Why the fall session of the Nova Scotia legislature begins today, with two full weeks left in summer, is open to conjecture. The fall session generally begins nearer Thanksgiving than Labour Day.
It’s been suggested the Liberal government wants to tether three of the five candidates for the Conservative leadership to the House. If true, it follows that Liberals would prefer to face a party led by Cecil Clarke in the next election. Clarke, who’s mayor of the Cape Breton region has the advantage of campaigning for Tory votes unfettered by legislative demands.
Liberals scoff at the theory, claiming they don’t prefer any candidate as the next Conservative leader.
The early start may have more to do with Premier Stephen McNeil’s travel plans than anything the Tories are up to. The premier is going to China in early November and wouldn’t risk leaving his government unsupervised in the legislature, so he wants the necessary business done before he leaves.
The acrimonious battle for the Tory leadership won’t be felt on the floor of the legislature, Opposition Leader Karla MacFarlane assures anyone who asks. Those who have watched her lead the official opposition Conservatives for the past nine months take her at her word.
MacFarlane took on the high-profile, demanding and temporary job, and stayed out of the leadership race, because of her family. Her singular regret since entering political life is the time she’s lost with her kids.
“I’ll go to my grave guilty for the sacrifices my family made so I could pursue a political career. Before I was elected (first in 2013 and again in 2017 with 60 per cent of votes cast) I never missed a thing my kids were involved in. Now I miss too much.”
The flip side is that the job gives purpose to her passion. Now, she says, when she can’t get Nova Scotians the help they deserve, she frequently discovers it’s the failure of a system that’s inflexible to people’s needs.
This is a woman who sees how government works and knows it can be better.
If any of her three caucus colleagues wins the leadership, this will be MacFarlane’s last session as opposition leader. Were Clarke or Julie Chaisson to win, MacFarlane could retain that job until the party’s new leader gets a seat in the House.
Leadership candidates and MLAs Tim Houston (Pictou East), John Lohr (Kings North) and Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin (Cumberland North) have lost their critic responsibilities for the duration of the race, but they are expected to be in the House for daily question period and to participate in debates. With the Oct. 27 leadership climax nearing, those three candidates will have to budget their time well or risk losing ground.
MacFarlane, who’s maintained a neutral posture in the leadership, says people will be surprised by the growth in the party since the race began, particularly the addition of young members.
Health care – in crisis, according to the Tories and NDP – will again top the opposition’s legislative agenda, while the government is planning to bring in several bills, including one to modernize the Motor Vehicle Act and rename it the Traffic Safety Act. The Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act is due for an update this fall when Nova Scotians might get a closer look at the McNeil government’s cap-and-trade scheme.
The Tories plan to speak for Nova Scotians who are unable to find a family doctor, while the NDP is focused on the problems in long-term care, where homes are chronically understaffed. The Liberals moved to defuse the NDP issue Wednesday with an old staple from the political playbook – they named an expert panel to give them some advice on the glaringly obvious.
In other business, Conservatives plan to introduce a bill to ban conversion therapy directed at people under 18, and ensure no public money supports the controversial pseudoscience that aims to convert people who identify as LGBTQ to heterosexuality.
“The greatest freedom for anyone is to be their authentic self,” MacFarlane said in a recent interview. She was drawn to the party by its promise of a progressive social agenda and a chance to mould that agenda.
For the record, the second session of the 63rd General Assembly begins with Lieutenant Governor Arthur LeBlanc plodding through a Throne Speech dense with government self-congratulations and salted with hints at action to come.
Today is a day of pomp and ceremony, but once that’s over MLAs can get down to the business of squeezing some legislation between the partisan snipes.
Jim Vibert, a journalist and writer for longer than he cares to admit, consulted or worked for five Nova Scotia governments. He now keeps a close and critical eye on provincial and regional powers.