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.