On first glance, the Liberal platform released last week has a millennial look about. It starts with the sub-title of the document “Our time, our future” which appears on the cover along with the smiling, shirt-sleeved 38-year old Liberal leader. Turn the pages and encounter photo after photo featuring Iain Rankin.
Alone or with others, the man who aspires to continue leading Nova Scotia is pictured- sometimes masked, often not – in fields, vineyards and research labs, on construction sites, in front of Sydney’s Big Fiddle and crouched on a rock in some sylvan lake.
The Platform often speaks a language that also seems to come from a different generation than mine. There’s mention of “re-skilling and up-skilling,” “modernizing trade corridors,” creating a “nimble, flexible and effective digital service,” confronting “emerging issues of social justice” and becoming “the Start Up Capital of Canada.” And then there is the following tour de force, which seems to involve profiting from our proximity to the ocean.
“A re-elected Rankin government will ensure that the Blue Economy of tomorrow is intrinsically linked to our growing circular economy, and will continue to develop our emerging marine biotechnology and offshore wind industries while looking for new and innovative ways to re-energize our economy by sustainably leveraging ocean resources.”
But for all of that modern verbiage, the key message of the platform took me back more than 35 years, to the first time I covered a provincial election campaign in Nova Scotia. It was 1984, John Buchanan was the Premier, seeking a third term for his PC government. Buoyed by the prospect of offshore oil and gas, the campaign slogan was “Nova Scotia on the Move” and the campaign theme was optimism for the future. Instead of public policy pronouncements, Conservative rallies featured Buchanan singing Out on the Mira while aligning himself and his party with those Nova Scotians who were “confident, optimistic and positive.”
The 2021 Nova Scotia Liberal platform begins on a strikingly similar note. Under the heading “The Future of Nova Scotia is Bright” Iain Rankin invokes “the positivity and optimism that our province is known for” and goes on to declare:
“Nova Scotia is ready to grow. We’re ready to take the next step. What do I see everywhere I go? Optimism. Across our province, people are working hard, they have big ideas – and they’re ready to build a brighter tomorrow.”
The insistence on seeing the world through rose-colored glasses persists as you read through the platform. Page 5 extols the virtues of planned new twinned highways to provide “safe and efficient connections between our communities.” In keeping with the positivity and optimism theme, there’s no mention of the impact of the road-building spree on the environment, carbon emissions or the provincial debt.
On page 8, agriculture takes a bow as “the backbone of our rural communities.” But the fact that the number of registered farms has dropped 5.5 percent since 2016 or that Nova Scotia farms finished 2019 $35 million in the red gets the airbrush treatment.
The $2.3 billion fishery is hailed as the source of 18,000 jobs and 38 percent of exports. But there is silence on serious challenges facing the fishery, such as properly accommodating Indigenous participation and maintaining lucrative booming seafood exports to China as a possible cold war looms.
And then there’s tourism, a $2.6 billion industry, discussed on page 12. “Nova Scotia is known across the globe for its beauty and warm welcome,” says the platform. But there’s no mention of how that knowledge will translate into more tourists visiting here from across a pandemic-ravaged, carbon-constrained global community.
There’s much more, including an array of programs big and small to help business. They add up to about 40 percent of the new spending detailed in the platform but the detail tends to numb the mind, rather than stimulate it.Perhaps the minions who put together the platform sensed this because on page 54, before taking the plunge into healthcare, there’s another shout out to optimism.
The headline, next to a picture of Rankin, his partner and their dog, reads: “As we emerge from the global health crisis caused by COVID-19, our focus for Nova Scotia must be rooted in optimism and opportunity.”
When it comes to health care, optimism is fine, but we also need, among other things, ambulances that come when needed, access to primary health care, further expansion of the collaborative care model and a better funding arrangements between the federal government and the provinces. Keep fingers crossed.
Back 37 summers ago Buchanan’s appeal to the optimism of Nova Scotians paid off at the ballot box . The PC’s won 42 seats in the 52-seat legislature – a remarkable feat for a government seeking a third mandate. But there’s a difference between Buchanan’s successful appeal to our supposedly congenital optimism and positivity and the efforts of Rankin’s Liberals to tap into that vein.
With the offshore, the Buchanan Tories had something tangible. It was not the future everyone wanted, it did not happen for another 15 years and when it came it wasn’t the big deal advertised. But at least the offshore was something concrete that held out the prospect for a more prosperous future. That is more than can be said for the Liberal platform that glosses over the challenges facing the province with a coating of vague optimism.