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Diverse voices make NDP economic panel richer

So, Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil has his knickers in a righteous knotbecause Darrell Dexter’s new 19-member economic advisory councilincludes a few of the premier’s union “buddies.”

So, Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil has his knickers in a righteous knot because Darrell Dexter’s new 19-member economic advisory council includes a few of the premier’s union “buddies.”

I’m delighted this new volunteer group — set up to “provide advice to government on strategies and actions to grow the economy and act as a sounding board on government initiatives for labour force development and fiscal management as directed by the premier” — includes such an eclectic mix of advice-givers.

True, the advisory council does include more worker representation than your average Tory- or Liberal-appointed group. What’s wrong with that? There are also plenty of articulate voices of business, including organizations (Halifax Chamber of Commerce), entrepreneurs (Joe Shannon, Jim Spatz, Michael Donovan) and corporate bosses (Robert Patzelt of Scotia Investments Ltd.).

More significantly, this advisory board cuts a wide swath through Nova Scotia. There are representatives from universities, community colleges, tourism, environmentalists, volunteers, women’s advocacy and even some young Halifax-based residents “who are inspired to make their city a better place to live, work and play.”

This is exactly the kind of group that should be sitting around a table together debating government economic initiatives and arguing over the future. Even better — faint hope — if they held their discussions in public.

As for McNeil’s specific complaints — that Dexter shouldn’t have appointed Building Trades Council president Cordell Cole because he was involved in last year’s election campaign fundraising scheme that turned out to be against the law, and should have disqualified two other union reps because they made “bullying” comments about small business — let’s take them one at a time.

Cole, like most appointees, is there because he represents an important economic interest group, in this case 14 unions and 12,000 skilled building tradespeople. They need to be at this table.

And public workers’ union reps fired broadsides at business groups that are advocating deep cuts in the number of government employees ... uh, Stephen, what do you expect? On the flip side, we have the Chamber of Commerce — another group now represented in the advisory council — that attacked the government for raising the HST.

That’s just the way it all works.

While the Liberals — and the media — have their knickers knotted over this faux flap, a more important issue gets little attention. The NDP continues to refuse to provide the legislature’s all-party human resources committee with useful, vettable information on applicants for the province’s more than 130 agencies, boards and commission. Now there’s a Heather Foley Melvin scandal waiting to happen ...

– Stephen Kimber, the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of Kings College, is the author of eight books.

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