Province House

News

1. Throne speech

“This is not at all going to war with organized labour,” premier Stephen McNeil told reporters, just moments after the throne speech outlined a war with organized labour. The speech spelled out the particulars: the government, not workers, will decide who represents workers, and public service work will be out-sourced to avoid having to pay union scale.

We’re all going to be rich once everyone is paid less.

McNeil has every right to pursue a tougher line with public employee bargaining units as part of his governing strategy. I’d disagree but, hey, he won an election. But something else entirely is going on here: vilifying unions in the throne speech is over-the-top. It’s the politics of division, us versus them, where the “them” is union workers and the “us” is implicitly the Liberals.

The rhetoric is one of Liberal solidarity with taxpayers. But union workers pay taxes, and a lot of them. Cutting the pay of the middle class is not going to increase tax revenue or help the economy—just the opposite, actually. We live in a consumer economy dependent upon people spending money; lower the wages of government workers and they won’t be spending as much in stores and restaurants, they’ll put off home repairs and other services, and won’t have as much to spend on housing, hurting all those sectors. Business owners will lose sales, won’t be able to hire as many people, won’t pay as much in taxes. It’s the downward spiral of austerity, the backwards policy imposed on most western democracies since 2008, with predictable results.

I went to Province House yesterday to watch the proceedings, and can’t say it was edifying. I shouldn’t have expected much on the opening day of the House, which is filled with traditional pomp and circumstance, but I was especially disheartened by the ritualized role of the reporters. I don’t know that legislative reporters have any choice: here are the prearranged scrums, where reporters ask prearranged questions and politicians give prearranged talking points as answers. Here’s the throne speech, given to reporters an hour before it was spoken, and we all quoted from it as if on cue.

A couple of decades ago, a cynical old fart with a wild unkempt beard—that is, Tim Crews, my friend and mentor, the crazed right-wing libertarian editor of the Sacramento Valley Mirror, which serves a rural population of about 10,000—told me that reporting on government meetings is a waste of time. “Everything is decided somewhere else,” he said. I don’t think that’s right when it comes to city government: I’ve learned a lot by watching events unfold at council meetings. But with the provincial government, especially a majority government, I think Crews’ advice is dead-on. What’s the point in covering a scripted ritual?

I haven’t yet given up on it completely. I’ll stop by the legislature occasionally, and especially Public Accounts sessions, and drop in on post-cabinet scrums when I have a reason. But the real journalism related to provincial government needs to be done elsewhere.

2. Jail

The Burnside jail has been in lockdown since Monday. Prisoners have gone days without recreational time or showers, and when they have had showers, they haven’t been given clean clothes. No reason has been given for the lockdown, the Chronicle Herald reports.

3. Macdonald Bridge

The Bridge Commission held a press conference yesterday to explain the rebuild of the Macdonald Bridge, but judging from news reports, not much in new detailed information was released. After the work is done, however, we’ll have better views of the harbour.

4. War

We’re preparing for war. The Undersea Warfare EDGE Innovation Centre opens Monday. We can afford what we want to afford: billions for war, sure. Decent salaries for civil servants, not so much.

5. King’s College

A report written by the Long-Term Financial Strategy Task Force for the university suggests freezing salaries and offering a dumbed-down version of the Foundation Year Program to attract students who may be dumber, sure, but they have money.


Views

1. Andrew Scheer should resign

Paul MacLeod says the speaker of the house is a partisan tool.

2. Jury duty

Go, if only to eat the free muffins, says Lezlie Lowe.


Government

City

No public meetings.

Province

Legislature sits (9am, Province House)


On campus

My apologies, but a technical glitch prevents me from posting events at Dalhousie today. I’ll have that worked out by Monday.

Saint Mary’s

Industrial Policy (noon, McNally Main 227)—Richard Kozul-Wright, from the UN’s Conference on Trade and Development, and Juan Carlos Moreno-Brid, from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, will speak.


Noticed

The former NDP government was the victim of unfortunate timing. Darrell Dexter took office just as the global economy was collapsing, and just as production at the Sable offshore gas platform was petering out, removing the single largest source of tax revenue for the province.

In contrast, the Liberals and Stephen McNeil have come into office just as the Deep Panuke platform is coming online, and total gas production from both fields is now matching 2007 output from Sable alone. Here’s a chart from the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Board showing production levels over time:

Production at Deep Panuke will likely begin to peter off in about four years, so McNeil has a one-shot chance to make the most of the royalties from the wells. Undoubtedly he’ll use it for political advantage, but basing an economy on oil revenues is foolish, and doubly so when those revenues will dry up in a few years.


In the harbour

(click on vessel names for pictures and more information about the ships)

Arrivals

Algonova, oil/chemical tanker, Saint Jean, Quebec to Pier 27
Fusion, con-ro, Saint-Pierre to Pier 36
Zim Qingdao, container ship, Tarragona, Spain to Pier 42
Atlantic Huron, bulker, Saint Jean to National Gypsum

Deaprtures

Halifax Express to Southampton, England
Fusion to Saint-Pierre
Oceanex Sanderling to St. John’s


Footnotes

The Point Tupper generating plant opened on this date in 1969. The public owned it back then.

I’ll be on a journalist panel today on the Rick Howe Show, at 10:30am.

Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. It has been years since Professional Engineers within the Provincial Government were paid on par with those at HRM and the Feds. Currently I know of several positions in the Province that were filled with people who were not the best candidate for the job, but were the only people who applied because those who should be promoted had no incentive whatsoever to accept greater responsibility, longer hours, and only a 4% raise, most of which would be taken by the taxman.

    So we end up with young, inexperienced people trying to maintain environmental standards, construction and design standards, labour and health and safety standards, and to protect the public purse, when the private sector is hiring people with 20-30 years experience on “the other side”.

    And lets not even start with the legal side of things, where you get those same younger, less experienced lawyers in court against the best that money can buy.

    Which situation do you think costs us more in the end? The consequences of what I describe above, or paying market rate for the expertise you need?

    No disrespect meant for those in the Provincial Civil Service – they are really trying. But, in the end, we get what we pay for. And all we do now is train young professionals to the point where they can then take that expertise elsewhere. So freezing, or even chopping staff expenditures, is a lose-lose game, but perhaps one too sophisticated for most modern day politicians to play.

  2. Dissing public servants is ALWAYS in fashion.

    Expect job cuts on all levels not because it makes sense but because the reigning neoliberal orthodoxy dictates it is so.

    Hate to break the news to you folks but we can’t outsource government jobs to a sweatshop in China.

  3. It’s one thing for government to strike a hardline with the unions, that’s their prerogative and they’ll be judged on that stance in 3-4 years, but it’s quite another to dictate which union is going to represent which workers. That will no doubt go to court and will probably be fought about for years. My hunch, based on the direction the courts have gone when it comes to the Charter and collective bargaining, is that the government will lose. They would be better off making the unions compete with each other and then working with or against whichever one the healthcare workers pick. To impose this on everyone is really heavy-handed.

  4. Interesting that the Throne Speech both talks about reducing the public service and keeping increases down while complaining that not enough young people want to join the public service. Gee, I wonder why… And thanks for pointing out that public servants ALL pay taxes at the same rate as everyone else, so the wage increases actually cost the government less than indicated since a percentage of that comes right back in as tax revenue (estimate 25% to 30% at a minimum). Not saying things can’t be done more efficiently or that change isn’t needed. Unfortunately, we need structural change that allows us all to contribute fully in a functional system, not a piecemeal chipping away of the public service that further deteriorates morale and stifles our ability to serve taxpayers, including ourselves.

  5. I agree with you that the us against them attitude is not helpful but it exists on both sides of the table. I also agree that people need to be paid properly and that lowering wages and not keeping up with inflation is unacceptable. In fact I will argue that govt workers are not paid enough as I would never leave my job in the private sector to take a job under the umbrella of the NSGEU in a hostile environment for less money.

    Having said that we need to recognize our government isn’t efficient. This isn’t the fault of the workers or solely the fault of the union but a fault of the culture. We need reorganization and we need it badly. We need to eliminate non essential ineffective programs and enhance essential ineffective programs. Sadly there are few important and effective programs in our provinces. This will mean fewer government jobs and restructuring. I would love to see people work together to achieve this but again we have a cultural problem. We cannot continue to pay some of the highest taxes in the country, receive some of the worst outcomes and at the same time amass debt. This is a zero sum game. I would love to see change without a battle but I don’t see how that can happen.

    1. Tim, You’ve stated core issues succinctly, and I wholeheartedly agree with you, especially on culture and change. Culture is deep-seated in the Maritimes, long conditioned by religion and British class system. Love to hear your thoughts and/or suggestions on how change can/will be effected WITH a battle, because it’ll not happen any other way. In addition to authentic leadership, what form could/would it take, etc.?