January 21, 2005, The Halifax Herald Limited
LAST NOVEMBER, I sat down with Premier John Hamm for an hour or so to review with him his minority government's performance. This time, as opposed to our October 2001 interview, the session was held after lunch; therefore, I wasn't treated to the early morning "breakfast" I suffered the last time we had a chat.
I'll kick off by getting the negative items out of the way, which, I'm happy to state, aren't many.
One of the first issues we touched on was the income tax rebate - from my viewpoint, a debacle. I'll be frank: When it was approved so close to an election, I thought it was a crass political move. In fact, it gave all the appearances of an attempt to resurrect the discredited practice of trying to buy taxpayers' votes with their money.
However, after John, whom I know to be a man of integrity, sincerely restated that he had made a promise prior to the previous election to cut taxes during his mandate, which he felt obligated to do before going to the polls, I now think it was done in good faith. But there is a lesson to be learned, for all politicians, from this. When it appears that an election promise is impossible to keep, especially considering the financial situation of the province, have faith in the good common sense of the electors and explain to them why it has to be moved to a future time. Don't assume that the voters will seek revenge for failing to deliver the impossible. They won't.
Then we turned to the Sunday shopping issue. I pointed out to him that, due to the confusing question, the plebiscite solved nothing; it just imposed the will of the minority on the majority. What won the day for the No side was that they were more motivated by religious beliefs, or a belief that workers would suffer because of it.
Other major factors leading to the No side victory were the surveys done by polling firms before the vote, which indicated a large majority were in favour of Sunday shopping. It instilled complacency in the Yes side. Yes voters stayed home in droves because of the poll indications, figuring the Yes side was so strong that their votes in the end wouldn't matter.
I had a humorous experience because of this. The next morning, I visited a home where four Yes voters resided; they hadn't heard the news at that point. In fact, they were so confident that the Yes side had won that the first question they posed was: "Will the stores be open next Sunday?" When I informed them that the No side had won the day, they were astounded. When I asked them if they had voted, their answer was no, because they thought that the Yes side would win without them. To say the least, they were not happy campers! The solution for this type of influence would be a ban on polls two or three weeks before a vote takes place.
I personally voted Yes on the issue, simply because we have Sunday shopping now for a select minority of merchants, which is grossly unfair to the majority of them. I think the whole issue needs rethinking. Have most of you noticed, since the No side won, the profusion of large mini-supermarket drugstores popping up all over metro? I've counted five to date. The present ban is a laugh.
The government should revisit this and open Sundays to shopping for all merchants, or close it for all, including the casino. One wonders why the Yes side is not out beating the bushes to put into effect a real Sunday shopping ban. The present situation is hypocritical. And I remind politicians, it is contrary to the will of the majority.
Now, the good news. On the financial front, except for the tax-rebate fiasco, the Tory government has been providing very responsible management. The provincial debt is no longer increasing by leaps and bounds; the province's credit rating has been upgraded to the point where borrowing can be done at cheaper rates; and noticeable improvements in the infrastructure have been made.
Although many highways still need a great deal of work, many of them are a pleasure to drive on once again. Hopefully, the years are behind us when they were pitted with potholes - some so big that they caused accidents, destroyed tires and rims, sometimes springs, struts and shock absorbers. Add to this the fact that two of the province's worst polluted spots are finally being cleaned up, new provincially owned schools are being constructed, and so on, and it strongly indicates that the province is moving out of its financial doldrums at last.
I believe most responsible Nova Scotians appreciate this. However, standing in the wings are those who would restart the financial downward spiral again by overspending. Let's hope that they don't get a chance to do so. In fact, I would like to see legislation enacted that would prevent it. The province's citizens need properly funded essential services (health, welfare, etc.), not any more luxury social programs they cannot afford.
Altogether, one and a half thumbs up for John Hamm and company. Keep up the good, progressive work!
Daniel N. Paul