Nova Scotia·Opinion

Andrew Younger will be centre of attention as House sits, says Graham Steele

On the first day of the House sitting, for the first 10 minutes or so, all eyes will be on Andrew Younger. Where will he sit? Will he even show up?

Younger has nothing to lose by sharing what he knows about internal Liberal politics

Former N.S. Environment Minister Andrew Younger is expected to be the centre of attention at the opening of the fall sitting of the legislature. (CBC)

On the first day of the House sitting, for the first 10 minutes or so, all eyes will be on Andrew Younger.

Where will he sit? Will he even show up? If he does, what will he say on his way into the chamber? What will he do when he gets there?

After the first 10 minutes, the impact of the Younger fiasco on the McNeil government depends entirely on Andrew Younger.

He's a free agent now, unconstrained by caucus or cabinet. That makes him dangerous, or a cipher. It's up to him.

No impact on agenda

In a narrow sense, Younger's ouster from the Liberal benches will have no impact at all on the government's agenda.

Stephen McNeil can still count on the votes of enough MLAs to pass whatever legislation he tells them to pass.

So it doesn't matter a whit whether Younger stays away, or votes mostly with the government, or votes mostly against the government, or votes by way of interpretive dance.

As ex-MLA Manning MacDonald pointed out after he went to Florida rather than attending the House, there is nothing worthwhile an individual MLA can do in the House in the face of a majority government.

If Younger so chooses, he can sink into anonymity, busying himself with constituency work.

Another scenario

There is another scenario.

Younger was booted from the Liberal caucus as well as the Cabinet.

Because of the circumstances of his ouster, the other caucuses will not welcome him into their fold.

So now that's he's independent, Younger has nothing to lose by sharing what he knows about internal Liberal politics, the tensions and trade-offs inside the Liberal caucus.

Every government has secrets they'd rather keep to themselves, and if Younger decides to start spilling, things could get interesting.

Legislative agenda

That brings us to the actual business of the House.  By far the most important piece of legislation will be a legislated settlement to wage negotiations currently underway.

I'm not even sure that "negotiations" is the right word.

Before talks started, the McNeil government publicly laid out the result they wanted.  The offer was thin — a wage freeze for three years, then one pe rcent and one per cent for the following two years.  The idea of sharing savings found by unions was piffle.

The unions will never agree to such a slender offer and since the government won't budge much, little progress is being made at the bargaining table. The medical residents filed for arbitration in less time than it takes to read a patient's chart.

The government had to know a negotiated settlement was unlikely.  Everything they have done or said this fall has been calculated to build a case for this legislation and the eventual court challenge.

The real battle is not even going to be on the floor of the House. The government has the numbers. The real battle is for public opinion.

As far as I can tell, public opinion is on the government's side.  But that can change, in a heartbeat, if the bill is handled clumsily.

Electricity bill

The other key agenda item is a bill dealing with Nova Scotia Power and electricity rates.

You don't have to tell me that Nova Scotia Power can be a hot political issue.  We used to club the Conservative government with it, then got clubbed ourselves.

Now that NSP's fuel prices are low and power rates have levelled off, the McNeil government is seizing the moment and declaring by law that power rates will be "stable and predictable" for three years.

It's all smoke and mirrors, of course.  We don't yet know what "stable and predictable" will mean since NSP has the chance to file for an increase first.  Besides, if they get their forecasts wrong, they can make it up after the three years is up.

No matter. There is an election to be won.

And if you think this middle-aged government is not already preoccupied with the next election, consider this: Both of its featured bills in the fall 2015 sitting of the legislature are designed to ensure smooth sailing through 2017 and 2018, which just happen to be the window for the next election.

About the Author

Graham Steele

Political analyst

Graham Steele is a former MLA who was elected four times as a New Democrat for the constituency of Halifax Fairview. He also served as finance minister. Steele is now a political analyst for CBC News.

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