By Luke Unrau
The coming provincial election in Nova Scotia may very well go down in history. It could be the first time the New Democratic Party has formed government in Atlantic Canada. But the cost of forming government may be more than long-time party supporters ever thought they would have to pay. The cost of forming government in this election is the NDP’s principles.
This election has seen the NSNDP emerge as a right-of-centre political force. Gone from the platform are promises around creating a public auto insurance company, reducing tuition, or advancing workers rights. The NSNDP platform reeks of populist, conservative policies.
The key plank of the platform is to remove the 8% provincial sales tax in electricity, at an estimated cost of $28 million. While appealing to people’s anger at Nova Scotia Power’s rate increases, this policy doesn’t actually make sense. Instead of helping people who can’t pay their electric bill by cutting rates or conducting home retrofits, this policy gives an 8% tax cut across the board. This includes high-income households who will save the most as they also use the most electricity. A better policy would have been a call to return Nova Scotia Power to public ownership and place it under workers’ control, an immediate rate cut for those who need it most, and to transform the power company into an engine of economic growth.
The second largest budget item is a 50% HST rebate when you buy a new home. This policy is estimated to cost $10.5 million. Instead of focusing on providing quality, affordable housing, the NSNDP has pulled a page from Stephen Harper’s handbook and now promises tax rebates when you buy a home. A far better option would have been to offer that funding as guaranteed loans to start community co-op housing, creating mixed income housing at no cost to the government. Another idea would have been to create a fund to boost home ownership, allowing working class families to get a publicly-backed mortgage at 1% interest, effectively cutting the cost of a home in half over the span of a mortgage.
The third largest spending item is to provide new tax credits for students who graduate from community colleges and universities at a cost of $6.5 million. The Canadian Federation of Students referred to this policy as being “lifted” from the Conservative playbook. Previously, the NSNDP had committed to cut tuition fees by 10% and bring Nova Scotia’s tuition down to the national average. These tax credits do nothing to increase access to education and force students to continue paying the highest tuition fees in the country. A better policy would have been to eliminate tuition for community colleges at a cost of $18 million and cutting university tuition in half at a cost of $150 million.
Overall, the NSNDP platform is projected to cost around $76 million. To pay for this, the NSNDP proposes an “Expenditure management review” which they suggest will cut 1% from all budgets result in $76 million in savings. To make matters worse, the NSNDP has said they will re-introduce the Conservatives budget if they are elected and that the first “NDP Budget” in 2010 will be a balanced budget.
At a time when an economic crisis is devastating lives around the province and governments of all stripes are spending heavily to stimulate the economy, the NSNDP plan shows a major lack of leadership, vision and principles.
What will the NSNDP tell a worker laid off from Eastern Protein Foods in Kentville when her EI runs out and she can’t find a job? What will the NSNDP tell a Steelworker laid off from Trenton Works when he wonders how he will pay his mortgage? What will the NSNDP tell the student who graduates with $65,000 in debt and no job?
The economic crisis presented the NSNDP with a perfect opportunity to advocate for progressive public policy, to change the politics and economics as usual in Nova Scotia. Instead, they have decided to move even further to the Right of the political spectrum, leaving party members and supporters scratching their heads.
An NDP government in Nova Scotia was the dream of thousands of workers across this province – the dream that if the NDP won power, there would finally be a government on the side of the majority, supporting workers, farmers and the unemployed. Darrell Dexter’s NDP is showing very clearly that if elected, their role will be to continue the destructive capitalist economic policies that have put thousands out of work, increased the gap between the rich and the rest of us, and allowed big business to dictate public policy.
Interested in reviving socialist politics in Nova Scotia? Contact the Halifax New Socialists at firstname.lastname@example.org