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NDP government: Real change for a change?

by Bruce Wark

Darrell Dexter, campaign photo
Darrell Dexter, campaign photo

Darrell Dexter seemed to be enjoying himself Thursday as he addressed his newly expanded NDP caucus. "This frivolity has got to stop," the smiling premier-designate told caucus members who only moments before had been laughing, shaking hands and embracing as they celebrated Tuesday's election victory. Now they sat expectantly around the caucus table as party officials and journalists looked on from the sides of the crowded room. "We tried to make the table as big as we could," Dexter joked, a reference to the fact that the NDP had gained 11 seats for a total of 31, enough for a comfortable majority in the 52-seat legislature. The Liberals won 11 to become the official opposition while the governing Conservatives came third with only 10 seats.

Seven decades in the electoral wilderness

The first meeting of the new NDP caucus and the election which made it possible were historic for the province's social democratic party. According to historian Murray Beck, the Nova Scotia NDP's roots go back to 1938 when United Mine Workers union locals in Cape Breton voted to set up a provincial branch of the CCF or Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. The CCF elected its first member to the Nova Scotia legislature in a Cape Breton by-election in 1939. But it was nearly 40 years before the CCF/NDP won even four seats in a general election. (That happened in 1978.)

The party's big breakthrough came in the election of 1998 when the Liberals and NDP tied at 19 seats each. The Liberals continued to govern until the 1999 election produced a 30-seat Conservative majority with the Liberals and NDP again tied at 11 seats each. The NDP gained in the elections of 2003 and 2006, finally winning a majority government this week nearly 70 years after the first CCF member took his seat in the legislature.

NDP campaign promises

"We got here by focusing on the better deal for today's families," Dexter told his caucus repeating the slogan the party had used in 2006. Its 2009 platform was also remarkably similar. Once again there were "7 commitments that will make life better for today's families." They included promises to create jobs, keep emergency rooms open while reducing health care waiting times as well as a pledge to take sales taxes off home energy "to make life more affordable."

In 2006, the NDP platform promised to balance the budget and cut the $12 billion provincial debt in half by 2020. This time the party promised to "live within our means" which includes balancing next year's budget after auditing the books "to determine the true state of provincial finances."

Real change for a change?

NDP pledges to create jobs, fix health care and balance the budget are hardly remarkable. The other parties habitually make such promises too. As a social democratic party however, the NDP holds out the possibility of something more: the possibility, for example, of improving the lives of the tens of thousands of Nova Scotians who live in poverty. During the election campaign, the non-profit think tank, GPI Atlantic sent a questionnaire to the political parties which included this query:

Inequality has been associated with adverse health outcomes. Yet Atlantic Canada’s wealth is very unevenly distributed, with the richest 10% of households owning about half the region's wealth, while the poorest 40% together own only 3.6%. Do you support a reduction in the gap between rich and poor? If so, what is your target and how will you achieve it?

The NDP answer suggested the party has thought about how to alleviate poverty. "Darrell Dexter and the NDP are committed to addressing the many elements of poverty," it began pledging, "affordable housing, decent nutrition, and access to training and educational opportunities, including university access for single parents."

The NDP went on to promise support for women’s centres and transition houses, more subsidized childcare spaces and a plan to allow welfare recipients to keep more of their wages if they find a job. (At present, the provincial government claws back 70 per cent of those wages leaving welfare recipients, already living well below the poverty line, with little incentive to work.)

While the NDP answer seemed constructive and practical, it ended with a stern warning: "The fiscal situation of the provincial government has deteriorated significantly in recent months," it observed, then added that increasing the provincial debt would, in turn, increase interest payments and reduce the amount of government money available for poverty reduction. "The NDP will make it a priority to work toward better funding to address poverty issues, within the context of bringing the Nova Scotian budget into balance."

With balancing the provincial budget as its main priority, the NDP's commitment to poverty reduction seems iffy, at best. "A deficit is not only necessary, it is actually desirable," Conservative PM Stephen Harper declared this week. But for Darrell Dexter, Nova Scotia's soon-to-be NDP premier, that sounds like heresy. For Dexter, slaying the deficit seems to come before everything else, including helping the poor help themselves.

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Comparison to the other parties

I'd be interested to know how the Tories and Liberals answered the same question from the GPI questionnaire.

Other parties' views?

I'd be interested to know how the other parties responded to the same question from the GPI questionnaire.

Other parties' responses to the GPI question

GPI gave me responses for all the main political parties including the Liberals, Progressive Conservatives and Greens. First, here's what the Liberals answered:

The Liberal Party has again been the only party to address the issue of poverty reduction during the course of this campaign. Liberals recognize that reducing poverty is about more than improving the well‐being of Nova Scotians struggling to afford basic necessities. It is also about improving our economy and promoting an inclusive society. Poverty is directly linked to increased costs for health care, community services, corrections and education.
A Liberal government will ensure the Interdepartmental Ministerial Committee on Poverty falls under the leadership of the premier and endorses the recommendations of the Poverty Reduction Working Group. This committee will be supported by representatives of outside stakeholder organizations.
Liberal initiatives contained within our plan which address poverty include:

Early childhood learning initiatives and a commitment to work towards the reinstatement of the National Early Learning and Child Care Plan

A community‐based Early Learning Support Grant

Reinstating the $30 cap on the seniors' pharmacare co‐pay

The development of multi‐year service agreements with community service partners

The development of a fund to help communities establish recreational infrastructure and programming

A province‐wide school‐based mental health program

The establishment of a drug recycling program to help families pay for high‐cost prescription drugs.

Here is the Conservative response to the GPI question:

As our means have allowed, we have addressed many measures to assist those Nova Scotians in need of our help. For example, as announced in our 2006 election campaign, we introduced the Family Pharmacare Program to help Nova Scotians who do not have a medical plan receive the
necessary drugs. As Joan Weeks of CBC Cape Breton Radio reported November 29, 2007 - "Mary MacDonald says
she can now accept a job with no health coverage because the Family Pharmacare program will help pay for her prescriptions." This is exactly what we hoped to do for thousands of Nova Scotians in the same circumstance. We are so glad it is one way to assist those not fortunate enough to have a medical plan.
Other examples include:
! Announced almost $128 million to build new, or renovate existing affordable housing. The funding for housing - through an amendment to the Canada-Nova Scotia Affordable Housing Program Agreement and an extension to the Canada-Nova Scotia Housing Renovation Program
Agreement - is on a scale we have not seen in Nova Scotia for decades. It will create needed housing units and construction jobs. The program includes 8,600 social housing units.
! Making it easier for families of people with disabilities to save for their loved one's future by allowing them to use Registered Disability Savings Plans, while continuing to receive income assistance.
! This winter, provided more money through the Heating Assistance Rebate Program (HARP) because of dramatic increases in oil prices.
! Funded an eight per cent rebate to lower home heating costs - sending Nova Scotian homeowners, on average, a $260 benefit from the program.
! Helping children and families across Nova Scotia to benefit from the province's child and youth strategy just a year after it has begun.
! Assisted more low-income seniors to make home repairs so they can remain in their homes longer through the Senior Citizens' Assistance Program.
! Added over 550 new child-care spaces as the first step in the province's new 10-year, Early Learning and Child Care Plan. Also helping child care staff to further their education and build on their skills training.
Of course we also introduced a $155-million Poverty Reduction Strategy to help train low-skilled workers, increase affordable housing and improve benefits for low-income families. As our minister said at the announcement, "The poverty reduction strategy is a framework for breaking the cycle of poverty and improving the standard of living for low-income Nova Scotians. This is a long-term plan for a Nova Scotia where resources are used wisely and government and community action is co-ordinated to effectively help those in need."

Finally, here is the Green Party answer:

Green Party supports the reduction of the gap between rich and poor. The initial target is a population in which basics physical needs of all citizens are met through secure access to affordable shelter, nutritious food, clean water and air, and a fair wage. The goal is to have the basic needs of every Nova Scotian met within or near their home communities in equitable and inclusive ways. Poverty reduction strategies are important for immediate relief, however, we recognize the need to be working toward the elimination of poverty.

The Green Party would plan and work towards a comprehensive housing and poverty-reduction strategy that incorporates successful governmental and non-governmental programs, and recommendations from grassroots community organizations and those living in poverty. Such a strategy would:
· place affordable and suitable housing, food security, and equitable remuneration as the centerpiece
· set realistic measurable targets, timelines, and budgets which are accountable through evaluation and results reporting
· initiate policies informed by current research on the social indicators of health
· create an infrastructure of support in the home communities of those living in poverty
· employ compassion and understanding as well as fiscal responsibility
· work to address and respond to the effects of poverty on physical, mental and community health.

The Green Party encourages the development of a housing strategy which
o works to reduce class divisions in our communities by the strategic integration of affordable housing units, and to avoid the clustering of poverty
o is community-centred and integrates supportive and financial assistance into its plan
o recognizes the difference between providing shelter and providing suitable, secure housing
o addresses the complex housing needs of those living on the streets and suffering from a multitude of mental health issues
o recognizes the CMHC 30% definition of affordable housing and works to bring affordable housing in line with this threshold based on the actual average earning of low-income Nova Scotians.

The Green Party supports a comprehensive food security program that addresses the poverty burden on our agricultural and fishing communities, and ensures that all Nova Scotians have access to and can afford sufficient, nutritious and safe foods, with particular support for local food production, processing, and consumption. Some of the aspects of such a program are:
o support for secure fair livelihoods for and respect for the work of all food providers
o increased promotion of the local fisheries and agriculture through buy-local initiatives, including school cafeterias supplied with local foods, and a buy-local purchasing priority for all institutional food services
o encouragement for people to participate in rural, urban, and community vegetable gardens
o support for local farmers/fish markets as a source of affordable, nutritious food
o continued support for the school breakfast programs
o directly supported food banks and meal programs in rural and urban Nova Scotia

The Green Party of Nova Scotia calls for an evaluation of wage standards which:
o examines wage inequities between male and female professionals
o re-frames the concept of “minimum wage” into that of “living wage”
o challenges employers to facilitate the healthy lifestyles of their employees
o explores wage standards for Nova Scotians delivering essential services within our health and education systems.

The NDP's complete response

Since I summarized what the NDP said, to be fair, I'll paste in the NDP's complete answer to the GPI question:

Darrell Dexter and the NDP are committed to addressing the many elements of poverty - affordable housing, decent nutrition, and access to training and educational opportunities, including university access for single parents. The NDP believes that the best way to address poverty is a strategy to provide the supports people need to make life better for their families.
On April 3, 2009, the Conservative government released the Nova Scotia Poverty Reduction Strategy. The Strategy fails to address the root causes of poverty in a systematic way. The Strategy also received sharp criticism from groups like Canada Without Poverty, which noted its lack of targeted, measurable goals.
The NDP plan, Better Deal 2009, available online at www.ns.ndp.ca, lays out concrete, practical steps to make life better for Nova Scotia’s individuals and families strugglingwith poverty, including better support for women’s centres and transition houses, more subsidized childcare spaces, home insulation grants for homeowners – a particular issue in rural areas and small town – and the elimination of the tax on electricity. The NDP will also remove the remaining barriers that prevent single parents from retaining benefits while pursuing education and training.
Better Deal 2009 also focuses on creating secure jobs for Nova Scotians, and ensuringmore young people have the ability to stay here and put down their roots.
More broadly, the NDP will work to:
! Develop a provincial housing strategy with new affordable housing, created
through an expanded Modest Housing program and new equity co-op housing
! Use surplus space in community elementary schools for non-profit child care
centres and seniors’ day programs
! Allow people on social assistance to keep more of their earnings should they get a
The fiscal situation of the provincial government has deteriorated significantly in recent months – we will now unquestionably be facing a Rodney MacDonald deficit of at least a quarter of a billion dollars, with an increase in the provincial debt because of this. This will increase debt-servicing costs, and therefore further reduce the amount available to fund priority programs in government – including those for poverty reduction.
The first step that must be taken, before committing to any additional spending that is to assess the true state of the province’s books through an independent audit. This will determine the capacity of the province to fund needed programs and services. The NDP will make it a priority to work toward better funding to address poverty issues, within the context of bringing the Nova Scotian budget into balance.

Full GPI questionairre

Here's a full list of the questions on the GPI questionairre. They are all very interesting questions for sure. If you're interested in seeing the answers you could e-mail the GPI folks; e-mail adress would be somewhere on thier website - www.gpiatlantic.org

1. GPI Atlantic has estimated that illness and crime attributable to unemployment cost
Nova Scotia more than $200 million in 2006. Given the high social costs of
unemployment, what specific actions would your government take to avoid layoffs during
this economic downturn and instead encourage shorter work hours and a redistribution
of work time.
2. Inequality has been associated with adverse health outcomes. Yet Atlantic Canada’s
wealth is very unevenly distributed, with the richest 10% of households owning about
half the region's wealth, while the poorest 40% together own only 3.6%. Do you support
a reduction in the gap between rich and poor? If so, what is your target and how will you
achieve it?
3. Between 1999 and 2005, household debt in Atlantic Canada grew by 62%, while assets
grew by 35%. About 77,000 Atlantic households are so deeply in debt that they couldn’t
pay off their debts even if they sold everything they owned, including their homes. What
will your government do to increase the financial security of Nova Scotians?
4. Net farm income has declined by 91% since 1971, dipped below zero in 4 of the last 6
years, and in 2007 reached the lowest levels ever recorded in the province. Thus, farming
is no longer economically viable in Nova Scotia, and is now in serious crisis—in actual
danger of demise as an economic, social, and cultural institution. What will you do to
restore farm economic viability in Nova Scotia?
5. Nova Scotian volunteers contribute $1.8 billion worth of services to the provincial
economy. Between 1992 and 2005, there was a 21% decline in civic and voluntary work
in Nova Scotia, with fewer volunteers putting in longer hours to maintain services.
Because no money is exchanged, the value of volunteerism is invisible in our economic
growth statistics and related measures of progress. What will your government do to
ensure that this major decline in social capital is a) recognized and b) reversed?
6. GPI Atlantic estimates that obesity costs Nova Scotia $148 million a year in direct
health care costs—or roughly 5% of the total health budget—and an additional $173
million a year in indirect productivity losses, totalling more than $320 million. In Nova
Scotia between 1994-95 and 2005, the rate of obesity increased from 16.7% to 20.7% and
the province has consistently had higher rates of obesity than the national average. What
is your target for reduction and what will you do to achieve it?
7. Electricity production accounts for more than 31% of Nova Scotia’s total greenhouse
has (GHG) emissions, highlighting the need to shift away from coal-fired power plants.
Transportation accounts for 29% of total GHG emissions. If elected a) will your
government strive to achieve the Suzuki Foundation target of 25% reduction of GHG
emissions below 1990 levels by 2020, and b) what strategies will you employ in the energy
and transportation sectors to achieve this?
8. In 2005-06, clearcutting accounted for 94% of all forest harvesting in Nova Scotia
while selection harvesting—which removes trees selectively to maintain the integrity, age
and species diversity, health, and value of the forest as a whole—only accounted for 1.5%
of all logging. Will your government reduce the level of clearcutting and increase the level
of more sustainable selection harvesting? If so, what targets will you try to achieve by
when, and what will you do to achieve them?
9. Nova Scotia has lost most of its old forests, with forests over 80 years old down from
25% of forests 50 years ago to just 1.5% today. There is a continuing shift to ever
younger forests, and an increase in the number of known forest-dependent species at risk.
Do you consider these trends problematic, and if so, what will your government do to
help restore Nova Scotia's forest wealth?
10. In the late 1990s, Nova Scotia became a world leader in solid waste management,
achieving 50% waste diversion in 2000—the first jurisdiction in all North America to
achieve this target. But Nova Scotians are now producing and disposing nearly one-third
more garbage, and waste diversion dropped from 50% in 2000 to 36% in 2006. What will
your government do to restore Nova Scotia's leadership in this area?

Did I miss something?

Did I misread all of this, or were the Conservatives the only ones who specifically addressed disability beyond the "health care wait times" "cost of prescription drugs" issues?

Those are both very important issues, and I applaud that parties address those needs, but people with disabilities are disproportionately living in poverty, have bars to full-employment and even participating in the community (I would love to buy local. Too bad so many buy-local shops have Just One Step, making it impossible for wheelchair users to get in), and currently do not receive any government assistance if their partners are in post-secondary education, regardless if their partners are receiving student loans.

We exist, too, and far too often in this election season, we didn't exist. Although there was a "disability-focused forum", we weren't even allowed to ask questions at it. Apparently questions from actual people with disabilities, instead of from agencies, would have been too difficult for the representatives from the Liberals, the Conservatives, and the NDP to answer.

I know I'm supposed to be happy that the NDP are in charge now, but I also know how Darryl Dexter stared at me in confusion when I suggested their website should be accessible to Text Readers. I feel that we're going to be put aside again because it's "not economically feasible" to prioritize people with disabilities.


Do you know that it's correct time to get the loan, which will realize your dreams.

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Are there any development centers that work for overcoming anxiety and panic disorders? I had heard about the  valium   tablets that seems to be effective solution to overcome these disorders?


I cannot say for sure if Ive

I cannot say for sure if Ive ever seen so many wonderful news at one blog. Thanks for nice post!

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