Positive politics – let’s do this!

As I spend my time speaking with PC Party members and others outside of the party about the kind of PC leader they would like to see, I hear it over and over again.

People are tired of politicians who just tear down the other side.

They want to hear positive solutions.

They want to hear support for good ideas, even if it comes from a different political party.

We should start that in this PC leadership race. Needless to say, it shouldn’t be hard to say good things about fellow Progressive Conservatives.

I admire the energy and drive that Pictou East MLA Tim Houston is bringing to his campaign for the PC Party leadership.

I respect the integrity and sincerity Kings North MLA John Lohr exudes as he meets with party members through his deliberations on whether to seek the leadership.

I would welcome Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Cecil Clarke bringing his considerable experience from the provincial and municipal orders of government to the campaign trail.

I hope there are even more candidates who decide to offer themselves for the PC leadership. It was great to speak this past week with at least two other Progressive Conservatives who are thinking about running (I asked them if I could share their names, but in fairness to them, it’s their decision and their news to share).

As I mentioned in last week’s post, having choice and competition is good. It’s good in the marketplace. It’s good in a political party.

Everyone will have their own timetable on deciding whether to run for the PC leadership, based on their own circumstances. I won’t criticize or question the motives of those who have moved quickly in this process. Hopefully, the same courtesy will be extended to individuals whom other Progressive Conservatives feel have something to contribute to the leadership selection process.

Another positive aspect worth celebrating in this leadership race is having Argyle-Barrington MLA Chris d’Entremont and former provincial campaign chair Tara Erskine co-chair the leadership selection process.

Tara and Chris are smart, strong, independent and focused on doing what’s right for our party. Regardless of whether I agree with the recommendation they end up bringing forward on the method and timing of the leadership vote, I will respect it.

Having served as co-chair of the 2006 PC leadership selection process with then-MLA Judy Streatch, I know first-hand that the job Chris and Tara now have is often thankless and subject to criticism and second-guessing. I don’t envy the position they are in, but Progressive Conservatives should be grateful that they agreed to take it on.

Over the last two weeks, people have shared with me lots of positive ideas on how to build a better PC Party. They share my belief that the strong foundation in place now is a foundation for change, not a foundation for the status quo. After five elections under three different leaders in which the PC Party was unable to form a majority government, one of the most important jobs of the next Progressive Conservative leader is to work with our MLAs, other party members and Nova Scotians to develop a positive agenda for our province to become an economic, social and environmental leader. This agenda must be clear, realistic and well communicated to Nova Scotians well before the next election, so that we can earn the support of enough voters to form a majority government.

What are some of the positive changes you want to see from the next Progressive Conservative leader?

 

 

A good friend, great memories

Monday morning, I participated in a classroom panel at Saint Mary’s University with former cabinet minister, political commentator and author Graham Steele and Global News journalist Marieke Walsh. The subject was the intersection between politicians, communications and journalism. Graham neatly summed up part of the discussion as distinguishing between lies, spin and BS.

During the session, my phone went off a few times. I noticed that one of the calls was from my old friend Dale Madill. I thought to myself, this kind of session would be perfect for Dale.

I first got to know Dale when I worked as a communications coordinator in the Progressive Conservative Caucus and he was the provincial reporter for the Chronicle Herald in 1996. Three years later, Dale took a buyout package from the Chronicle Herald and started working in the Progressive Conservative Caucus Office as John Hamm’s speechwriter. At that time, not too many people, Dale and I included, thought that working for the third place party leader who had just survived a leadership review and was on the eve of an election presented a long-term job opportunity.

To the surprise of many, John Hamm’s PCs vaulted from third place in the polls to a majority PC government on July 27, 1999. I ended up in New Glasgow on election night, while Dale celebrated in Halifax with our colleague Moira MacLeod and one of John Hamm’s key volunteer communications advisors, Finlay MacDonald (who sadly and suddenly passed away in 2004). A Polaroid picture of Moira, Dale and Finlay from that happy night was posted in his office.

Dale went on to be Premier Hamm’s speechwriter, then communications director from 2000 to 2002. He later moved on to the Departments of Energy and Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, where he ably served governments of all three political persuasions until he retired last year. While we moved in different directions in our respective lives, we stayed in touch periodically.

Sadly, the call from Dale’s home was from his wife Christine with the news that he died peacefully in his sleep overnight.

It’s hard to believe Dale is gone. Although he had been in ill health in recent years, many of us thought Dale would live forever. Born with congenital heart issues, with doctors forecasting not a very long life, Dale often joked that “not having a heart” made him the perfect political journalist. Another joke with Dale was that in the event of a nuclear calamity, the only living beings left would be the cockroaches and Dale!

Dale loved to tell a story. Whether it was a yarn from his misadventures as a Young Liberal in the early 1980s to writing about the challenges of the John Savage and Russell MacLellan governments in the 1990s (when he also got blasted by Tories for not giving John Hamm his due in opposition), Dale’s stories were always interesting and often funny.

One of my favourite Dale stories from his time as a reporter was when he tagged along with one of John Hamm’s first “summer tours” as PC leader. It was 1996. Rumours were rife that John Savage would call a snap election to take advantage of rookie PC and NDP leaders. As part of Hamm’s tour, we visited Oaklawn Zoo in Aylesford, Kings County. Finlay MacDonald tagged along with a camera crew to get some film of John Hamm if need be for the election (that ultimately didn’t come until 1998).

The Chronicle Herald’s Dale Madill wrote an account of the tour, noting the presence of backroom advisor MacDonald and the camera crew, with a reference to MacDonald “licking an ice cream cone” on a hot summer day.

As a young communications person at the time, I paid that no heed. For a seasoned operator like Finlay, he apparently called Dale afterwards to impress upon him in a low-key but clear way that he didn’t appreciate Dale writing about him.

“Dale, this is a give or take business. And you don’t take first.”

Not a threat from Finlay, but a message smoothly delivered nonetheless.  By the way, it didn’t stop Dale, but it did give him a great story to tell!

One of my favourite stories from Dale’s time as communications director was following an early morning briefing of Premier Hamm. I felt that Dale wasn’t sufficiently direct in his advice to the Premier.

“Way to speak truth to power, Dale!” I poked at him after the meeting.

Dale, recognizing, along with others, that perhaps I tended to be a little bit TOO blunt from time to time with the Premier, responded:

“Rob, you can speak truth to power, but you can also p#ss power off at seven o’clock in the morning.”

Dale was smart, funny, curious and persistent (annoyingly so!).

Dale was loyal. He referred to John Hamm as “the boss” – which seemed funny to many, because while John Hamm was definitely the Premier, his leadership style certainly didn’t connote “Boss-like” tendencies.

Dale loved his family; his Mom and Dad; his brothers and sisters, as well as their respective children.

Dale was so proud of his son Matthew, from his time as a boy to growing into an accomplished young man (like father, like son, Matthew is now a Young Liberal too!)

He was grateful for his wife Christine, promoted her volunteer work for many organizations and agonized for her and his former colleagues through the recent labour issues at the Chronicle Herald.

I like to think that Dale is sitting up in heaven now (he would dispute that as a destination, I know), sitting around a bar room table with his former Chronicle Herald boss with whom he later worked in the Hamm government, Jane Purves. Dale is enjoying a coffee with Kahlua and perhaps indulging in one of those God-awful Colt cigarillos he once favoured. Jane has a dry white wine in hand and has lit her own cigarette of choice.  As Dale tells another story, I can see Jane roll her eyes.  There’s laughter, raised voices and a few colourful metaphors.

I’m lucky to have known Dale. I’ll miss you, old friend.

Choosing our future – the PC leadership race

Although it’s been less than three weeks since Jamie Baillie announced his resignation as PC leader, the party’s leadership race has already moved into a new phase.

Yesterday, Pictou East MLA Tim Houston became the first candidate to officially declare for the Progressive Conservative leadership. Kings North MLA John Lohr has been diligently getting out around the province, meeting with party members and other Nova Scotians. There is also a great deal of speculation that Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Cecil Clarke is considering a return to provincial politics. It is fantastic to see the level of interest to date in this important role and hopefully party members will have a variety of different candidates to evaluate and choose from.

The race for leader has certainly caused me to reflect on past PC leadership races and the many other hiring processes I have been involved in the private sector and in community organizations. The most important job of an organization – whether it’s a political party, a multi-million dollar organization, a not-for-profit or a small smart up – is selecting its leader.

Choosing the next Progressive Conservative leader is about choosing the future we want to see for our party and for our province.

This is the fifth Nova Scotia PC leadership vote I will be participating in (although I am ONLY 42!).  In every one of those races, there were questions around (in no particular order) the geography of a candidate, whether they are an elected member or not , who can win and who can lead a government. There has never been one obvious route to political success. If anything, we are seeing in recent elections in Canada, the United States and elsewhere a strong desire from voters to make an unconventional choice, to take risks, to shake things up.

From my own perspective, the three most important objectives for our next leader to work on are:

  • Being able to clearly communicate and connect with Nova Scotians on what our party stands for, how we are different than other parties and previous governments and what we will do better as government. Voters want more than just attacking the government and the same old partisanship that all parties have been guilty of;
  • Build on the gains of the last election, working together with experienced and new MLAs, to ensure we have the ideas, people and resources to earn the confidence of enough Nova Scotians in the next general election to form a majority PC government; and
  • Lead a government as Premier that will truly change this province for the better.

For a decade, our Progressive Conservative vision – established by party members – has been Nova Scotia as an economic, social and environmental leader.

Yet our party has failed – through five consecutive elections under three straight leaders – to convince a sufficient number of Nova Scotians to vote Progressive Conservative to make this vision a reality.

How do we connect with voters who have turned away from our party over the years and stay connected with voters who came back to us in this last election?

Politics as our party has practiced for most of the last two decades is not the answer.

As I have spoken with and listened to people inside and outside of our party since Jamie’s announcement, I have been reminded of something I learned from my time as Nova Scotia PC Party President from 2009 to 2012, a period when as a volunteer I visited every constituency in the province:

There’s a lot of talent among PC Party members – some who have felt left out over the years.

There’s a lot of talent among Nova Scotians who aren’t PC Party members, but want to find a voice for change.

We need leadership that’s prepared to reach out, to listen, to act and to tell people why.

Jamie Baillie has brought our party back to be a relevant voice for Nova Scotians in every part of the province.

But it would be a mistake to think that only a change in leadership will automatically result in electoral success. We need a leader who can communicate and connect, define what we stand for (and not just remind people what we are against and what the current government does wrong), be both a team player and team builder and lead a government as Premier.

It has been the honour of a lifetime to hear from so many people from across Nova Scotia who believe I should seek the leadership and have offered to help. I also respect those who have a different point of view.

Having traveled so extensively as PC Party President, mostly when I wasn’t a parent, I am thinking hard about the impact on my young son from making a 51 electoral district commitment required of our next leader, possibly for the next 10+ years.

Regardless of my decision, our party and our province will be well served by having a considered, vigorous debate about the future from a diverse field of leadership candidates. As someone who sweats it out in the private sector, I know first hand the benefits of healthy competition to my business. Our next PC leader, regardless of who that is, will benefit from healthy competition.

Leadership lessons from Jamie Baillie

Jamie Baillie’s announcement last week that he will be stepping down as Progressive Conservative Leader has had a greater impact on me than I perhaps first anticipated.

Jamie and I have been friends for more than 20 years. We worked together in John Hamm’s Premier’s Office from 2002 through 2004. I was president of the PC Party of Nova Scotia when he became leader in 2010. I was proud to stand with him and 49 other PC candidates in this year’s provincial election.

Even though six days have now passed since Jamie made his announcement, I am still sad about the news. Of course, I respect his decision and wish Jamie and his family well, but many of us will always wonder what might have been had he become Premier? Many of us will ask ourselves, could we have done things differently in support of Jamie’s efforts?

Over the weekend, I reflected a bit more on Jamie’s time as leader. Much has been written and said about his accomplishments in terms of increasing support for the PC Party from record low levels to our best result in more than a decade, leading the charge on issues such as mental health and recruiting candidates that resulted in a record number of female PC MLAs. Jamie himself has spoken movingly about increasing voter participation and engagement and the role our elected officials must play to listen more to the citizens they are entrusted to serve.

Jamie would be the first to admit that he’s far from perfect, but there are a number of important leadership lessons that we should consider as we look forward to who and what will come next for Progressive Conservatives.

Lesson #1 –Be Open, Ask Questions

As John Hamm’s chief of staff, Jamie helped quarterback our province’s first balanced budget in 40 years and put the foundation in place for seven straight balanced budgets and the largest reductions in the province’s debt-to-GDP ratio in a generation. But Jamie never let his unprecedented and unparalleled commitment to fiscal responsibility act as a barrier to new ideas coming forward. He always recognized the role that government could and should play as a backstop to market forces. He was unafraid to ask questions and challenge assumptions – both of himself and others. That’s how we ended up with a modern Nova Scotia Community College system and public school construction decisions (at that time) based on merit and evidence – the result of which is seen everyday at Citadel High School.

The best way to get the best solutions is to listen, ask questions, be open to new ideas and do your homework. Jamie showed us there’s no contradiction in the Progressive Conservative vision, mission and values and embracing new directions for Nova Scotians.

Lesson #2 – Reach Out

The larger the role in public life, the more isolating it’s likely to become. Jamie always worked hard to avoid this outcome, both as a Premier’s Chief of Staff and Leader of the PC Party of Nova Scotia. I remember the regular roundtables of Nova Scotians he would convene in the Premier’s Office to get their perspectives. As PC Leader, Jamie was always connecting with people outside of traditional party circles to ensure they knew that they were welcome in a modern, changing PC Party.   Whether it was members of the film industry, educators, students, health care professionals, victims of sexual assault, environmentalists, new Canadians or members of the LGBTQ community, Jamie worked hard to keep the lines of communication open.

Lesson #3 – Respect – Both for Volunteers and MLAs

As someone who has been involved in numerous volunteer roles of the PC Party of Nova Scotia over the last 25 years, I have met people associated with the party who, from time to time, didn’t like it when party members asked questions, criticized decisions or made suggestions for improvement. They found these volunteers to be a nuisance. In other cases, duly elected MLAs were not given the respect they had earned through the democratic mandate they received from their constituents.

That was not the Jamie I saw, either in the Premier’s Office or as PC Leader. Jamie instilled in me as a staff person in John Hamm’s office that our ability to work for a Premier depended on MLAs continuing to hold the confidence of voters. Jamie always made himself available to the party members and volunteers, not just when he was looking for something. Sometimes I would ask Jamie about the wisdom of some idea the party was pursuing and he would patiently explain which MLA brought this forward and the strong rationale behind it.

Balancing the many different demands in public life can be tough. But whether he agreed with an idea or not, Jamie always respected the individual who championed it.   Jamie and I disagreed on many occasions – as good friends do. But we never let those disagreements take away from the respect we had for each other.

Lesson #4 – Be Visible

In my first year as volunteer PC Party President, I personally visited almost every constituency in Nova Scotia. I was fortunate that I had the time as I wasn’t a parent then and I loved every minute of my travels, but it was time consuming. Then Jamie Baillie became PC Leader in 2010 and I discovered what hard work in getting across the province was really all about.

Jamie was everywhere as PC Leader – big city, growing suburb, small town or rural community. From Celtic Colours in Cape Breton to the Cedar Fest in Halifax, Menorah lightings to Ramadan, the Apple Blossom Festival to the Halifax Pride Parade, Jamie made sure that our party showed up and was counted.

These are some of the leadership lessons that I learned from Jamie.  I am grateful to have had the chance to learn from him and look forward to seeing where his next chapter will take him.  I know he will continue to find a way to give back.

Positive ideas – PC MLAs working hard to make good things happen

(From left to right) PC Labour and Advanced Education critic Eddie Orrell, Saint Mary’s University student Dave Hoskin and Rob Batherson at a Young Conservatives event in October 2017 at the Grawood at Dalhousie University.

Last week, the fall sitting of the Nova Scotia legislature wrapped up.

Although most of the focus was on the re-tabled 2017-2018 budget and the ongoing problems in health care delivery, there were a number of issues that Progressive Conservative MLAs championed in the legislature that you may not have heard about.

With PC Leader Jamie Baillie leading a team of 17 MLAs, this was the largest Progressive Conservative Official Opposition since the early 1970s. Opposition parties are sometimes accused of being unduly negative. Having worked for opposition MPs and MLAs – including Peter MacKay, John Hamm and the late Terry Donahoe – in the 1990s, I know this can be a tough balance to strike. Yet in our parliamentary system, opposition parties play a vital role in holding governments to account.

Having so many MLAs clearly allowed the party to promote some good ideas to help Nova Scotians. It’s too bad Stephen McNeil’s Liberal government rarely took the PCs up on these ideas.

Here are some of my favourite pieces of legislation sponsored by Progressive Conservative MLAs this fall (in order of when they were tabled in the legislature):

Bill 4 – the Dignity for Victims of Sexual Violence Act (PC Justice critic and Pictou West MLA Karla MacFarlane). This bill would enshrine the right of a victim of sexual violence to legal representation and provide financial support for victims who want, but cannot afford, legal representation.

Bill 5 (PC Justice critic and Pictou West MLA Karla MacFarlane) would amend the Provincial Court Act to require mandatory training for provincial court judges on sexual assault law, ongoing continuing education on the same subject matter and written decisions in sexual assault trials.

Bill 6 – the Sexual Violence Action Plan Act (PC Labour and Advanced Education critic and Northside-Westmount MLA Eddie Orrell). This bill would require all universities, the Nova Scotia Community College and private colleges to put in place policies to address sexual violence against their students.

Bill 23 (PC Environment critic and Queens-Shelburne MLA Kim Masland) would amend the Environmental Goals and Sustainability Prosperity Act – the landmark environmental law passed by the last PC government in 2007 with all party support – to commit Nova Scotia to setting new goals to meet the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Bill 25 – the Camp Hill Veterans’ Memorial Building Walk-in Clinic Act (PC Leader Jamie Baillie). This bill would require the Minister of Health and Wellness to consult with veterans on the creation of a walk-in facility for veterans at the Camp Hill Veterans’ Memorial Building at the QEII Health Sciences Centre. It would also set a timeline for construction and provide for the necessary funding.

Bill 31 – the School Supplies Tax Credit Act (PC Education critic and Dartmouth East MLA Tim Halman). A longstanding commitment of the PC Party dating back to the 2013 election platform, Bill 31 would allow parents and teachers to claim 50% of the cost of school supplies from their income tax, up to a maximum of $200.

Bill 43 – the Healthier Schools Act (PC Leader Jamie Baillie). This bill would expand mental health supports for students and training for educators in our public school system.

Bill 44 – the Mental Health Court Expansion Act (Kings North MLA John Lohr). This bill would expand mental health courts to every region of the province.

Bill 45 – the Safer Homes Act (PC Deputy Leader and Pictou Centre MLA Pat Dunn). This bill would require housing authorities to maintain minimum standards and take prompt action to correct deficiencies. It would also require housing authorities to inform Housing Nova Scotia of its maintenance work and Housing Nova Scotia to report on this annually.

Bill 47 – the Seniors’ Bill of Rights (PC Leader Jamie Baillie). This bill would guarantee the rights of seniors in a residential care facility, a nursing home or a home for aged or disabled persons.

Bill 59 (PC Health and Wellness critic and Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin) would ensure that at least two members of the Nova Scotia Health Authority board of directors have expertise in the delivery of health care. Many physicians and other health care professionals in Halifax Citadel-Sable Island told me how frustrated they were with having no one with current health care experience on the health authority’s otherwise capable and competent board.

Congratulations are in order to Pictou East MLA Tim Houston for sponsoring Bill 38, the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Act. The Liberal government allowed it to be put to a vote in the legislature, where Bill 38 was approved unanimously. October 15 will now be forever known in Nova Scotia as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day.

If only the Liberals didn’t stop there.   We could achieve so much more as a province if political leaders and parties could find more ways to work together.

_____________________________________________________________________

Want to know more about the 62 bills the Liberals, PCs & NDP introduced this fall?

The full list is at http://nslegislature.ca/index.php/proceedings/status-of-bills/C98/sort/number

You can sort through them and read the ones you want.

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!