Liberal election platform asks Nova Scotians to forget punishing pre-pandemic austerity

Pay no attention to the 70,000 Nova Scotians without a family doctor.

Ignore the nearly 42,000 children living in poverty across the province.

And disregard the tens of thousands of people, already on the margins of society, whose lives have been made even more precarious by the lack of affordable private housing options and the pitiful state of the public housing system.

Forget these and other tell-tale signs of government austerity, dear voter, because Iain Rankin and the Nova Scotia Liberal Party have an election platform for you.

The plan was doled out in piecemeal fashion over the past few weeks, presumably to make it seem greater than the sum of its parts.

Not surprisingly, it glosses over the government’s pre-pandemic track record of broken promises and punishing austerity in the name of balanced budgets. It focuses instead on its handling of COVID-19 and the Liberal party’s prescriptions for economic recovery.

So, let’s take a look at some of the Liberal promises and see how they stand up to some much-needed scrutiny.

On health care, the Liberals say they will establish “a dedicated team solely focused on leading Nova Scotia’s efforts to bring more doctors to the province.” This team will operate under the umbrella of the proposed “Office of Physician Recruitment and Retention.”

But this is not a new concept. Far from it.

After forming government in 2013, the Liberals pledged to appoint “a physician recruitment and retention action team to competitively recruit new doctors and keep the ones that are here.” This team was supposed to help newly minted premier Stephen McNeil, along with rookie Liberal MLA Iain Rankin, provide “a doctor for every Nova Scotian.”

(Spoiler alert: that Liberal promise, like so many others, crashed and burned.)

Adding to the proposal’s lack of credibility is the absence of specific doctor recruitment and retention targets against which the government can track its progress, or be held accountable by the public, media, and advocacy groups.

Despite a widespread affordable housing crisis, the Rankin plan offers nothing in the way of permanent rent controls and does not commit to outlawing “renovictions.”

Rather, it offers up a classic Liberal/neoliberal “compromise” that allows renovictions to continue while requiring landlords to pay modest compensation to renters who are displaced.

“Tenants will be eligible for compensation from the landlord equal to one month’s rent for each year they have lived in their current dwelling place, up to 6 months, when a landlord gives notice to quit to allow for renovations,” the platform says.

When it comes to the environment, a file on which the Liberals have shown both principled leadership and serious neglect, there’s a similar need for caution.

McNeil’s decision on Boat Harbour, one of the worst examples of environmental racism in this province’s history, was his finest hour, at least until the pandemic began.

But there is so much else the Liberals have to answer for — from excessive clearcutting, to the expansion of open-pen fish farms, to allowing rare ecosystems to fall into the hands of greedy golf course developers.

That latter example certainly adds water to the wine when considering the Liberals’ commitment to increase their own protected land targets from 14 per cent to 17 per cent. So too does the party’s admission, in its environmental plank, that it’s only “well on the way” to reaching its previous goal.

All five planks of the Rankin plan are rife with the kind of cynical nickle-and-diming for which his predecessor was notorious. (The key is to spend just enough to make the issue go away in the public’s mind, but not so much that it meaningfully transforms the lives of those directly affected.)

For example, the Liberals say they are serious about “reducing energy poverty,” but only fork out an additional $2.3 million for the Heating Assistance Rebate Program. As they concede in their platform, this will only raise the program’s rebate to $250 from the current $200.

Public housing, a horribly neglected and mismanaged file if ever there was one, is given a pittance.

The Liberal platform re-announces a May 31 commitment to provide $25 million for five “Quick Start” housing initiatives. Included in that figure is $2 million — about $173 per unit — for public housing “renewal and repair.” If you’re familiar with public housing in Nova Scotia, you’ll know that doesn’t even scratch the surface of what’s required.

On income assistance, there’s the re-announcement of an increase of $100 per month for adult recipients. That’s not nearly enough in a province with embarrassingly high poverty rates.

All things considered, it would not be unfair to suggest Rankin and his party are gaslighting Nova Scotians with this platform.

Most of the Liberal promises are either underwhelming band-aid “solutions” to serious social and economic problems, or pie-in-the-sky aspirational statements with few numbers and little credibility to back them up.

Still, if you forget all the pre-pandemic austerity, and ignore all the people affected by it, it’s a plan that might be worth considering.

After all, who are you going to believe: Iain Rankin or your own lying eyes?

(Photo: http://www.facebook.com/IainTRankin)