Three days after Rodney MacDonald wrote-off the Liberal party in the
race for the June 9 provincial vote, the Conservative premier appeared
to change his mind Friday when he made a point of disparaging the third
party's pledge to cut taxes.


On Day 4 of the campaign, MacDonald re-announced his plan to cut taxes
for small businesses, but not before he slammed the Liberal proposal as
too expensive.

"They can't pay for their commitment," MacDonald told a news
conference at a bakery in suburban Bedford. "The funding, the dollars
are not there. They would drive the government into the red, into a
deficit."

On Tuesday, the day after MacDonald's minority government was
defeated in the legislature, the premier was quick to describe the
looming 35-day election campaign as a "two-horse race" between the
Tories and the NDP, led by Darrell Dexter.

 

The premier's subsequent rebuke of the Liberal tax cut was
received like a gift by party leader Stephen McNeil, who was
campaigning in Dartmouth.


"The premier was the only Nova Scotian who actually believed we were not in this race," he told a news conference.

"I believe what he has been told as he travels this province is
that Nova Scotians are turning to the Liberal party, looking to us to
provide some sanity in this otherwise chaotic political environment."


This is the first provincial election campaign for McNeil as party leader.

The Conservatives have been governing the province since 1999,
when then-leader John Hamm stunned the province by leading his
third-place party to a majority win - a historical footnote that is not
lost on McNeil.

MacDonald's tax cut plan would see the province's small
business tax reduced from five per cent to 2.5 per cent, a measure that
would help 12,000 companies.


"That's money that will help them remain competitive, hire employees and lower prices," MacDonald said.

But his critics have said the Tory pledge would do little for
businesses now because the reduction would be phased in over three
years, starting in 2011. The total cost would be about $30 million
annually, once it was fully implemented, he said.

McNeil's plan calls for reducing the tax to once per cent
immediately. He has said the tax cut would also cost about $30 million
in foregone taxes. But McNeil said the province's coffers could be
replenished from the province's Industrial Expansion Fund, which is
controlled by the cabinet.


"The money is there," he said.

Earlier, MacDonald faced some tough questions when Statistics
Canada released figures showing Nova Scotia lost more than 4,000 jobs
in April, while Canada as a whole gained a surprising 36,000 positions.

MacDonald said he had a plan to stimulate the economy and
create up to 20,000 jobs, but that proposal was thwarted by the
opposition parties when they defeated his government and forced an
election.


"They made the decision to stop that plan," he said. "As a result, Nova Scotians are the ones who end up suffering."

But McNeil and Dexter were quick to argue that it was the
premier who decided to delay the introduction of a budget, making the
province the last in Canada to deliver a fiscal plan.

"He needs to stop blaming others and accept responsibility for
the decisions he's made," Dexter said in an interview after an
afternoon of campaigning in the Halifax-Dartmouth area.

Both opposition parties say there was nothing preventing the
government from getting infrastructure projects underway earlier in the
spring.

"The reason we're in this election campaign is that the premier
was in denial about the economic downturn in our province," McNeil
said. "The premier kept saying, 'Wait, don't worry, no problems."'

McNeil's comments came after a news conference at a renewable
energy company, where he spoke about his plan to persuade Newfoundland
to build a so-called energy corridor that would link Nova Scotia with
the proposed Lower Churchill hydroelectric project in Labrador.

It's an idea McNeil has floated before. He offered a few more
details Friday, but declined to speculate about the cost, saying only
that the private sector would pay for most of the multibillion-dollar
underwater transmission line to Sydney, N.S.

"This is our modern-day railroad," he said, noting that the
transmission line would be extended to New Brunswick, enabling Nova
Scotia to send large amounts of electricity to the North American
market.

"From British Columbia into Quebec, they have the ability to
move energy. But in Atlantic Canada, we're isolated ... We need to come
together to build this infrastructure."