Saturday, May 13, 2017

Going Personal On Social Media

Another election. Another candidate falls victim to something they posted on social media years ago. We are unlikely to see another candidate go down in this election for the same reason. I am sure those candidates who did not sanitize their Twitter and Facebook feeds before, certainly have now. But this should be a warning to anyone, of any age, on social media, no matter whether you are getting into politics or not. Social media lives on forever and it matters what you post.

When I first entered elected politics in 2004 as a municipal councillor, Facebook and Twitter really didn’t exist in any meaningful way. When I joined social media, I was admonished to keep personal stuff off the internet. It wasn’t secure. It’s been drilled into my head so often that things like marital status and connections to relatives have languished in the “only me” setting until only recently when I made the decision to leave politics. 

Over time I did start talking about my wife and son, but soon, as a provincial cabinet minister, threats against my family resulted in the RCMP advising I remove anything remotely personal. The nature of some of the threats was directly from what I had previously posted about them on Facebook and Twitter. So I sanitized my Facebook account down to an almost dreary account of my political life. Of course, doing that lead to its own set of issues with people who only have personal Facebook and Twitter accounts wondering why you aren’t posting about certain events in your life. But such is the impossible balance of social media.

It’s only since I have chosen to leave elected politics that, for the first time in my life, I feel I can say what I want about my own life outside work without having to worry (or more accurately, care) what others think. My Facebook page is suddenly my own. For the first time since I’ve had one.

I am still, however, mindful that social media is not private. Whatever you post lasts forever in cyber dust, and whether you are in politics or not, what you post can impact your life. The fact is, what happened to Liberal Matt McKnight with old tweets coming back to haunt him could happen to anyone applying for a job. Potential employers sometimes check Twitter feeds and any social media information that is public checking for that drunken photo. And let’s not forget about Dalhousie’s own dentistry scandal in what members believed was a private group.

I feel liberated having what really is now my own Facebook account. I can use Facebook the way so many others do. To talk to friends and family, and share parts of my life I felt I never could before. Yeah it’s liberating, but it’s going to be hard to kick those nagging warnings that have been drilled into me for the past 13 years.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Campaign Promises Disguised As Government Announcements

With all signs pointing towards an election call on April 29th for a likely vote on May 30th, many of those splashy announcements being made by government are really little more than campaign promises stage managed by the full force of Communications Nova Scotia staff and paid for by your tax dollars

Whether the announcements have merit is of little importance. Most are little more than promises that will only occur if the Liberals are elected to a majority and introduce the same budget after the election which they plan to table on April 27th. Neither of those is guaranteed

The legislature will resume on April 25th, two days later the budget will be introduced. Most Nova Scotians already understand it will be an election budget. The farewell party for the outgoing Lieutenant Governor has been scheduled for Friday at the legislature at 2:00pm (his departure is not related to the election but you can’t really have the - private - farewell celebration with MLAs during an election).

The provincial budget requires no more or less than 40 hours of debate (80 actually as two rooms run concurrently). The maximum hours that can be spent on the budget are four a day, excluding opposition day (Wednesday). So it takes 10 days after the analysis of the budget begins before a vote can happen. 

Premier McNeil famously once said Nova Scotians should not go to the polls without the Auditor General doing an audit of the books. That was as impractical when he blurted it out as it is now, but if (as expected) an election is called before the elected members of the legislature can scrutinize the budget proposed by government, then the budget will be worth little more than the paper it will be written on. It will remain untested by the legislature, and as an un-passed budget, any of the announcements being made now (such as the changes to the small business tax) are nothing more than campaign promises.

Of course, the budget not being passed has impacts. Departments are limited in what they can spend the programs they can launch. Many organizations which rely on funding outside core departmental budgets are already waiting on funding commitments due to the late introduction of the budget. An April 29th election call means no budget until sometime in summer. For some organizations who have been told to wait and see what departmental budgets will be before hearing about funding, it may simply be too late for work this year.

Then there is legislation. Justice Minister Diana Whalen has said she wants to see the Accessibility Bill passed, and yet, unless rushed through Committee of the Whole House and third reading, it would not see meaningful debate and public examination of the changes government brings forth. No doubt government will bully opposition parties into pushing it through, but what about those citizens who would like to reach out to MLAs and comment on the newly revised act before it is passed? 

Municipal Affairs Minister Zach Churchill has promised municipal expense legislation. With an election call this will die, along with other bills, and it will become impossible to implement it this year even if it is passed in a shortened summer budget session.

If government is hell bent on calling an election (as it seems they obviously are as they are ignoring the minority riding issue) the respectful thing to Nova Scotians would be to ensure the budget is scrutinized by the legislature before dropping the writ. There is time to finish the budget debate and hold an election before July. Frankly, if the government doesn’t want their budget scrutinized we may as well assume there is something they want to remain hidden among it’s pages until after an election.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Yes Premier, There IS Time to Fix the Electoral Boundaries

The Fédération acadienne de la Nouvelle-Écosse (FANE), announced yesterday that despite lobbying by the provincial Liberals to support holding an election prior to fixing electoral boundaries, they believe the boundaries should be fixed before an election is held. They join others in being committed to legal action against the province if an election is called on the current boundaries. 

I recently wrote about why this issue is important to all Nova Scotians (you can read that here).

The Premier is quoted as saying there is not enough time to fix the electoral boundaries before an election. This is false. 

There are many options, but here is an example of how it could be done following the usual process.

  • During he first week of the coming spring session an all party committee could be struck to create the guidelines for a boundary commission. This committee’s recommendations could automatically become the rules for the process if all parties agree on the committee’s report. If there is dissent (or if there is a legal need for a vote), the legislature could return in June for a one or two day session in June to establish a commission by vote.
  • In the 2017 fall session of the legislature, the report of the Commission, with the new boundaries could be adopted. Their report would be passed onto Elections Nova Scotia who would create the new riding boundaries. Parties would, as they previously did, reconstitute their riding associations.
  • Based on historical precedent, Elections Nova Scotia and new ridings would be ready for the government to hold an election sometime after March (assuming the legislature votes on boundaries by October or November, but there is no reason the fall session cannot be earlier).

There are lots of possible variations to how the process can unfold. This example is simply to show that time is not an issue as the Premier would like people to believe.

There are other options which significantly shorten the process, and some which could make it longer. The point is, there is not only time, there is in fact plenty of time, to hold a boundary review process in accordance with law and address the recent court decision. 

There is not even a need to shortcut the process by starting with the first interim report of the last commission though that is an option as a starting point for public discussions. Such a starting point could significantly shorten the boundary process.

Legally, McNeil’s government has to hold an election by Christmas Day 2018 (one other interpretation suggests an election could wait until June 25th 2018 due to a quirk in the wording of the law, but I am not sure if this is a correct interpretation). It may be inconvenient for the Premier to have to put aside his current ambitions to have an election sooner, but it's the right thing to do, and there is a good probability a court will agree if he forces a legal challenge to an election call.