So here we are, another Canada Day, a chance to reflect on Nova Scotia’s past and present role in Confederation – that forced marriage of four British colonies to create “The Dominion of Canada.”

As is generally known, July 1st, 156 years ago, was not a time of universal celebration. Many Nova Scotians, taking their cue from the celebrated populist Joseph Howe, marked the occasion with protest. Charles Tupper, the Premier who dragged the province into Confederation, was burned in effigy on the Halifax waterfront – along with a rat. 

The Morning Chronicle led its coverage with “Died! Last night at 12 o’clock the free and enlightened Province of Nova Scotia.” According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, some buildings in Yarmouth were draped with black cloth as a sign of mourning. And business mogul Enos Collins even declared that if younger he would take up arms to defend Nova Scotia’s independence.

Within weeks the men with the right to vote were able to continue their protest through the ballot box. In August of 1867, 18 of the 19 seats allotted to Nova Scotia in the new Canadian parliament went to Joseph Howe’s anti-confederates. A month later anti-confederates swept to power  provincially, winning 36 out of 38 seats in the legislature. 

Things eventually simmered down, thanks to improved fiscal transfers from Ottawa, patronage (Howe was given a cabinet post) and the Mother Country’s firm refusal to let Nova Scotia out of the deal. Talk of secession surfaced briefly in the 1880s, and in more recent years there has spirited back-and-forth between premiers and Ottawa politicians over offshore oil and gas. But it has been a while since we’ve seen anything quite like Tim Houston’s current multi-front battle with the federal government. 

“Premier at loggerheads with Ottawa” was the front-page headline in the Morning Chronicle’s bedraggled descendant. Inside the Chronicle-Herald was an op-ed from the Premier, setting out two of the grievances.

  • Ottawa’s “devastating” carbon tax, (condemned at length but with no mention of the impending rebates that will leave many Nova Scotians better off);
  • The Liberal government’s “outrageous” Atlantic Loop proposal that would allegedly nearly double power rates.

Donning the same populist cape he wore last winter to rail fruitlessly against power rate increases approved by the Utility and Review Board, Houston assured us that “I won’t stand by as the federal government pushes unnecessary taxes and higher power rates on Nova Scotians.”

Missing from the op-ed were three other hobby horses Houston has lately been riding hard in Ottawa’s direction, namely:

  • Demanding a further delay in the long-delayed implementation of the federal Clean Fuel Standard;
  • Criticizing Ottawa’s unwillingness to pay the full cost for flood protection on the Chignecto Isthmus;
  • Defying federal Fisheries (and abusing the Emergencies Act) by closing the aboiteau on the Windsor causeway despite an order from DFO to keep it open to allow the Avon River to flow freely.

Even as the premier of a province that reluctantly entered Confederation, five simultaneous fights with the federal government must be some kind of record, and not one in which Houston should take pride. 

His jeremiads against the carbon tax and the fuel standard are nothing but grandstanding. Those are federal initiatives and the federal Liberals will get the blame or the credit. If Houston really believes they will be devastating to Nova Scotia families, there are many ways in which the province can provide relief to those who need it most. Here’s one suggestion – instead of wasting money on an anti-tax ad campaign the PCs should be enhancing the heating assistance rebate, like they did last winter when furnace oil prices spiked. 

The Windsor causeway dispute also reeks of grandstanding and petty politics, albeit to a smaller audience. The order by DFO to open the sluice gate on the Avon River aboiteau drained the artificially created Lake Pisiquid. The move created a divide between those – including farmers and developers – who want the lake, and fishers, environmentalists and First Nations who want the gate kept open. Instead of showing leadership by seeking  a compromise, Houston has come down squarely on the side of the former, going so far as to use the Emergencies Act to close the sluice gate on the specious grounds that the lake is needed to deal with (non-existent) wild fires.

The two other irritants – the Atlantic Loop and Chignecto Isthmus – are more legitimate. Over-heated rhetoric notwithstanding, it’s not clear that the Loop, as currently proposed, is the right long-term solution for greening the Nova Scotia electrical grid. But one thing is clear – the less political posturing involved in the policy-making the better. Houston’s caped crusader act on behalf of electricity ratepayers is getting old.

As for shoring up the Isthmus against climate change, Ottawa’s offer to pay only half the cost of protecting the vital interprovincial link looks chintzy, considering the feds paid the full shot for the toll-free Champlain bridge, linking the Island of Montreal with its southern suburbs. 

There will likely be lots more negotiation on both the Loop and the Isthmus. This province’s interests would be better served if the Premier behaves less like an accomplice of federal Conservative boss Pierre Poilievre and more like a leader for all Nova Scotians.