The NS Liberal Government is re-writing legislation in their heads, and have their own glossary of terms. They are doing everything backwards, and with a touch of in-your-face antics. It is a mind boggling approach and is bound to have devastating consequences. And folks, it isn’t limited to one or two decisions or one or two departments. It is across the board.
So far, with a second term in government just begun, we have seen some truly bizarre and increasingly unacceptable roll-outs and realizations. There is an aura of “We know more than everyone else” or “I don’t have to listen to you. You’re not the boss of me” tendencies. It is bizarre, that enough people out there actually still feel this government is capable or are intending to do what is best for them and voted this government back in. Those who still do believe, obviously haven’t felt the impacts of this government’s behaviour yet, and by the time they do, much will be beyond the point of no return. Or perhaps, they are just so simply loyal, they have blinders on, or are in denial.
At the same time, much is left to be desired in some of the alternatives. Even in the face of opposition on big issues, the NS Progressive Conservatives support much that is not favoured by the citizens of this province, and give very little time to the public perspective on things like fracking, pulp mills, and the oil industry. But they now have a responsibility to pay closer attention, rather than sloughing off those of us who tried to get through to them. Rather than treat us like we are crazy, or desperate or obsessed, they could have made alliances, but now they will have four years to observe the damage right along with the rest of us, because we wouldn’t vote for them, even to get rid of the Liberals.
The NS NDP would have been a good choice from a public safety and well-being factor, citing the environment and health care, as well as education as their priorities, but the people of Nova Scotia have not forgiven nor forgotten their frustrations with the recent Dexter government. Too bad for us, that we keep going around in circles, between two well established clique parties who have destroyed and toyed with this province for 140 years, and one crack at the can gets the third party a couch on the curb. It is a mind set rather than a fully studied choice.
At the very least, the NS Liberals are just barely over the line of majority. That they came that far, is a surprise to many. Probably no one is more surprised than the opposition. But those of us, who have long time concerns about the health and well being of Nova Scotians, especially from an environmental perspective, as well as our economy and infrastructure, are not sure where this next 4 years will take us. The NS Liberals don’t answer to or listen to anyone.
What is the trouble with these teams of elected showboats? Why are they on their own personal goal driven agendas that leave most of us out in the cold, rather than one that works for a majority of Nova Scotians and is in our best interests as a whole? What makes this government so secretive about their plans? And if it is good for us, why aren’t they consulting with us? And I mean really consulting with us, not just using the word and thinking we should be satisfied just because they said it. Their version of consultation needs to be in line with the public understanding of the term. They do not have their own definition. There is no legal variance for the meaning of the word. And to continue to act as if they are reading from a different book, violates their obligations to the public on every front.
“…typically before undertaking a course of action.” The government needs to consult with those impacted before they make a decision. They have a habit of treating the consultation process as nothing more than a check mark. This leads to gaps in facts and real time information. Those gaps and partial data lead to misinformed decisions, which lead to poor results. Some of the results from previous decisions are showing themselves clearly and in troubling ways, but yet McNeil is still not hearing us. Or if he is, he is choosing to ignore everything that’s happened, as if it doesn’t exist. Most of the time, public consultation is treated as an irritant, that cannot be avoided, and those in power treat the public perspective, or concerns as a waste of time. The benefit of public consultation, is local knowledge. Industry knowledge, environmental knowledge, day to day knowledge… all of it is valuable and pertinent knowledge. Leaving it out, leaves the most knowledgeable and likely most impacted out of the process. Another form of failure in public consultation, is the trend to ignore the public when they have evidence based concerns about existing issues.
Promises made by Stephen McNeil prior to the 2013 election were broken left, right and centre. People have been rendered speechless over and over again, but his ability to deny and reword or remain mute over the multiple promises he has failed to keep or defiantly retracted. And progress that had been made prior to this government has quickly eroded into an industrial age mentality. Public outcry seems to go past their ears like the wind.
The Film Industry fiasco was a turning point in this province, but most people assumed it was no biggie. They were not in the industry, they did not know the truth about the tax credits, and they most definitely did not understand the impacts the industry had on this province. The fall out was immediate. Film companies were taking their projects elsewhere, where there were tax credits, and the people who worked in the industry were leaving to find work. Many will never return. But that is not the end of the story. Other businesses felt the impacts of this decision. The film industry is not just a group of actors, a director and the camera crew. The industry relies heavily on the locals for everything from accommodations, like bed and breakfasts to costumes, travel, food and rented venues. And while the government blasted in the media with we can’t afford it, what we couldn’t afford was a knee jerk decision to cut $24 Million without realizing that was not even 1/6th of what the industry put back into the economy. The promotion of this credit for other projects meant long term, full time employment which meant payroll taxes. And the continued prospect for tourism and rural economic development were threatened. What was missing in this decision? A real and unbiased review of what the industry did for the province. No one talked to the industry or the experts who could give insight into this sector. The industry itself did an economic impact assessment in the shadows of this tax cut and the locals spoke out to try to convince the government they had made a big mistake, but rather than admit there had been an error, a new tax credit was formed, and this year’s budget shows a line item for almost the same amount that was once not affordable.
Pre-primary – The Minister of Education announced that a pre-primary program would be rolled out in the public school system, without ever conferring with the schools. He stated a week later, they would begin consulting with the stakeholders and administrators on how this program would work and really had no idea when the centres would even be opened. The goal in this program is not apparent as solutions for child care could have been implemented within the existing child care system. Research and statistics have shown putting children into a school room earlier is having negative impacts on their learning careers over time. Parents in need of the financial break, will take advantage of the opportunity, while hoping the government wouldn’t do anything bad for their kids…
NS Public Education – Teachers took work action this year for the first time in their union’s history. But it wasn’t just about labour negotiations. It was predominantly about classroom conditions. Teachers were seeing the degradation of the classroom for years and the government was ignoring them, responding with implementation of programming, increasing data collection and standardised testing, increased class sizes, while claiming limits had been lowered, cuts to supply budgets, and failure to respond to requirements for classroom supports for students who were in desperate need. The government placed the duties and pressures on teachers without consulting them, while ignoring the teachers on issues that already exist.
Health care – the health boards were merged, and that has led to family doctor shortages, ER wait times that create greater critical care concerns, dilapidated infrastructure, specialist shortages, underspending, and an overall frustration that will surely extend a crisis in this province for all those who are not receiving primary or specialized care now, that should, and therefore are missing out on early intervention for things like, cancers, cardiovascular disease, degenerative disorders. Doctors have spoken out and held rallies to try to reach the elected officials. This seems to be falling on deaf ears. The NS Liberals say, there is no crisis.
Industrial approvals around the province over the last couple of years have proven to be less than transparent. Most defy the theory of consultation so egregiously, onlookers are either dumbfounded or irate. And nothing about these approvals are in the public interest.
Fall River – A quarry was approved after three applications and 4.5 years in varied court cases. Public consultation was done with no public access to documentation on Application 1, omitted on Application 2 (resulted in revocation), and while 16 months of submissions were permitted on Application 3, they were essentially ignored. Experts from out of province provided thorough examination of the wet areas and blasting plans with real concern and outlined anticipated risks to human safety, the pipeline, highway and airport. Local businesses expressed their concerns about the incompatibility of such an operation next to their plants and the airport. Political interference in the approval process was very publicly known.
Destruction of wetlands is in complete opposition to legislation and the boasting of NS Environment. But it happens. And a permit is required which instigates an environmental assessment of sorts. Violations of the regulations protecting wetlands, are supposed to be reported to NS Environment. In Fall River, when a complaint was filed with photographic evidence that a wetland had been decimated in site preparation in the headwaters of the Shubenacadie River Watershed, the Minister of Environment discontinued the investigation stating that “harvesting” did not required authorization. When confirmation was sought from the Minister responsible for forestry, he was clear that this was not harvesting, but rather site preparation. The Minister for NSE then claimed they had their own definition for harvesting, but failed to provide it.
Alton Gas – A brining process using the Shubenacadie River, to carve out upwards of 18 underground Natural Gas storage caverns was approved without public knowledge. Both the government and the proponents claim there was full consultation, but many residents and First Nations people became aware of the project when the pipeline was being installed. One aspect of the project, saw the river bank excavated, which is normally not legal, and a channel and subsequent island formed. A member of the public altering their shoreline would be fined heavily or face prosecution, but the government allowed this reconfiguration of the river, without any form of consultation. The river has been, since then, filling the channel back in, healing itself in a way.
Lafarge Industries – applied to burn tires for fuel for their kiln in Brookfield several years ago. The application was rejected. This spring, with great opposition to the operation from across the province, not only was a new application approved, but the people of Nova Scotia have been saddled with a cost, paying the company to do this. No consultation on that part ever occurred and when the people are opposed to something, to then also saddle them with the cost of it, while a corporation garners profits at our expense, is beyond crazy making.
Clear Cutting – Crown land – that belongs to the people of NS – is under dire risk of being completely obliterated of all trees and then turned into pulp farms for a dying pulp and paper industry or biomass energy. The Acadian Forest is quickly going from at risk, to severely irrecoverable. This method of harvesting has been deemed a threat to the world’s environment and a propellant of global warming for many years. It has been outlawed in some parts of the world, and forestry groups and citizens in Nova Scotia have been clamoring for a stop to it here, but the Government only takes their advise from the forestry companies they choose to partner with. And of course, they are not even close to being forthright with science that doesn’t favour their action plan. The people of this province are well aware, and becoming more and more aware, as the clearcutting is spreading at such great rates, the sites are no longer able to be hidden from the prying eyes of the public. The Cape Breton Highlands Plateau, the Wentworth Valley, Liscombe Game Sanctuary, all are quickly at risk of becoming barren. Another trick our government plays, is to permit clear cutting in an area, and then add it to the protected areas list. Much of the clear cuts on crown land have been veraciously opposed to by the public, like those on the lands obtained in the Buy Back the Mersey purchase that the public saw as preservation and increased recreational lands.
Glyphosate – no matter the continuing debate around the carcinogenic classification of glyphosate and its partners (surfactants), when there is a question, our Precautionary Principle must kick in. This applies to every doubtful, incomplete or unanswered science on anything the province must approve or deny. It is written in the NS Environment Act, and it is a part of the United Nations’ Rio Declaration as well as many international treaties that Canada is a signatory to. Yet Nova Scotia continues to approve the use of Glyphosate and its surfactants on our forests, along power lines, and most recently the rail system throughout the province, even within our communities. There is no process or program to properly inform the public of the recent classifications, nor advise of the option and procedure to appeal an approval.
Northern Pulp (previously Scot Paper et al) has been toxically impacting the air and water in Pictou and area for decades. Pictou County has the highest rates of Cancer (in Canada) and cardiovascular and respiratory disease among other serious and greatly concerning stats including still births and infant mortality. Very little effort is made to appease the public complaints and concerns. The current Chair (a former premier and medical doctor) told members of the community group demanding improvements, the illnesses were the result of the high rates of drinking and smoking in the area. Compared to where exactly? What kind of accusation is that to make about thousands of people? And since when do newborn babies smoke and drink? When a resident calls NS Environment to complain about air quality in say, Pictou Centre, NSE figures out which way the wind is blowing and looks out the other windows, and then says the air looks clear. The Mill ramps up production at night time, when it is less noticed, and residents wake up in the morning with burning eyes, throats and noses among other symptoms. If the smog is undeniably bad on any particular day, the weather is to blame. Under this government, public access to the monitoring and stack test results has been eliminated.
I could go on and on, and on. This short list of examples of consultation failures only scratches the surface of these and many deeper and much more complex issues on local and individual cases.
So, who is the government listening to? Corporations, cronies and collaborators. And if they are electing to ignore the people of the province, they must be benefiting by colluding with lobbyists and CEOs. Stakeholders and members of the public are consistently speaking out about a lack of consultation. Consultation in our legislation refers to the people, as that is who government represents. It is deemed to be meaningful in legislation, but whether it exists at all in many cases, let alone being meaningful or with the people, is a debate that also remains unresolved.
The truth of the matter is, if the government ignores us, and dismisses our concerns and questions without answers, they can never be accused later of lying to us. History has shown us that when good local and expert knowledge is submitted, and ignored, government claims later to have no knowledge of what we had provided. This has happened enough times, that we as a public have come to the practice of submitting the same things over and over again, to multiple recipients, to ensure someone has to admit later, that we did in fact inform them. We have had to inundate, and keep track of recipients, and request read receipts or confirmation, to create a security for ourselves for future legal and legislative actions. It is sad, when your main goal in submitting is to build a solid base of evidence. It is sad that the submissions are going to be set aside, thereby necessitating use of evidence later.