Speaking to reporters the morning after his party was elected to govern Nova Scotians, Liberal Premier elect Stephen McNeil’s first announcement was a plan for the creation of a new holiday in February. Expanding on the announcement, McNeil outlined his intention to reach out to the youth of the province for input on what the new holiday should be called.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation recently produced a YouTube video clip that Mr. McNeil apparently missed. Had he viewed it he would doubtless recognize the whimsical irony of his interest in involving the youth of the province in the decision.
In the video a young lady – about seven years of age – awakes to an alarm and arrives at the kitchen table in a business suit to partake of her “wake me up” coffee while reading the morning newspaper. Setting off from home she is greeted by her neighbours loading golf clubs into the trunk of their car. Asked where she is going on such a beautiful day she replies to work. Questioned why, she replies, someone has to work to pay the debt. The obvious inference is that we adults are ducking our responsibility and passing dealing with the debt off to our children.
If Mr. McNeil’s intent is to engage youth in the democratic process they should be charged with a much broader range of inquiry. Do we need a new holiday? Can we afford it? Who will benefit from it? How much is it going to cost? Who is going to pay for it?
Statistics Canada’s 2011 report on public sector employment listed the number of Nova Scotians in the civil service at 129,188. As it is unlikely the day will be declared a statutory holiday, those persons may well be the only beneficiaries. A conservative estimate of the dollars required, for those persons alone, would far exceed the dollars saved by the Liberals’ proposed gutting of our health boards. The cost would not be covered by just these 129,188 taxpayers but all taxpayers including those not fortunate enough to work in a sector that can “afford” the holiday – as if any of us could.
What if the major grocery chains followed suit? Taxpayers would not directly pay the bill, it would be transferred to higher food costs. What about the banks, the power company, telephone companies, our tire manufacturer and the rest that might observe the holiday and invariably pass the cost on to consumers.
Why not make it a statutory holiday to be enjoyed by all taxpayers, all the while forgetting the much higher costs? But you pay a great deal of money in taxes and you deserve the day off, all the while forgetting that what you deserve has a great deal to do with why you pay a great deal of money in taxes. Sometimes the plight of the middle class is self-inflicted.
Much has been made of Mr. McNeil’s and many of the current crop of MLAs’ business backgrounds. Normally those backgrounds would provide them with the tools to explain why there is no money for a new holiday while there is a shortage of money for health care, schools and roads. Hopefully this type of new business math will not be a part of his federal counterpart Justin Trudeau’s, yet to be announced, plan to fix the troubles facing the middle class.
In the run up to the election Mr. McNeil cautioning for the need to maintain a 15 per cent GST left the impression his party would provide Nova Scotia with the required degree of fiscal prudence. On the other hand their holiday announcement suggests the retained two per cent, the other parties promised to eliminate, was required for other spending.
Many Nova Scotians are confounded by the political polarization of our neighbours to the South as they struggle to come to grips with their current public finances. In many cases commentators dismiss the actions of those who believe the gravy train is at risk of being derailed as the work of extremists. While the brinkmanship that is repeatedly practised, with the ongoing requirement to continually boost debt ceiling limits to cover runaway spending, is economically damaging, the failure to deal decisively with the issue serves only to put off and compound the problem.
Nova Scotia’s current $14 billion debt, coupled with federal debt approaching $700 billion, serves notice that there are no free rides. While Americans are understandably weary and willing to place blame for the continuing impasse, in the ongoing debate over debt, they are nonetheless aware of the necessity of having that debate. Mr. McNeil, when it comes to Nova Scotia’s debt, appears to be oblivious to the necessity of any conversation on the subject. The more important questions for our youth are not what a suitable name for the proposed holiday is but the deeper questions of, “What’s in a name?”
Al Muir is a local businessman and resident of Plymouth who keeps a close eye on the political front, both local and nationally. He can be reached at email@example.com