How the Nova Scotia government is doing, as told by Premier Stephen McNeil
Sizing up progress on 4 notable reports received during this mandate
Much like old tools, stacks of magazines and the top of the refrigerator, government reports have a way of collecting dust.
Often reports will be released with pomp and circumstance, only to vanish from public discussion in a matter of weeks or months. (Consider that a previous government report on child care, titled "You bet I care," was followed up years later with one called "You bet we still care.")
Here's a look at some of the most significant reports Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil's government has received and what the premier has to say about their levels of progress.
1. Now or Never (the Ivany report) — February 2014
This one was actually ordered by the former NDP government, but it was the Liberals who were in power when it was delivered with as much fanfare as any report in recent memory.
The report included sweeping recommendations on topics such as immigration, exports, small business and people's attitudes. Perhaps on account of a lack of focus, a subcommittee — the oneNS Coalition — was tasked with creating a road map to address key aspects of the Ivany report over the next 10 years.
But even it those plans could take 10 years to achieve, the premier said he has no problem being judged on progress to date.
"It's my hope that people will measure us and they'll measure us from the day Mr. Ivany stood up and delivered his report," he said in a recent interview.
McNeil noted exports are up, the province's population is at an all-time high and Nova Scotia continues to meet (and has increased) its annual cap on immigration. The province is making sector investments instead of company-focused investments, he said, such as money for the wine industry and buying the former Coast Guard base in Dartmouth to be used as an ocean technology hub.
"On any measure, you will see that we're moving in the right direction."
2. Disrupting the Status Quo — October 2014
No report would have been more difficult for a government to ignore.
More than 19,000 people responded to surveys about the province's education system, and from those surveys came more than 100 recommendations focused on staffing, curriculum, mental health, support for students and teachers and a variety of other issues.
The government has worked almost since the day the report was received and has implemented about 100 of the recommendations.
But some of the most contentious have yet to be addressed because they require changes to the collective agreement with teachers. They include: taking principals out of the union; teacher-performance evaluations that could lead to firings; and basing teaching assignments on more than seniority.
Some recs easier than others
While the government and teachers union continue to work on a new contract, McNeil said the government is doing everything else it can on the recommendations and noted many of them are things teachers have called for, such as class-size caps and more resources for mental health.
"No matter what the report is, some recommendations are easier to implement than others — some you can't," said McNeil.
"But I think when you look at that particular [report and its recommendations], the vast, vast majority of those had unanimous support not only from Nova Scotians outside of the classroom, but the men and women who are standing in front of our children inside of the classroom."
3. Charting a Path for Growth (The Broten report) — November 2014
The Broten report was almost two reports in one; part of it focused on red tape and regulations and part of it focused on tax reform.
While the government has put a lot of effort into addressing and reducing red tape since the report was released, there has been no action on tax reform.
Some of that could be explained as politics. Broten called for a carbon tax, something the premier has vocally opposed on account of the province's efforts on renewable resources and the already high cost of electricity.
But that doesn't explain the lack of movement on other suggestions, such as changing the tax rate for certain personal brackets and small business and raising the personal exemption for the province's lowest earners.
The premier said any tax changes must be evaluated based on what they would mean to economic growth, job opportunities and how they would impact people's daily lives.
"And we also said that we would only begin and entertain those conversations after we got ourselves back to some fiscal health."
'There's been some challenge'
Changes also can't come until the province knows whether or not the federal government will impose a carbon tax on all provinces, said McNeil. Still, he believes there needs to at least be a sliding scale for the basic personal exemption.
"It makes no sense to me that someone making $10,000 would have the same personal exemption as someone making $200,000," he said. "There's been some challenge with the implementation of that but it's something, certainly, that I believe if we can do it is a positive thing. It directly impacts the people who need the help the most the quickest and it's more meaningful; it leaves more money in their pockets."
4. Care Right Now — December 2014
If there is a dusty report on the government's shelf, it's this one.
The report by health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton evaluated the province's eight collaborative emergency centres (CECs) and gave them a ringing endorsement. Hampton went a step further and said not only should the province proceed with the six proposed sites, it should add even more to that list.
But the McNeil government has not opened a single CEC since coming to power (the sites are intended to provide same-day or next-day access for patients in communities plagued by chronic emergency room closures).
Finding a way to address need
The government and health authority have said their focus is on shifting to collaborative primary-care practices and right now the effort is on trying to address staffing challenges (i.e. doctor and nurse recruitment), said the premier.
McNeil said while it might not be a CEC, communities are going to get the health-care services they need.
"While it may not be the exact prescription [Hampton] prescribed, we're moving towards what we think is the first fundamental step, which is to make sure that we have the collaborative health-care team available in the community."