prince mines closed over the next decade, and then later, the steel plant.  The pulp and paper industry shrank.  Oil exploration stopped.  In the 1980s, the property bubble burst. The house my parents bought dropped in value by 15% by 1993.

My introduction to Nova Scotia politics was Donald Cameron being unelected Premier for 22 months, trying to spend his way to a successful election.

Then we elected John Savage.  Serious attempts were finally made to balance the budget for the first time in a generation.  Fairness, transparency and equity were watchwords.

While not perfect, reforms to government purchasing and hiring were major steps forward for Nova Scotia’s civil society.  NSCC was created.  Municipalities, school boards and health authorities were amalgamated.

Not a popular man, his own party gutted Savage and his government, ostensibly because he refused to maintain the patronage system.  Russell MacLellan took over and tried to spend his way to a successful election.  The fight to build a modern, fair, sustainable society was not yet over.

This is where I come from.  This is what informs my politics.

Nova Scotia was a backwards province.  I would hear my Upper Canadian classmates at Dalhousie compare us to a Central American Banana Republic.  Slightly more than a dozen families owned everything on interlocking Boards of Directors and paid off their supporters through a  feudalistic patronage system.

Old boys in the back room making secret deals.   This is who we were.  This is who we continue to fight not to be.

It was hugely painful to move the province forward.  We were not, and are not, a society that easily accepts being told “no”.  It was not easy to balance the budget, to shrink government; to raise tuition at Dalhousie so that by time I left it was triple the cost of my first year.

We sacrificed and we fought to balance the budget, to stop mortgaging our tomorrow for the sake of easy decisions today.  I always believed this was the right thing to do, as difficult as it has been.

This is why I cannot accept and approve of any project that does not include full disclosure of revenues, expenses, and the assumptions that tell us what the yearly cost will be.

Only with full disclosure can we gauge, together as a society, as a people, whether we can afford the project proposed.

The proponents of the new Convention Centre will not give us the information we need to do this, having fought disclosure every step of the way.  For this reason alone, many people who might be their allies continue to oppose the project.

Clearly, the fight to build this modern society continues.

  • This post needs to be sent as a ‘Reader’s Corner’ or Op ed piece to the Herald, retweeted by Nova Scotian bloggers/tweeters, posted on Facebook pages…it’s wonderful. No ad hominem attacks, just clear, heartfelt writing. And it’s a snapshot of what we’ve endured for lo these past 30+ years. I don’t know how to stop the rot. If we were talking about a tree or other plant, I would say selective pruning, but unfortunately we can’t keep the dozen or so (maybe more) politicians in this province who are hardworking and actually in politics for the good of the province, rather than of their own pocketbook.

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