Liberals address election promises in throne speech

Premier Stephen McNeil says the Liberals are carrying through on promises made during the recent election that saw them unseat Darrell Dexter’s NDP.

Premier Stephen McNeil says party will introduce 10 pieces of legislation

Nova Scotia's new Liberal government says it will introduce 10 pieces of legislation in its first legislative session.

"Nova Scotians voted for change and that change is underway," Lt.-Gov. J.J. Grant read from the speech on Thursday morning.

"This begins with open and accountable government. This begins by respecting Nova Scotians' tax dollars."

Premier Stephen McNeil said the Liberals are carrying through on promises made during the recent election that saw them unseat Darrell Dexter's New Democratic Party.

The new legislation will allow renewable energy companies on to the electricity grid — a move McNeil says will break the monopoly of Nova Scotia Power and will eventually reduce power rates.

"We think in the long run, this will reduce power rates in the province of Nova Scotia," McNeil told reporters.

"Will they see it overnight? No."

The Liberals also plan to overhaul the New Democratic Party's controversial first contract law. The law allows the labour board to impose a first collective agreement if bargaining does not result in a deal after one year. Businesses have complained the law allowed unions to wait out the bargaining process without fear of a strike.

"What we're doing now is bringing it back so that both sides have to go to the bargaining table to negotiate in good faith and look for a settlement," said McNeil.

"It's more important — it's critical in my view — that wherever possible we need to set the conditions that the contract is negotiated at the bargaining table."

The Liberals will eliminate the time constraint in the legislation, which will allow for a "rebalancing" of bargaining, according to McNeil.

Broader review

Other legislation will also allow for a broader review of MLA benefits and make government assistance to businesses more transparent.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie welcomed the review of MLA benefits but questioned why the Liberals are not forcing Nova Scotia Power shareholders to assume the $43-million cost of energy efficiency programs by reducing the company's rate of return. The Liberals say that legislation is coming in the spring.

"Nova Scotians have seen many reviews in the past that went no where, this will be a good test of whether this government is really different," said Baillie.

NDP Acting Leader Maureen MacDonald said the throne speech was light on details and she expressed disappointment that the Liberals plan to revise the labour bill.

"I think there is a false understanding of the impact of that legislation," said MacDonald. "There are no employers who had to leave the province as a result of that legislation."

The speech included the government's intention to create a new statutory holiday in February, something that had been championed in the past by Finance Minister Diana Whalen while she was in Opposition. She had submitted private member's bills calling for such a holiday eight times.

The government has said the new holiday likely won't take effect until 2015.

With files from The Canadian Press