June 2, 1995 Halifax Herald

Political reformers: damned if they do or don't

When Don Cameron assumed the premiership of Nova Scotia, with financial and political reforms high on his agenda, the news media almost universally turned on him. It sometimes seemed as if they were being directed by his opponents, the status quo politicians.

In almost every news report, his leadership was depicted as arrogant, insensitive and non-productive. Very little attention was paid to this fact: under his administration, many positive and proactive changes were founded. Two examples: (1) The Nova Scotia Human Rights Act was amended, which, by banning previously excluded forms of discrimination, made it one of the best in the country. (2) The process of modernizing the province's archaic justice system was implemented. While making these and other positive changes, he also severely cut back on the patronage practices of the Tory party. This step alone gave him enough back-stabbing troops to contend with, without having the news media irrationally nipping at his heels.

Then when he was defeated, for doing what most of us wanted done in the first place - spending cuts, debt control, etc. - the news media were in the front row condemning him for accepting a public service position. A justification for this unbending animosity still escapes me. I ask myself: After they had made his job prospects very limited by thoroughly vilifying him in the public eye, what did they expect him to do - sing for a living? I, too, am a staunch anti-patronage person, but I have nothing ill to say about Cameron's appointment as Counsel General in Boston. He was, and is, eminently qualified for the position. And further, the appointment provided a means for a decent man to continue in dignity a distinguished public service career. Instead of shunning him, lets begin to acknowledge his notable accomplishments.

With Cameron's departure from politics, another reformer, John Savage, appeared on the political scene. Guess what? Almost immediately, a campaign is on the way by the media to brand him as an arrogant and insensitive performer. In order to keep the anti-Savage flame burning brightly, almost every news item about him or his government's performance has a negative comment.

One might be excused for asking: what's going on? In the past, while we muddled through several patronage-prone regimes, nary a negative word is said about the leaders. Is there an unwritten and mysterious code afoot which states we must bring to their knees any reformer who tries to bring into politics a higher moral standard? In view of the lack of support given to those who try, one would think there is.

In the instance of Savage, is he really deserving of all the negative criticism heaped upon him? After all, we elected him to put the province's financially troubled house in order, and much progress has been made. Granted the process was rough, but, in view of the enormity of the problems, I don't think anyone should have realistically expected a cakewalk. As a matter of fact, while under constant pressure from the credit-rating kingpins of Wall and Bay streets, I think the hard decisions the Premier and his government made to alleviate the province's financial ills showed a remarkable measure of responsibility.

Let's be reasonable. Its fine to debate and question the actions of those we charge with governing the province, but reality has to be included in the discourse. When debating the possible consequences of action's taken, we also have to consider the consequences of no action or, even worse, weak action.

Therefore, lets ask ourselves: What would have been the probable results if Savage had not continued with the austerity Program initiated by Cameron? These are my presumptions: First, we would have seen our credit rating downgraded. Second, the cost of borrowing money to finance essential government operations would have increased substantially -- having the side effect of causing a hugh increase in the provincial debt, thus setting the stage for a future credit downgrade. Third, the ongoing credit downgrades would eventually have made our debt, without the imposition of drastic austerity measures, unsustainable.

Thankfully, up to the present time, we have seen only non-essential public services trimmed. And, in my humble opinion, unless we're willing to raise already excessive and unproductive tax levels, this course has to be followed until an affordable level is reached. Further, if we want to preserve an effective safety net, we must be willing to make the adjustments and sacrifices needed to do so. And perhaps most important, we must stop the practice of blindly ostracizing the politicians who undertake the unpleasant and unrewarding task of reforming the system for us.

Daniel N. Paul


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