The NDP government has emerged from its first legislative session upbeat and relatively unscathed, but things may not be so easy in the future.
Here are some highlights of the fall session:
PAINT IT BLUE, THROW IT UNDER THE BUS: The most important single item this fall was the budget. Any other year introducing a $592 million deficit would have been a political nightmare to defend. But being in office only four months, the NDP said they had no choice but to re-introduce the spring Tory budget with some changes.
While opposition parties try to pin the ugly financial plan on the current government, Finance Minister Graham Steele said the first true NDP budget will come out next year.
SCANDAL FREE’S THE WAY TO BE: Controversy became commonplace in the dying days of the Rodney MacDonald government but so far the NDP haven’t had the same headaches.
The closest the NDP came to true scandal this fall was the revelation fisheries minister Sterling Belliveau sold his boat to a buyer who received grant money from within Belliveau’s department.
The optics were bad and the opposition relentlessly hammered Belliveau. But the NDP showed proof Belliveau informed the conflict of interest commissioner beforehand and no smoking gun ever materialized. With the absence of concrete evidence of wrongdoing, the story fizzled out.
A Nova Scotia Community College Teachers strike looked like a big blow to the dippers, but again the NDP sidestepped trouble with a last-minute deal.
TIGHTENING THE GOLD-STUDDED BELTS: As raising MLA salaries became politically risky over the years, a rise in perks made up the difference.
But the NDP switched gears this fall, cutting hundreds of thousands of dollars of MLA spending.
First to go was a $45,000 no-questions-asked pot that’s handed over to every MLA when they leave office. Later they did away with a $2,500 per year technology fund MLAs used to buy things like computers and TVs.
MAKING A GOOD FIRST IMPRESSION: Most of the bills passed this fall were underway when the previous government fell, but there were some notable exceptions.
The NDP followed through on their promise to remove the HST from home heating electricity in order to “make it more affordable to Nova Scotian families.” This and other NDP promises did add $34 million to the deficit — but after $500 million, who’s counting?
Another bill banned political donations from unions and corporations. It also happened to ban the Liberals from using a $2.3-million fund long accused of having corrupt origins. The Liberals got a small bit of revenge when they snuck the bill through approval before the NDP had a chance to beat them up over it.
DON’T PANIC: Two “emergency debates” were called this fall — one by the Tories on a looming NSCC strike and one by the Liberals on H1N1 immunization.
The problem is there’s not much for MLAs to do other than rehash what they’d already talked about. By the end of this week’s two-hour H1N1 emergency debate only 13 of 52 MLAS were still present.
STILL HAS THAT FRESH GOVERNMENT SMELL: From fixing the economy to keeping rural ERs open, NDP election promises gave them a lengthy to-do list.
When opposition parties didn’t see much changing, they scolded the government for making promises and then failing to act. The NDP’s catch-all response was they had only been in power a few months and these things would take time.
They used first steps like jumpstarting a review of the province’s health system to further deflect criticism. The government may look back on this session as the good old days as early as next year, when they come face-to-face with their promise to balance the budget in a time of recession.