Budget 2.0 – What about the economy?

On Tuesday, Deputy Premier and Finance and Treasury Board Minister Karen Casey presented the second version of the Stephen McNeil government’s 2017-2018 budget.

https://novascotia.ca/budget/

To the government’s credit, they generally stayed constant to the fiscal plan they presented in late April – a plan which earned a vote of confidence from enough Nova Scotians in the spring election to form a second consecutive majority government.

While there are many problems with how the government has achieved this goal, we should all put our political beliefs aside and acknowledge that running government in the black is a goal all parties should strive for.

I worked with John Hamm and his chief of staff Jamie Baillie when Nova Scotia started balancing seven straight balanced budgets. Contrary to what some say, fiscal responsibility doesn’t have to come at the expense of social progress. The governments of John Hamm and his successor Rodney MacDonald ran surpluses for seven straight years. These PC governments brought down Nova Scotia’s debt-to-GDP ratio from around 47 per cent in 2000 to around 34 per cent in 2009.

Progressive Conservatives during this period of time also modernized Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC). They invested in infrastructure like the construction of Citadel High School and signed the deal with the previous federal Conservative government that resulted in the construction of the new Halifax Central Library.

Progressive Conservatives reduced university tuition for Nova Scotia students (the last time tuition fees went down in this province was under a PC government, contrasted with the tuition hikes delivered by the NDP and the Liberals since 2009).

Progressive Conservatives created the Nova Scotia School for Adult Learning in 2001, providing thousands of adult Nova Scotians with their high school diploma.

My family and I benefitted first hand from the Healthy Beginnings program launched under the Hamm government in 2002 (with funds courtesy of the Chrétien Liberal early childhood development initiatives of the day). Following the birth of our premature baby boy in 2011, my wife and I were scared and tired. We felt we weren’t ready as we brought a little baby home from the neonatal intensive care unit of the IWK. When the Healthy Beginnings public health nurse called us and came to visit us on the first day after our son came home, we were so relieved to have that professional support.

Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t find the right balance between
fiscal responsibility and social progress.

But a key ingredient to achieving both is economic growth.

Economic growth and the creation of new, good, well paying jobs help give governments the revenues they need to invest in programs for all of us that the private or not-for-profit sectors aren’t equipped to deliver.

The lack of a strong, growing economy is the biggest problem we must fix together as a province over the next 20 years.

Unfortunately, more than three years after the release of the Ivany Report, Now or Never, we see from the Budget 2017-2018 documents that most of the major economic trends aren’t good and aren’t moving in the right direction.

You won’t find any sense of urgency in this budget to delivering a climate for greater growth and job creation in Nova Scotia.

Yes, the government will point to our growth in population, immigration and household incomes as good news. And they are. But here’s what the government isn’t talking about.

Go to page 65 of the Budget Assumptions document, which describes the economic outlook for 2017 and 2018. Here’s a sneak peak of what you will see.

The last time Nova Scotia’s economic growth outperformed Canada’s on a multi-year basis was from 2007 to 2010. We have been lagging behind the rest of the country and are forecast to continue to do so.

Deaths continue to outnumber births in Nova Scotia. Current demographic forecasts in this budget predict that within the next 10 years, those aged 65 and over will be the second highest population group in the province.

How can we be sustainable as a province for our children and our grandchildren with fewer and fewer young people (those aged under 40) coming into our population?

The government is expecting our economic growth to drop by more than half, to just 0.5 per cent GDP growth in 2018. With Halifax taken out, this essentially means that the rest of the province continues to be in what’s defined as a recession, if not an outright depression.

Other conclusions from the McNeil government’s own budget documents:

• Nova Scotia’s labour force has dropped for the fourth straight year;
• Since the McNeil government took office in 2013, 4,000 fewer Nova Scotians are working today than four years ago;
• Nova Scotia businesses have been losing money for the past five years and are only now expected to return to profitability (although I wonder what impact the Trudeau government’s proposed small business tax changes will have on this).

I understand why there is so much focus on health care in debating this budget. It certainly was the issue voters raised most frequently with me.

But if we don’t find ways to accelerate growth, economic activity and job creation in this province, how do we expect to pay for the health care that we need? Even more importantly, how do we pass along a better province to future generations without a growing Nova Scotia?

Good news & bad news for post-secondary education

For many of us, summer practically wrapped up on Labour Day weekend. The fall season may not be here in fact, but it certainly is here in feeling.

With September now here, parents, children, teenagers, young adults, mature students, teachers and staff turn their minds to the start of the school year. Some parents are nervously seeing their children start school for the first time. Other parents are getting used to their children growing up to make the transition to university or community college for the first time. Other young adults (and some older ones too) are making their way to complete their first undergraduate degree or study within a professional, graduate or doctoral program.

Every step of the way, our educators and other staff – be they in public schools, independent schools, universities, community college or training institutes – are there to help and support our learners, from their early years to their grown up years.

In Halifax Citadel-Sable Island, we see this change every September perhaps more so than any other constituency in the province. If Nova Scotia is Canada’s education province, then by sheer number of educational institutions at all levels, Halifax Citadel-Sable Island is arguably Nova Scotia’s education constituency.

When it comes to post-secondary education, let’s start with some good news.

Labour and Advanced Education Minister Labi Kousoulis announced Tuesday that the government will be fulfilling its election commitment to cover the cost of tuition for apprentices returning to the classroom for their technical training this fall. https://novascotia.ca/news/release/?id=20170905001

This $1.3 million investment will help the province’s apprentices save approximately $900 as they work hard to complete training that is mandatory to be certified to work in their field.

Those of us involved in partisan politics have a responsibility to give credit where it’s due when other parties advance good ideas. Wouldn’t this be great if this became the norm in politics, instead of a rare exception?

Unfortunately, not all the news was good this week in post-secondary education.

Tuition rates continue to go up and up and up for Nova Scotia university students.

Nova Scotia’s students head back to school paying fastest rising tuition fees in Canada

Why is this the case?

It comes down to having successive provincial governments – first NDP, now Liberal – that since 2010 have not sufficiently connected provincial funding to making a university education more affordable for students.

http://thechronicleherald.ca/novascotia/147386-province-to-cut-university-funding-by-another-3-per-cent

http://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/ndp-government-announces-yet-another-funding-cut-to-universities-510927941.html

http://thechronicleherald.ca/opinion/1191185-post-secondary-sector-starved-despite-public-support

The last two governments took different approaches – the NDP brought in the deepest funding cuts to universities in the last two decades, while allowing tuition fees to increase up to a certain level. The Liberals started to reinvest at a modest level for universities since 2013, but gave the institutions carte blanche to raise tuition without any cap (otherwise known as the market adjustment).

The bottom line for students is that neither approach helped them deal with the ever increasing up front costs to get that first university degree.

In this year’s election, the PC Party committed to bring back multi-year funding agreements with our universities that, through funding and accountability mechanisms, would bring tuition fees for Nova Scotia university undergraduate students down to the national average. Obviously, the party doesn’t have a mandate to implement this commitment in government, but to those who voted Progressive Conservative, should the party not continue to champion this policy if we feel it’s a good one for students?

PC Leader Jamie Baillie was a key person in Premier John Hamm’s office who helped quarterback stable long-term provincial funding agreements with our universities to, in part, make costs more affordable for students.

https://novascotia.ca/news/release/?id=20041207002

This approach ultimately led to John Hamm’s successor Rodney MacDonald delivering a tuition freeze, along with other pro-student measures when the PC Party was last in government.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/nova-scotia-freezes-university-tuition-1.726114

You’ll see from the article that the policy was criticized at the time. Perhaps there was some validity to those criticisms.

But at least we had a provincial government that was prepared to use the power of the public purse to make the up front costs of tuition more affordable to students.

Rather than dismiss the concerns of university students, I hope Premier Stephen McNeil and Labour and Advanced Education Minister Labi Kousoulis will take their cry for help to heart and come forward with a better approach to put an end to Nova Scotia having the dubious distinction of charging among the highest tuition fees in Canada.

We can invest in our universities and our students, while maintaining balanced budgets.

It’s been done before. We can do it again.

Not a pretty picture on full-time work in Nova Scotia

Sorry to be such a downer heading into the long weekend.  But I did promise earlier in the week that I would get back to public policy for the blog.

This morning, Statistics Canada released its Labour Force Survey.  Most of the media attention so far is focused on positive national news.  I wish that news could be shared in  Nova Scotia.

In July 2017, 450,200 Nova Scotians were employed. That’s a drop of 3,600 from the 453,800 Nova Scotians who had jobs in July 2013.

Of the above numbers, 364,500 Nova Scotians had full-time jobs. That’s a drop of 2,500 from the 367,000 Nova Scotians who had full-time jobs in July 2013.

When we factor in how things have been over the last eight years, the picture on full-time work gets worse. In July 2009, 371,400 Nova Scotians had full-time employment.

This means that over the last eight years, 6,900 fewer Nova Scotians had a full-time job.

Check the numbers out for yourself at www.statcan.gc.ca.

Some have suggested this isn’t a bad thing and is simply the result of an economy that’s more focused on part-time, contract and flexible work opportunities.

I would like to see the evidence to support that view.  I believe that full-time employment helps provide income stability for individuals and households.   More people working full-time should also expand our tax base, helping provide governments with the revenues they need to invest in programs and services that help us a society.

What should we be doing to help create a better climate for full-time employment in this province? I have some ideas, which I will expand on in future. I would love to hear yours.

Lots of things to see and do in Halifax & Nova Scotia

As we move from July to August, there are plenty of negative things to focus on in our city, our province, our country and our world. While these things should always provoke a discussion and in some cases, inspire us to take action, it’s sometimes important from time to time to recognize and celebrate what we have.

After my last blog post, I took some vacation time with my family – my first break since the spring election campaign. We went camping (as opposed to campaigning!) along Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore. What an experience to be able to camp under the stars near the Atlantic Ocean https://www.murphyscamping.ca, take a boat cruise in and around the 100 Wild Islands http://www.100wildislands.ca, spend an afternoon at the hidden gem that is Taylor’s Head Provincial Park beach http://www.novascotia.com/see-do/outdoor-activities/taylor-head-provincial-park/1863, dine and sample some local craft beer at the historic Henley House in Sheet Harbour https://www.facebook.com/TheHenleyHouse/and enjoy some hands on historical fun at Sherbrooke Village https://sherbrookevillage.novascotia.ca. It’s fun to be a tourist in your own province and feels good to support local businesses or visit some of our provincial parks and museums.

Of course, all vacations come to an end. Before going back to work, I joined with more than 50 PC Party friends and supporters to march in Halifax’s 30th Annual Pride Parade with PC Leader Jamie Baillie, MLAs Barb Adams, Tim Halman, Brad Johns and other candidates from the last election. Although I have marched in the Pride Parade in previous years (as chair of Neptune Theatre), this was my first time to be with my political party of choice in one of Canada’s largest Pride parades. Not only am I grateful for those in the LGBTQ+ community who supported my recent campaign in Halifax Citadel-Sable Island, even more importantly, I am thankful for the many positive contributions those in the community make each and every day for Halifax, Nova Scotia and Canada. There’s much more we can to do to promote equality, respect our differences and stop discrimination in our society. We nonetheless have made some progress in our city over the last 30 years of Pride.

It was great to welcome Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio (Second from left) to her first Halifax Pride Parade. Pictured here with us are Dartmouth North PC candidate of record Melanie Russell (second from right) and one of my campaign team members David Henderson (right)

The conclusion of Pride week also coincided with the return of the Tall Ships to the Halifax waterfront. I know there are issues downtown with parking, construction and transit. I hope the decision-makers listen to the concerns people bring forward and make improvements for the weeks, months and years ahead. But what an amazing four days it has been welcoming these amazing ships from here at home and around the world. I’m sure we will all remember Sunday’s fireworks (whether we saw them or like me, heard them at home!).

Monday morning, the talented staff at Halifax Convention Centre hosted Picnic at the Parade – a free public breakfast to mark the Tall Ships. Since the Grand Parade is literally across the street from my office (but 15 floors down), it was something to which I couldn’t say no! I can’t wait to welcome other visitors to Nova Scotia in 2018 at our new Halifax Convention Centre (when some of that construction will be done).

Today at 12 noon Tall Ships 2017 will be wrapping up with the Parade of Sail. Where will you be watching the departure of these amazing vessels? I’ll be checking them out with some of my co-workers from our office with the great view of Halifax Harbour.

I promise I’ll get back to some serious policy oriented blog posts.

Then again, the Buskers Festival starts tomorrow. Aren’t we lucky to live here?

Why international students matter


One of the real eye openers for me when I ran in the spring election was how many international students live in Halifax Citadel-Sable Island.

I’m not sure if that makes us the most international constituency in the province or the most multicultural (unfortunately the Nova Scotia Department of Finance and Treasury Board used to make this data available through its Community Counts program that was cancelled in 2015 http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/nova-scotia-s-community-counts-website-axed-in-budget-1.3036721), but it certainly felt that way many days knocking on doors.

An organization I was involved in before and after the election is the EduNova board of directors. EduNova is a co-operative that promotes Nova Scotia as an international education destination. Among EduNova’s members are the province’s universities, the Nova Scotia Community College, a number of independent schools and some great language schools – some of which, like the East Coast School of Languages (http://www.ecslcanada.com), call Halifax Citadel-Sable Island home.

Here are some interesting figures from 2016-2017 about the positive benefits we achieve from welcoming international students to Nova Scotia – courtesy of a study by Corporate Research Associates that was commissioned by EduNova:

• 10,941 international students attended P-12, language school, NSCC or a university in Nova Scotia;
• these students attending school in Nova Scotia came from 153 different countries;
• for every dollar spent by the Nova Scotia government on international students (eg.: campus support), international students themselves spent $3.40 (I would love to have that return in my business!);
• each international student spends an average of $28,985 annually in Nova Scotia; and
• 70% of language school students in Nova Scotia move on to post-secondary institutions in Nova Scotia – the highest percentage of any province in Canada

Attracting international students on the front end helps make a positive difference for our community and our province. Keeping them beyond their studies and encouraging them to choose Nova Scotia and Canada is another subject I’ll talk about in a future post. It came up Monday, July 10, at an Atlantic Leaders Summit organized by the Association of Atlantic Universities that I attended which focused on the international student experience.

On Friday, July 7, I went to a World Student Day 2017 event at Inglis Street Elementary School, joining hundreds of language students, their instructors and community members. Immigration Minister Lena Metlege Diab represented the Nova Scotia government and Halifax MP Andy Fillmore sent a message through to the organizers. Halifax was one of 12 communities across Canada to host a World Student Day event.

It was great to meet so many people from around the world who are coming to Nova Scotia to change their lives for the better. In turn, they are helping improve our province.

I even got my name written in Mandarin, Korean and Japanese!

Let’s listen and work together to improve health care

This morning, I attended the annual meeting of the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

Having worked as a communications consultant to many health care professionals and organizations over the past 12 years, I have always paid close attention to health care delivery in our community and our province. That experience gave me a useful perspective when I met with voters in Halifax Citadel-Sable Island during the recent election campaign, including countless doctors, nurses and other health care professionals.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) is only two years old and it has borne much of the criticism about the performance of our health care system in recent years. From time to time, I found this criticism to be somewhat unfair as the NSHA was created by Stephen McNeil’s government and ultimately we must hold our elected governments accountable for the decisions made by public bodies. You can judge for yourself by reading the 2016-2017 annual report issued by the NSHA at www.nshealth.ca

I was encouraged to hear volunteer board chair Steve Parker, a former business partner of mine, speak with passion about the need to listen and heed the calls from those who are seeking change. There is progress being made in improving health care, but we can’t ignore the fact that many Nova Scotians, and many health care professionals, believe our system is in crisis. They must be listened to and brought to the table to be part of the solution.

It was also great to see two health care professionals who are now MLAs ask clear questions of the NSHA, reflecting the reality they see in their respective communities. New Progressive Conservative Health critic Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, a registered nurse and small businessperson who is the MLA for Cumberland North, asked about the lack of a physician at the collaborative care centre in Pugwash in her small town and rural constituency. Meanwhile, physiotherapist turned PC MLA Barb Adams asked about the lack of any doctors in her growing, suburban constituency of Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage. She also asked about the difference between the NSHA’s data showing a significant drop in home care wait times and her own experience that indicates these waits persist.

This is the benefit of having new MLAs elected to speak out, ask the questions that need to be asked and hold those in positions of authority accountable.

Politics aside, we need our health care system to change for the better. And we need those on the front lines who know the system inside and out to have a much stronger voice in how decisions are made. As Michael Decter, a former Deputy Minister of Health and Chair of Patients Canada (www.patientscanada.ca) noted in a speech to the Halifax Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, we can either engage doctors and other health care professionals at the beginning of the process or we will end up hearing from them – and many others – in much larger gatherings as they express their dissatisfaction.

Let’s work together to get it right!

Thank You Cameron!

Earlier today, I went on a tour of the new Halifax Convention Centre. Scheduled to open at the end of this year, it will be hosting, not one, but two national political conventions in 2018. In my volunteer role as Nova Scotia’s representative on the National Council of the Conservative Party of Canada, I also serve as vice-chair of the 2018 convention committee.

August 23, 24 and 25, 2018, will mark the first time in Canadian history that Canada’s Conservatives will be holding their national convention in Halifax. Having attended every national Conservative convention since 1993, I have been privileged to see what a major positive impact these conventions have on cities like Ottawa/Gatineau (three times), Winnipeg (twice), Toronto (twice), Quebec City, Edmonton, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver. Make no mistake – dollars spent by convention goers in a local economy are dollars that would otherwise be spent in another city.

I can’t wait to showcase my city and my province to more than 3,000 fellow Conservatives and their families from across Canada (I’m sure my NDP friends felt the same time when the federal NDP came to Halifax and 2009 and my Liberal friends will feel likewise when the Liberal Party of Canada comes in the spring of 2018 for their national convention).

This was my third visit to the new convention centre site since the spring of 2016 and it’s great to see the building so close to completion. Halifax Convention Centre CEO Carrie Cussons and her team did their usual stellar job giving new Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and I a tour of the different sections of the new centre.

Joining us on the tour was perhaps the person most responsible for Canada’s Conservatives choosing Halifax for their 2018 national convention – my good friend Cameron MacKeen. Before I was elected to National Council last year, Cameron served in the role from 2009 through 2016, finishing his tenure as Vice President of the Conservative Party of Canada. From 2011 onwards, Cameron was a tireless champion of promoting Halifax as a destination for the party’s national convention. By 2013, I started to hear more and more from leading Conservatives across Canada: “we promised Cameron the next convention is coming to Halifax”.

In July 2016, I was proud to join my colleagues on National Council to ratify Halifax as the host city of the 2018 national convention, which was subsequently announced by Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose at the National Caucus meeting held in Halifax in September 2016. But it was Cameron MacKeen who laid the groundwork of ensuring there was support across Canada to make this happen.

Although he’s a former journalist who now practices law for a living, Cameron is not one who seeks the limelight. But I want to take this opportunity to say so publicly: Thank You Cameron for helping make political history by leading the charge for the National Convention of the Conservative Party of Canada to come to Halifax in 2018.

(Left to right) Cameron MacKeen, former VP & National Councillor, Conservative Party of Canada; Carrie Cussons, CEO, Halifax Convention Centre; Andrew Scheer, Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada; Rob Batherson, National Councillor, Conservative Party of Canada

Happy Canada Day! A good case for an Indigenous Governor General

I first met Roberta Jamieson in 2011 when I represented the Mount Saint Vincent University Board of Governors at a conference in Saskatoon. A distinguished lawyer, First Nations activist and Order of Canada member, Roberta was someone I had to seek out as the Mount’s representative, as she is someone who also holds an honorary doctorate from the Mount.

Our conversation was warm, but Roberta was very direct to me in our first (and to date only) conversation. The Mount needed to do a better job for our Indigenous peoples. I brought this advice back to the Mount’s board chair and our (then) new president Ramona Lumpkin. Thankfully, Ramona already had plans to take action on this matter and under her leadership, the Mount’s Aboriginal Student Centre (ASC) opened in 2013. The ASC was created to support students in an educational and culturally engaging space on the Mount campus.

Bottom line: when Roberta Jamieson offers up advice on putting reconciliation with our Indigenous peoples into action, we should listen up.

This article from John Ivison in the National Post suggests that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already made up his mind on who to recommend to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as Canada’s next Governor General. That recommendation apparently will not be an Indigenous person.

John Ivison: Indigenous candidates likely to be overlooked in choice of next governor-general

I hope Justin Trudeau proves John Ivison wrong – especially in light of the highly qualified Indigenous candidates listed in his column. The legal basis of our relationship with Canada’s Indigenous peoples involves Canada’s Crown and treaties signed in the name of our Monarch at the time. I think it would be a wonderful step forward for an Indigenous person to be named Canada’s next Governor-General.

On domestic violence, staying silent is not an option

Since The Coast published an article by Maggie Rahr in which Michelle Coffin told her story of being the victim of domestic violence, the aftermath of that experience and her election campaign encounter with Halifax Citadel-Sable Island MLA Labi Kousoulis https://www.thecoast.ca/halifax/michelle-coffin-is-reclaiming-her-story/Content?oid=7685707, a number of people have asked me for my thoughts.

Michelle Coffin has the right to tell her story about surviving domestic assault on her terms and in her way. I respect her courage in doing so and applaud Maggie Rahr and the Coast for giving Michelle a platform, not only to tell her story, but to suggest practical ways to support victims. Global’s Marieke Walsh, to her credit, also pursued many of the important questions Ms. Coffin raised in telling her story.

Because I ran in the recent election against Mr. Kousoulis, I felt the appropriate approach was to not offer any public comment, at least until Premier Stephen McNeil and Mr. Kousoulis provided their response. If you haven’t read The Coast article, Ms. Coffin stated Mr. Kousoulis told her that her attacker – Premier McNeil’s former communications director – had been rehired after the Premier consulted with organizations that worked in the field of domestic violence.

I had sincerely hoped we would learn more from Mr. McNeil and Mr. Kousoulis that would reassure citizens that they had acted appropriately and reasonably.

Mr. Kousoulis’s refusal to answer media questions at Province House https://twitter.com/larochecbc/status/875704551478890498
and Premier McNeil’s statements Thursday http://globalnews.ca/news/3548828/stephen-mcneil-stands-by-partys-handling-of-domestic-assault-against-former-staffer/
should compel constituents in Halifax Citadel-Sable Island and all Nova Scotians to speak out, be heard and demand answers.

Violence against women is unacceptable. It should be condemned in all its forms. We need strong policies in place to protect those who have been subjected to this horrible crime.

But we also need our leaders to lead by example, not in only public policy, but in how they manage their own offices and account for their decisions.

Having worked with elected officials at all levels, from all parties, I have always believed our elected officials have a responsibility to be accountable to the people for whom they are elected to serve, not just at election time, but all the time.
And working in support of our elected officials is a privilege – it is not just any other job. Someone convicted of domestic assault should certainly have an opportunity for rehabilitation, but not in such a sensitive role as working for our elected officials.

Ms. Coffin’s attacker should never have been hired to work for the Liberal Caucus after his conviction for domestic assault. Full stop. This was bad judgment by Premier Stephen McNeil as Leader of the Liberal Caucus. His comments to Global about this being a Liberal Party matter that should be addressed by the party president don’t make any sense. As a former president of a provincial political party, I know that such a volunteer leadership role provides no role in the hiring of caucus staff, who are paid out of taxpayer funds to work for MLAs.

The bad judgment in re-hiring Mr. Coffin’s attacker at taxpayer expense was compounded when he was given a senior role in the Liberal campaign in the last election.

In telling her story, Ms. Coffin stated that Mr. Kousoulis told her that Mr. McNeil consulted with organizations that support women who have been victims of violence before the decision was made to rehire her attacker in the Liberal Caucus.

As elected officials, Premier McNeil and Mr. Kousoulis owe Nova Scotians a clear explanation in response to Ms. Coffin’s account.

Violence against women is too important an issue for our elected officials to be anything but completely open and transparent.

I also have listened to women who say very clearly the onus to speak out about domestic violence seems to continually be on them. They have pointed to example after example, with Ms. Coffin’s story being the latest one, of how many barriers stand in the way of victims of sexual and domestic violence coming forward to seek justice. Much of the discussion following the article talked about the need to dismantle the “old boys club” – I don’t dispute this, and people who are in a position of authority and influence should do their part to bring down these barriers.

Of course, I recognize that some will seize upon this submission as “playing politics” or an unsuccessful candidate’s “sour grapes”. I hope people will see that I attempted to participate in this discussion in a responsible and respectful manner – especially to Michelle Coffin, someone I have known for the better part of the last two decades.

However people perceive my comments, what I wasn’t prepared to accept was a feeling that I stayed quiet when it was time to stand up for what is right.

More importantly, I hope other citizens – particularly those who won’t have cause to be dismissed like me as trying to inject partisanship into this important issue – take up the charge and ask for answers from Mr. McNeil and Mr. Kousoulis.

When it comes to domestic violence, staying silent is not an option.

Why must we wait for a new budget?

Last week, Premier Stephen McNeil named a new cabinet, our 51 MLAs elected on May 30 were sworn in and the legislature briefly met to elect a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker.

This is an exciting period for all concerned – especially for those who are elected for the first time. It’s great to see a record number of women elected to the legislature and a record number of women elected to the Progressive Conservative Caucus.

It’s also encouraging to see Progressive Conservatives elected from the Halifax Regional Municipality for the first time since 2006. Of note is that Tim Halman’s win in Dartmouth East marks the first time a Progressive Conservative represented Dartmouth East since Richard Weldon was the MLA from 1978 to 1984. Meanwhile, Barbara Adams’s victory in Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage is the first time a Progressive Conservative represented these communities since David Nantes was MLA from 1978 to 1993.

I also congratulate Halifax Citadel-Sable Island’s re-elected MLA Labi Kousoulis on being named Minister of Labour and Advanced Education. With this constituency being home to such leading universities – along with the students, faculty and staff who make these institutions such critical parts of our community and our province – it’s a positive sign that Premier McNeil has so much confidence in Mr. Kousoulis to entrust him with this important portfolio.

Amidst all the positive feelings of a new Legislative Assembly coming together is one glaring disappointment: Premier Stephen McNeil not planning to recall the legislature until mid-September 2017.

Nova Scotians – including voters in Halifax Citadel-Sable Island – gave Premier McNeil’s Liberals a majority government mandate to get to work. One of the major parts of a government’s “annual work plan” so to speak is to introduce a budget, subject it to scrutiny by our elected MLAs and put it to a vote in the legislature.

So why are we waiting three more months to see a budget presented again in the Nova Scotia legislature?

The last time a sitting Premier called an election after introducing a budget was Rodney MacDonald on May 13, 2006. MacDonald called an election for June 13, 2006. His government was re-elected with a reduced minority government mandate. Despite being in a weaker legislative position than Stephen McNeil is in today, MacDonald recalled the legislature for June 29, 2006, and tabled a budget.

Stephen McNeil has a majority government. He has one of his most senior ministers – new Deputy Premier Karen Casey – in the Finance and Treasury Board portfolio.
All the key players who were responsible for developing the 2017-2018 budget tabled in late April 2017 are still in place.

With all the important issues debated in this recent election, there doesn’t appear to be any logical reason why our MLAs won’t be examining a newly tabled provincial budget.

I know MLAs work when the legislature isn’t in session.

I also know that the late Arthur Fordham, Assistant Clerk of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly, in his 2006 publication, The Nova Scotia Legislature: An Overview of its Procedures and Practices, wrote the following:

“The Legislature is the controller of the purse strings of the province because, under the laws of the province, the government may not spend any public money without the authority of an act of the Legislature. Section 20 of the Provincial Finance Act reads as follows:
“No payment out of the Consolidated Fund shall be made except under the authority of an Act of the Legislature.””

If Rodney MacDonald’s PC minority government could get to work on its budget in late June 2006, there’s no reason why Stephen McNeil’s Liberal majority government can’t to work on its budget in late June 2017.