‘We had to make tough choices’

Elec­tion cam­paign kicks off

Cape Breton Post - - Front Page - BY KEITH DOUCETTE

Nova Sco­tians will go to the polls May 30 as Premier Stephen McNeil’s Lib­eral gov­ern­ment seeks its sec­ond man­date fol­low­ing a term in of­fice largely marked by fru­gal spend­ing and pub­lic sec­tor labour strife.

McNeil kicked off the cam­paign Sun­day with a rally at a Le­banese cul­tural cen­tre in the heart of a key Hal­i­fax rid­ing, shortly af­ter meet­ing with Lt.Gov. J.J. Grant at Gov­ern­ment House.

In a speech be­fore a packed room of en­thu­si­as­tic sup­port­ers and party work­ers, McNeil ac­knowl­edged his gov­ern­ment had made some un­pop­u­lar de­ci­sions since be­ing elected in 2013.

“We had to make tough choices, choices that weren’t al­ways pop­u­lar,’’ said McNeil. “I be­lieve you ei­ther shape change or change shapes you. We had to shape our own change.’’

At dis­so­lu­tion the Lib­er­als held 34 seats in the 51-seat leg­is­la­ture, the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives had 10 and the NDP 5. There was one In­de­pen­dent and one seat was va­cant.

The elec­tion fol­lows nearly two months of elec­tion-style spend­ing an­nounce­ments by the Lib­er­als, and a bud­get tabled Thurs­day of­fer­ing a broad, though mod­est tax cut to about 500,000 low and mid­dle in­come Nova Sco­tians.

It was the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive bal­anced bud­get for the Lib­er­als. The gov­ern­ment has ex­er­cised strict wage re­straint for pub­lic sec­tor unions, in­clud­ing nurses and teach­ers, while mak­ing a se­ries of cuts to pro­grams af­fect­ing ar­eas such as se­niors’ long-term care and ini­tia­tives run by pub­lic ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tions.

“Thanks to our choices the prov­ince is in bet­ter shape than it was three and a half years ago,’’ McNeil told the crowd.

He also took shots at his cam­paign op­po­nents, ac­cus­ing the Tories of be­ing “neg­a­tive about the prov­ince’s fu­ture’’ and say­ing the NDP were ready to “write a blank cheque to big labour.’’

The gov­ern­ment’s bud­get died with the elec­tion call, leav­ing McNeil to ex­plain to re­porters why it wasn’t voted on in the leg­is­la­ture be­fore the writ was dropped. He said it’s a mat­ter of let­ting the pub­lic de­cide.

“I’m not pre­sump­tu­ous enough to be­lieve that all of them (the pub­lic) agree with my vi­sion,’’ McNeil said. “So let me present my vi­sion to them, we will let the other two par­ties

present their vi­sion, and then Nova Sco­tians will de­cide.’’

McNeil also made no apolo­gies for his gov­ern­ment or its poli­cies.

“There will be some who ob­vi­ously in the last three and a half years have not been happy with us, he said. ‘’I am not run­ning from the record.”

Tory Leader Jamie Bail­lie pitched him­self Sun­day as a sunny al­ter­na­tive to four years of Lib­eral aus­ter­ity, which he said has hurt Nova Sco­tia’s ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, al­lowed in­fra­struc­ture to crum­ble and sent doc­tors and young peo­ple away

from the prov­ince in “droves.’’

“(Nova Sco­tians) will have to de­cide if they want to in­vest and jobs and in their com­mu­ni­ties, or if they want more McNeil cuts,’’ said Bail­lie, sur­rounded by Tory can­di­dates. “Only the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive party has the plan to al­low Nova Sco­tians to stand proudly on their own two feet once again.’’

Bail­lie said the premier’s heavy hand in deal­ing with pub­lic sec­tor unions has res­onated through the prov­ince, and said if elected, he would push for a “mid­dle way’’ that would keep wages at roughly cur­rent lev­els but in­crease in­vest­ment in pub­lic ser­vices.

Bail­lie’s speech was re­plete with prom­ises of pros­per­ity, but when pressed for specifics, the Tory leader of­ten piv­oted back to at­tack­ing McNeil.

Bail­lie has been sound­ing con­fi­dent that his party, which hasn’t won an elec­tion since 2006, is poised for an elec­toral break­through. That’s crit­i­cal for Bail­lie, who is lead­ing the party through his sec­ond cam­paign — and may not get a third op­por­tu­nity if ex­pec­ta­tions aren’t re­al­ized.

Bail­lie has painted the pro­vin­cial race as a ref­er­en­dum on McNeil. He said the Tories will re­lease a party plat­form “very soon.’’

NDP Leader Gary Bur­rill told dozens of sup­port­ers at a wes­t­end cafe Sun­day that an NDP gov­ern­ment would pri­or­i­tize “in­vest­ments in our peo­ple’’ over a bal­anced bud­get to tackle is­sues like hunger, ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion and hos­pi­tal over­crowd­ing.

“All the ev­i­dence is that the McNeil Lib­er­als are not the ob­jects of any­one’s af­fec­tion in Nova Sco­tia at the mo­ment,’’ Bur­rill told re­porters. “I think that the door has opened to any pos­si­bil­ity now with the an­nounce­ment of the elec­tion and we’ll see what hap­pens in the next month.’’

Bur­rill said he’s putting “ev­ery ounce of energy’’ into his own race in the Hal­i­fax-Che­bucto rid­ing, hav­ing won his party’s lead­er­ship race last year with­out a seat in the pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­ture.

He aims to re­vive the for­tunes of a party that had a dra­matic fall from grace in 2013, when it was swept from gov­ern­ment by the Lib­er­als.

The elec­tion call comes af­ter spring polling that in­di­cated the Lib­er­als had fallen in pop­u­lar­ity, although they were still in ma­jor­ity ter­ri­tory as of March, ac­cord­ing to Cape Bre­ton Uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor David John­son.

De­cided voter sup­port for the Lib­eral party dropped from 56 per cent to 44 per cent, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey of 1,210 adults conducted by Hal­i­fax-based Cor­po­rate Re­search As­so­ciates Inc. The Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives stood at 28 per cent, up eight points, and the New Democrats were at 23 per cent, up from 19 per cent, while five per cent sup­ported the Green Party.

“They are pretty much back to where they were in 2013,’’ John­son said in an in­ter­view last month. “Forty-four per cent will win them a strong, healthy ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment if that num­ber hold up dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign.’’

John­son said the key would be hold­ing onto rid­ings in metro Hal­i­fax.

“The Lib­er­als dom­i­nate metro (cur­rently) and whomever dom­i­nates metro, that’s the path­way into a ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment,’’ he said.

Nova Sco­tia Premier Stephen McNeil, left, and his wife An­dre leave Gov­ern­ment House af­ter ask­ing the lieu­tenant gov­er­nor to dis­solve the house in or­der to call a pro­vin­cial elec­tion in Hal­i­fax on Sun­day.

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