Nova Scotia·Opinion

Nova Scotia politics dominated by teachers' vote, film tax credit and Andrew Younger

As 2015 draws to a close, CBC political analyst Graham Steele looks at what he considers the year's biggest stories in Nova Scotia politics.

Graham Steele says province's opposition parties struggled in 2015

Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Shelley Morse and the rest of the union's executive endorsed a tentative agreement with the government. That was rejected by the teachers, which led to a showdown and one of the biggest political stories out of the province this year. (CBC)

It's easy — in politics and punditry — to get stuck in the daily dirt.

So the end of the year is a good time to raise our heads and look at the big picture.

Top story of the year: Teachers' vote

Given the McNeil government's desire to reshape public sector labour relations, conflict with unions was bound to dominate Nova Scotia politics in 2015 — and it did.

The year started with an unexpected arbitration decision from Jim Dorsey that frustrated the McNeil government's attempts to consolidate health-care unions.

Health Minister Leo Glavine fumed and fussed, but cooler heads prevailed. After all, the McNeil government still got most of what it wanted.

Premier Stephen McNeil's government has been pushing to reshape public labour relations in Nova Scotia, but not without its ups and downs. (CBC)

Then labour relations disappeared into the back rooms for a while. There was lots going on, but nothing emerged into public view until late in the year.

When a settlement with the teachers union was announced on Nov. 12, it looked like Premier Stephen McNeil had achieved everything he wanted.

The two-year wage freeze would let him deliver a balanced budget before the next election. The five-year deal — and it is a five-year deal, despite spin to the contrary — would bring labour peace until well into a second mandate. Best of all, the deal was endorsed by the executive of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.

But the teachers themselves had other ideas and they rejected the tentative agreement.

The teachers' vote was, for my money, the top Nova Scotia political story of the year. Instead of handing McNeil a victory at the negotiating table, the teachers forced him to spend more political capital by legislating the wage pattern.

There will be more fallout from the vote in 2016, as both the NSTU executive and the McNeil government try to figure out what to do next.

Film tax credit foofaraw

The second biggest political story of the year was the cutting of the film tax credit in the April budget.

A good budget is one that disappears from the news after 24 hours. The film tax credit story has never gone away.

​Marc Almon, the chair of Screen Nova Scotia, helped salvage a stripped-down version of the film tax credit. (CBC)

Whether the decision was good policy or not, the McNeil government had not laid the necessary groundwork. They also proposed an alternative that just didn't work.

In the foofaraw that followed, Screen Nova Scotia managed to salvage a stripped-down version of the tax credit. Even so, productions evaporated, people moved away, jobs were lost.

And one of the jobs lost was Diana Whalen, as finance minister. When 2015 dawned, nobody saw that one coming.

Younger saga rolled on

The Andrew Younger saga was in the news from the start of 2015 to the end. It was not the most important political story of the year, but it was certainly the most salacious.

In early November, Younger declined to appear in a court proceeding in which he was the key witness. He was dismissed from cabinet and booted from the Liberal caucus.

With the help of a surreptitious recording, he then managed to drag down the premier's chief of staff, Kirby McVicar. 

No replacement for McVicar has been named. That will be something to watch for in 2016, since the premier's chief of staff instantly becomes the second most powerful person in the province.

As for Younger, he's still in the House, but politically he's finished.

Opposition struggled

The past year also saw the premature passing of Allan Rowe, the MLA for Dartmouth South, and the resignation of veteran New Democrat MLAs Frank Corbett and Gordie Gosse.

The byelection results had sobering messages for all three parties.

The opposition parties, in particular, struggled throughout 2015 to find traction.

Jamie Baillie and the Progressive Conservatives finally have the albatross of the Harper government gone from around their necks, but Graham Steele says Baillie's poll numbers are not strong. (CBC)

Jamie Baillie and the Progressive Conservatives finally have the albatross of the Harper government gone from around their necks. Baillie's poll numbers are not strong, especially given the trips and trials of the McNeil government.

If it really was the unpopularity of the Harper government holding Baillie back, that should show over the next 12 to 18 months.

The New Democratic Party will be choosing a new leader at the end of February. Over the next two months, I'll be writing more on the leadership race and the party's prospects. But no matter who wins the leadership, there is a mighty hill to climb to be competitive in time for the next election.

And so the year in Nova Scotia politics draws to a close.

Something tells me that all three parties are hoping for better in 2016.

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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