So the ruling Liberal party took a big shellacking in yesterday’s election, which yielded a majority for the Progressive Conservative party in Province House. And of course liberal backers are now wandering in a daze wondering what went wrong. Well, wonder no more.
Rankin’s Liberals gave us nothing to vote for this year. I’d even say that they reminded me of that federal election that ushered in Stephen Harper in 2005 — apparently they just never even remotely considered the idea that people would not just blindly vote for them. But they made no substantive promises and ran on a record which was frankly pretty bad.
But, you will say, how about the province’s handling of the pandemic? Yes, the numbers have always been good. However, the government was never really the reason for that. Nova Scotia weathered the COVID storm mostly because it only shares a border with one other province, and because the economy is permanently depressed in this area of the country. Given that air travel is regulated by the federal government, there was only so much the provincial government could screw up. They did do a decent job, but there wasn’t that much to it.
On the other hand there was a lot to dislike about the Nova Scotia liberal party. They are kinda defined by their enduring fight against unions of all types. They waged very public wars on the nurses’ and teachers’ unions which lost them a lot of votes. They basically used arbitration and bad-faith negotiations to strip unions of real power and to limit workers’ rights in the province. This has gone on throughout the McNeil years, and Rankin had no plan to change that. So if anyone is afraid of the PC being right-wing on union issues, well, they can’t do much worse on this score than the government they replace.
Two more political decisions also took put the government in a pretty awful light. One of them was to eliminate the Graduate Retention Rebate, which was a tax rebate intended to keep people who had graduated in NS staying here to work. One of the big issues in the Atlantic provinces is that young people tend to leave the province as soon as they can find work elsewhere. To be honest I wish I had been more aware of this before moving here. The cost of living is ridiculous given the low level of economic activity compared to pretty much everywhere outside the Maritimes, and getting rid of the rebate pretty much ensured that the exodus of youth from the province was set to continue indefinitely. And then the government tried to eliminate the Nova Scotia Film Tax Credit, which was a pretty successful way of attracting film production to the province. Neither program really cost much in the bigger scheme of things but the government was surprisingly insistent on killing both. Eventually they had to back down on the film production tax credit issue, but it left the liberals looking like they were championing austerity politics over people, especially considering the province’s frankly poor economic position.
That being said, the two bigger issues that sank the Libs this year were education and health care.
In 2018 the government decided to unilaterally dissolve the province’s school boards (with the exception of the French-language Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial) and instead put all decision-making into the hands of the Education Minister. A provision existed for the creation of an advisory board but that board was to be entirely peopled by… the Education Minister. Also the government decided to break up the provincial teachers’ union by declaring that executive employees would no longer be part of the union, which is a pretty classic bout of union busting. Again there were big protests at Province House but since the government had a majority they bulldozed things through.
However the bigger failure of the Liberal government was in the area of health care. Ever since I’ve come to this province it’s been bleeding doctors. The government’s authoritarian tendencies has been leading doctors and nurses to leave the province in high numbers, resulting in 70,000 Nova Scotians being unable to find a family doctor. This doesn’t sound like much until you consider that the entire province has less than a million people in it. In a way it’s more symptomatic of the province’s more enduring problems — the cost of living is absurd, and to top it off we have the costliest electricity and taxes in the whole country. As a result it’s pretty hard to attract medical personnel. With each budget more money is allocated to cash incentives for doctors to come over, but inevitably they leave once the conditions of these incentives expires. This has serious repercussions for NS residents. Seeing a specialist can take a very long time, depending on the specialty. For women a gynaecological appointment is a 9-12 month wait. Seeing a dermatologist involved a 6 month wait. Thankfully I’ve not had to see many more doctors but it makes it very difficult to get things like my tinnitus taken care of.
Ultimately all the Progressive Conservatives had to do was promise investment into the health sector to tip the government. And that they did.
Ultimately the Liberal government’s downfall was due to themselves. They arrogantly began to adopt the “who else are people going to vote for” attitude and it’s bitten them solidly on the rear end. It’s not a shift to the right, just a changes of faces at the top.