Editor’s Note: This column, which ran in the May issue of Halifax Magazine, was written in late April, a week before the provincial election was called.
As Nova Scotian governments near the midpoint of their five-year mandates, they start polling with vigour. “Do people like us?” they wonder. “When can we call the election to have the best chance of getting re-elected?”
They goose those numbers with strategic spending announcements. After years of telling us we must learn to live within our means, they suddenly find money for all sorts of feel-good schemes, sprinkled in strategic ridings around the province. Road pavers fan out, a well-patched pothole being the path to a Nova Scotian’s heart.
This system serves the incumbent well, but it’s not the slightest bit ethical and it gives the defending government one heck of a home-field advantage. Every province and territory in the land except Nova Scotia recognizes this, which is why they’ve all passed laws setting the dates (typically every four years) of elections.
Of course, they’ve taken a good idea and executed it in a most middling fashion: the law still allows the government to call an election before the set date. But it doesn’t let them postpone it past the date, and it does hold the government more accountable: triggering an earlier election looks more clearly like the stark politicking it is, and increasingly, premiers seem loath to do it.
Except in Nova Scotia, where our good-enough system still lumbers on. There’s no set date for elections. So after years of scolding workers about how there’s no money and they must expect less, Premier Stephen McNeil suddenly finds money for all sorts of amazing things, with spending announcements coming week after week. The governing Liberals will keep spending, and keep watching the polls, until they see the numbers trending in their direction.
Maybe they’ll call the election before you even read this issue of Halifax Magazine. Or maybe the polls won’t tick up, and they’ll sit tight for a while longer, hoping a summer of barbecues and spending announcements will put voters in a more compliant mood by the fall. The government’s five-year mandate doesn’t expire until October 2018, so there’s plenty of time to spend voters into a better mood.
That’s good for the people who benefit from the spending announcements, but bad for everyone else. “How will this affect my polling numbers?” isn’t a great way for any government to decide how to spend taxpayers’ money.
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Kim Hart Macneill, a contributing editor with Halifax Magazine throughout 2016, returns to our pages this month with a Craft Beer Week primer. To help you celebrate Nova Scotia Craft Beer Week, Kim has been busy polling brewers, bartenders, retailers, and beer bloggers around the province to put together an opinionated and practical guide to the province’s must-try beers. Whether you’re a veteran craft-beer aficionado or a newcomer to the scene, you’ll find plenty of wisdom to guide you here. You can also see Kim’s beery insights weekly on her Halifax Magazine beer blog.