Over the past year, and to be honest, in my case the feeling has existed for a bit longer, but especially over this past year, the Government of Nova Scotia has led like they dislike, or maybe even despise, every single one of us. And I know that may sound melodramatic, but all things considered… it’s not, really. The most obvious and most publicly discussed targets of the premier’s wrath were the very people he had lobbied for support prior to his election.
When the NS Liberals came into power in 2013, I wasn’t paying them a lot of mind. There were a few bumps pretty quickly, but I never considered myself knowledgeable enough to form any firm opinions. I never got into any of the debates. I was embroiled in my own environmental fight, and not until later, in 2015, did I really understand the fight was with Stephen McNeil and his posse of yes-men.
So during my distracted and disengaged period, all kinds of whatnot was stirring.
At the helm, is a Premier who has traded in all of his charm for a somewhat sour disposition. He never looks happy when confronted, unless taking sharp aim at someone in an unkind fashion. Almost immediately, after forming a majority government, he started breaking promises and acting like a corrupt and nepotistic dictator. He decided and acted without transparency or consultation and appeared to not care about what anyone thought.
His first action plan was to reorganize the healthcare system. He decided nurses should all be under one union, and the healthcare system needed to be condensed into one provincewide board. Many people supported this because he promised immense financial benefits. Many people didn’t agree, but he wasn’t really asking for anyone else’s opinion. When the nurses were outraged, he fell to a tactic of maligning them as greedy and selfish. Imagine that for a moment. Life savers, care givers. These beacons of kindness and patience, in a scary space, giving us comfort. Greedy? Selfish? My gosh, I thought. What is he saying? He also decided to reorganize the mechanics of doctors and family medicine. Further down the line, he maligned their characters as well, claiming they were not willing to work harder.
Well, here we are a few years later and we have a crisis. A full blown, scary and dysfunctional crisis. The new centralized board was populated by business people such as lawyers and accountants. Not one doctor. And only one nursing professional. No investments have been made in infrastructure in our central hospital that is falling apart. Big money was instead spent on purchasing grossly over priced property (from a friend) in an obscure location that signalled an elitist and corrupt path from a government that had already made many missteps and developed animosities that created harsh feelings from those he treated as enemies. The underspending on capital upgrades at the main hospital became stories of mold, flooded units and patients scared of what they were being exposed to.
Nursing shortages were exacerbated by new testing and morale has been on a steady decline. But then there are also the doctors who are retiring and departing at alarming rates. From family doctors up to specialists. They are burning out, fed up or just really made a personal choice to go somewhere else, where they would make good money, work normal hours and all the while, maybe feel a little appreciated. And some doctors were due to retire and this should have been anticipated… new doctors should have been training. Cape Breton has had to bear the brunt of the shortages, especially in the ERs. The NS Liberals will proudly spout that maybe 100 new doctors were hired, while failing to mention that possibly 125 had left the system. Or something like that.
And so it has all caught up with us in a very bad way, and yet the Premier says it’s not a crisis. He would like us to believe the situation is a minor hiccup. He says opposition MLAs are fear mongering. But fear and frustration has built due to actual experiences. The fear of what is happening doesn’t need an MLA’s consensus to be real. In fact nowadays, people rely very little on MLAs for assessing honestly what’s coming. The premier continues to disregard anyone whose story shines a negative light on his decisions. ERs close often, since there is no one available to work. It is estimated that over 100,000 people are without a primary physician in the province. Waiting rooms are over crowded and ERs that are open are overburdened. These numbers are challenged by the Government with things like their robocall system that started the wait list over from scratch. If you didn’t answer the call or could not understand the number or the call itself, you were never going to get added. Regardless of who you believe, families were suddenly without a doctor, which also meant no referrals, certain prescriptions were out of reach, and basic care for a pregnant mother was nonexistent.
Over these last months, the real impacts are starting to make their way into the news more and more. Elderly people, or terminally ill patients are dying in hallways, next to supply closets. Their last precious moments in life lying in a hallway with no privacy or dignity. Or the patients who tried to get help with a chronic concern, turned away over and over from the ER, until one day finally a diagnosis comes, and it is too late. You have no time left and there is no way to imagine the devastation of having no hope for even a week or a month more. Last month, the ER backlogs were so bad that wait times were 10 or 14 hours for some people. Ambulances were tied up caring for patients who could not be taken in at the ER.
Due to a shortage in nursing home beds, hospitals are carrying the load of elderly patients who require care. The Premier has done nothing to curtail nursing home shortages either, claiming seniors wish to remain in their homes, ignoring the numbers and the costs incurred in keeping them in hospitals. And this additional shortage means there are no rooms to admit patients, so they stay in the ER taking up beds and resources, for days, weeks, even months. If the Premier cared, he would be remorseful. He would admit, when looking at these few samples of the many hundreds of similar stories, there is a dire and growing crisis in the healthcare system in this province. But he sneers and growls at anyone who provides factual evidence and demands.
After setting down his initial path to destruction in healthcare, McNeil went after the film industry. This was a quick, slice of the tax credit from his budget. The Film Tax Credit was a key attraction to bigger productions and boosted the local professions. The industry employed thousands and created more jobs in spinoffs. But McNeil was having none of that. What made it even more ludicrous was his promise to the film industry, during election season, that he would never take away the film tax credit.
The announcement came a week before it was enacted through the budget. The behaviour by the McNeil government during the week of debates over this decision were atrocious. They were reading comic books and playing games on their phones while other members made a case for hitting the pause button. They sneered at the protests and pleas from members of the industry. Bolstered by a protagonist of sorts, the billionaire fish monger from down the shore, who inserted himself into the dialogue and chastised the lazy and selfish film workers for not standing on their own. He implied if they needed the money to survive, they were unsuccessful. This was my first closer look at where his wealth had come from. Touted as a self-starter emblem of success, he failed to acknowledge where his take of tax credits, grants and government loans and benefits were the base of his personal wealth. And McNeil was happy for his support, even though it looked and sounded a lot like cronyism. You know the old saying, looks like a duck… This also opened the door to closer inspection of the Premier’s relationship with many business circles and organizations that lobby government while disguising themselves as “think tanks” and not-for-profits.
McNeil did eventually try to make amends with the industry, but offered a restructured concession that did not compare to its successful predecessor. It did not function and was not a compelling enough option to attract the projects previously experienced. Very few of those impacted were overly receptive. It was a fiasco. Liberal MLAs were spouting a scripted response that added to frustrations. 3 years later, the industry has not recovered. And we have lost the $180 Million in estimated contributions to GDP.
While the public and media were hearing primarily about the film industry during these budget debates, many other groups were taking their punches as well. Bill 108 and other acts by McNeil cut funding to several factions, including but not limited to Non-Profits that provide supports to the Deaf, People with Epilepsy, Children with Special Needs, Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities, People with Eating Disorders, as well as the United Way. Groups that support our most vulnerable were shut out of funding they relied on to survive.
McNeil then set out to bust up the unions in Nova Scotia. Prior to the 2013 election, McNeil sold himself as a pro-labour, pro-collective bargaining candidate. In 2015, he introduced Bill 148, taking away the fair bargaining process for thousands and thousands of public servants, and held that over the unions’ heads for the next couple of years by waiting to have it proclaimed while unions were waiting for contract negotiations and renewals.
In 2017, he refused to negotiate with teachers. Publicly, he claimed teachers were unrelenting in their greed and selfishness. Wait, the teachers AND the nurses in this province are greedy and selfish? These caregivers and leaders in developing our children’s minds and morals were greedy and selfish? Come on. In December of 2017, for the first time in the history of the Teachers’ Union in Nova Scotia, teachers were set to take job action implementing Work to Rule. They were fighting for classroom conditions, class sizes, student resources, supplies, less administrative requirements, support for student success. The Premier used this job action as ammunition against the teachers, continuing to malign and demean them, ignoring their true demands. He maintained they were fighting for their paycheques and long service awards, and ignored all the other aspects of the dispute.
His team was reported to have left brown envelopes at the supposed negotiation table, rather than actually sit down at the table. And then the Minister of Education locked students out of the schools claiming the teachers would not provide appropriate care if they went forward with work to rule. The Premier claimed principals in the schools (teachers and union members themselves) were worried about the safety of children, his first phase in creating a scenario of divide and conquer. He claimed the teachers would not put child safety before their own personal demands. It was ludicrous and an unwarranted shameful attack on the integrity of every teacher in the province. This treatment continues into 2018, and includes what many in the public recognize as underhanded tactics and fabricated data.
As the years have gone by, the premier appears to have emboldened his party in a long run show of poor behaviour. The Liberal MLAs have acted like an entitled bunch of ignorant brats and thugs. Some have taken to blocking constituents who disagree with them, and sometimes just for asking a question, on social media. One has repeatedly claimed he has been threatened but never produces any evidence, and he also tells horribly embarrassing lies about his government’s accomplishments. One has sent cease and desist letters to constituents who express dissatisfaction. This particular MLA has even spoken out about private citizens to other private citizens, disparaging their character. Most have used finger pointing and foul logic to demean their critics, often citing incorrect “facts”. One who has no relevant background states that his party knows better than we the public do, what is best for us. All have taken on a vow of solidarity that includes agreeing to spew scripted and limited party lines, agreeing to treat the public like idiots, agreeing to ignore their own past statements when confronted, and agreeing to be mindless backers who have no independent thoughts.
Last year when it appeared there were gaps in the party line, we heard about nose to nose confrontations on the Legislature floor, backbenchers being escorted to the house to ensure they did not speak to media, actual hissy fits during debates, and controlled access to interviews with restrictions on questions and answers. This year, ‘public’ meetings are invite only, if you speak poorly of a policy or budget item, you will be shut out of future access to Ministers and likely find decisions being made that ignore you altogether. The premier has even joked about his critics in moments of pandering to his meager 21% of the voter population who support him.
There is a double standard when it comes to austerity. While the rest of the province is suffering the impacts of cuts and crises, members of government have given themselves a raise, spent hoards of dough on self promotion, travel more than any other government and dropped their service requirement to two years for their pensions.
During Law amendments, the party has taken to ignoring and antagonizing presenters. One MLA sat 6 feet from presenters in one scenario, yawning, slumping into a bored head in hand position, pretending to fall asleep, then commenced with rearranging his face and fidgeting like a child while they spoke. Many of them blatantly ignore the presenters, talking to each other or playing with their phones.
Ministers predominantly refuse to speak directly to members of the public on all topics, preferring instead to have one sided discussions through the media, presenting only their perspective and never answering the questions that should play an integral part in decision making. Recently, when a local chapter of a national university student group revealed their disappointment in a lack of action from Government on campus based sexual violence in an open letter, the Minister retaliated by cancelling meetings and disparaging, without evidence, the accuracy and appropriateness of the letter. Poor thing didn’t like being told he wasn’t doing enough. And then there is the continued circumventing of access to information and stonewalling on requests to such information. Anyone seeking information from the Environment department, may wait 6 months for their request to be filled, like residents in Fall River and their lawyer did recently.
When I look at the current government, honourable and official are two words that never come to mind. They have proven themselves inept, disgruntled and bitter and while we champion the concept that anyone can go into public service, we wish there were courses on behaviour and ethics, at the very least, that would be mandatory. It is apparent to some degree too that one should have a basic understanding of the meaning of democracy. It is not appropriate to make claims about members of the public being rude, harassing, slandering or threatening an MLA, when they are expressing dissatisfaction. Criticism is not criminal behaviour. But using power to intimidate or retaliate against your critics is disgusting.
The numbers of unregistered lobbyists calling themselves think tanks, and lying about ownership in corporations they are representing to access and garner support, family members and friends getting political appointments and contracts, as well as special concessions and new infrastructure being used to tool constituent favour is overwhelming at times. Environmental disregard and deleterious decisions that impact communities all over the province are on the rise, and while only one MLA possesses a science degree, he is ostracized within his own government for speaking out on behalf of his constituents. These other members have a hard time admitting they really don’t know enough, and keep spouting ‘facts and science’ every time the insanity is questioned, as if saying the words make them part of the equation. They even look those of us with appropriate backgrounds in the eye and try to convince us they are more well equipped to make these decisions than anyone else.
While many of us are quickly trying to decide if it is safest for us to depart to another part of the country, others are relentlessly trying to push facts and real science and data to the forefront. We call out the media for not working harder to keep the government in check. It has appeared for quite some time that there was little in the way of accurate or reliable reporting. But as more and more landmines are exposing themselves, the media is starting to show its teeth, and in return the Premier is becoming more and more likely to walk out of a media scrum, mid-sentence.
No answers to questions. No listening to reality. No fixing any problems. No respect for those he works for. And he gets angrier with every passing day. If all were right in the decisions and direction he has chosen, you would think the Premier would be a happy fellow. People would be happy with him. But the Premier and all of his MLAs continue to back themselves further into corners, and further from transparency, shutting the public out more and more. It feels like voters were conned and we are all now being punished for the numbers of us who actually fell for it.