Politicians who say one thing about an issue while in opposition and something altogether different in government are as common as robins in the springtime. But just because that sort of flip-flopping has become a political cliche doesn’t make it acceptable.
Take the issue of jobs. Back when they were in opposition, the Liberals met every negative monthly jobs report from Statistics Canada with a press release critical of the Dexter government. Not that such Liberal communiques came out every month. In 2012 the StatsCan monthly reports split 50-50, six up and six down, and the Liberals let the “up” months go by unremarked. But when, for example, the report for June, 2012 showed a drop of 3,600 in full-time jobs, the Liberals and their allies on the business pages of the Chronicle Herald went slightly ballistic.
“The Dexter government has handed over hundreds of millions of dollars to big business, only to see 5,800 (sic) Nova Scotians lose their full-time positions,” thundered Stephen McNeil, under the headline N.S. shed 3,600 full-time jobs in June – Province’s 9.6% unemployment rate is third highest in country. “Corporate handouts and Premier Dexter’s inaction on power will ensure the economy of Nova Scotia continues to struggle and will mean more job losses for Nova Scotians.”
That was then. Now, as employment in April hits the lowest monthly total in eight years, there’s nary a comment to be heard. According to StatsCanada’s Labour Force Survey released on Friday, there were 443,000 jobs in Nova Scotia in April, only 361,100 of which were full-time. When McNeil delivered his salvo on behalf of the Liberal opposition, employment stood at 456,800, including 367,500 full time. Doing the math, we see that 13,800 jobs have been lost since June of 2012, including 6,400 full-time positions.
This new eight-year low in monthly employment – the last time monthly job totals were lower was in July 2007 – went unremarked by either of the opposition parties or in any of the media reports I saw. The Saturday Chronicle-Herald, for example, ran a long piece in the business section on the national employment picture under the headline “Job losses rise by 19,700,” but there was no mention of Nova Scotia which was responsible for 3,000 of those losses. That’s over 15% of the total loss, impressive, in a bad way, for a province with less than 3% of the labour force.
Now, despite what the Liberals did while in opposition, it’s not a good idea to make too much of a single month’s jobs report. The reports are based on surveys with a significant margin of error. Annual averages are more reliable, and they tell a similar sad story. After averaging an all-time high of 457,600 jobs per month in 2012, it has been straight down since – monthly averages of 452,600 in 2013 and 447,600 in 2014. Only Newfoundland, which is dealing with the oil price drop, has a worse record in the region over the period. Both PEI and New Brunswick have seen job growth since 2012.
All of these bad numbers are being recorded as the Liberals’ restraint budget promises to make things worse by firing civil servants, endangering film and television jobs and slashing grants to non-government organizations. Normally under such circumstances you’d expect the opposition to be pushing the jobs issue. That they haven’t can be attributed to two factors.
First, the Liberals have inoculated themselves by making a virtue out of doing nothing. The optics of the $22 million payroll rebate deal with the Royal Bank notwithstanding, McNeil’s message track has been consistent in saying that his government is committed to “continuing to get the government out of the way and let the private sector grow the economy.” While this serves as a debating tactic, it’s not much of an economic strategy. Perhaps getting government out of the way has worked to create employment in Mexico or the American South but there are no examples of success in Canada.
Still, the Liberals have an ace in the hole. The second factor that is protecting them from taking too much flak for their abysmal performance on jobs is that, no thanks to them, the province’s economic future is looking brighter. Without noticeable embarrassment, the budget speech predicted better economic growth over the next two years thanks to the Maritime Link, the Irving shipbuilding contract, the Macdonald bridge re-decking, the convention centre, the offshore, the Donkin mine, LNG terminals and tidal power. The fact that only the first four – the link, the shipbuilding, the bridge work and the convention centre – are certainties was not mentioned. Nor was the fact that those four projects have varying levels of government involvement and two of them – the shipbuilding and the link- were trashed by the Liberals when they were in opposition. Those projects should produce an uptick in the job numbers and we can count on the Liberals trying to attribute those job gains to their do-nothing policy.