Rankin government pledges focus on environment, equality, economic recovery in throne speech
'These are the threads of steel that support the foundations of our plan'
The first throne speech for Premier Iain Rankin's government pledged to have a focus on inclusion, economic equality and respect for the environment.
"In framing my government's vision for Nova Scotia, it is nearly impossible to untangle and separate these three elements," according to the speech read by Lt.-Gov. Arthur LeBlanc at Province House on Tuesday.
"These are the threads of steel that support the foundations of our plan."
It marked the first sitting at the legislature since the pandemic arrived in Nova Scotia a year ago.
Rankin made his commitment to the environment a key pillar of his recently successful Nova Scotia Liberal Party leadership bid. He doubled down on that in the second paragraph of the speech, following a land acknowledgement.
"....[W]e have a reverence for our natural world and a belief in protecting it and sharing its bounty."
For people who followed Rankin's leadership bid and his early days as premier, the speech rang familiar.
His plan to move the province away from using coal for energy by 2030 — 10 years sooner than planned — was reaffirmed, along with a promise that the province would be the first in the country to become carbon-neutral.
All government offices will use renewable electricity by 2025.
'Higher-value production with lower ecological impacts'
The government of the former lands and forestry minister also intends to speed up the implementation of the recommendations of the Lahey report on forestry practices "to adopt ecological forestry principles, placing protection of the ecosystem and biodiversity in the forefront of forest management practices."
It's widely expected the provincial government will reintroduce a Biodiversity Act in its early days.
"My government is committed to higher-value production with lower ecological impacts as we innovate away from industrial forestry to ecological forestry."
Rankin told reporters that consultation would also begin this spring to form the regulations for the new Sustainable Development Goals Act.
Passed more than a year ago, the bill has not progressed because the pandemic derailed public consultation efforts. Environment and Climate Change Minister Keith Irving said that would not be an impediment to his work.
"There's obviously a lot of interest and I'm very anxious to get to work with Nova Scotians to put this plan together and get to work on the issues of climate change, greenhouse gas reductions and the overall protection of the environment."
Province aims for a more inclusive society
There are promises to continue leading the province through the COVID-19 pandemic and further vaccination rollout.
The successful effort to date has not gone unnoticed, with the speech referring to the fact all 18 counties in the province experienced increased in-migration from other parts of the country in the last year.
The speech also touched on the government's commitment to a more inclusive society, one that addresses issues such as systemic racism and the need for economic equality
To that end, the speech referred to the newly created Office of Equity and Anti-Racism Initiatives and the appointment of Andrea Anderson, a Black woman, as the new public service commissioner. Anderson is the first person of African descent to hold the powerful role in the Nova Scotia government.
A focus on social well-being
The speech included promises of help for tourism operators, food producers and to address affordable housing. The government is awaiting the report from the new affordable housing commission, expected sometime in May, which will include recommendations.
During the leadership campaign, Rankin talked of the need for a program review. In the speech and later speaking with reporters, the premier made clear that it wouldn't be an ordinary review, but one that judges programs by whether they measurably enhance people's social well-being, and whether they help or hurt the environment.
"Most Nova Scotians want to see success and they don't just see that in rudimentary metrics like GDP growth," Rankin told reporters.
"We've done very well to grow the economy and grow our population, now it's time that we start looking at quality of life and social well-being."
Tory Leader Tim Houston said it's good to focus on people's well-being, but he said he wants to hear more concrete plans from Rankin and his government about how they plan to tackle certain issues affecting the public, particularly as it relates to health care.
The Tories drew attention on Tuesday to the fact that 60,000 people in Nova Scotia are on a waiting list for a doctor.
"It's very hard to have a good quality of life when you're waiting a year to access mental health and addictions support," Houston told reporters. "It's very hard to have a good quality of life when you're concerned about how your family can access care."
NDP Leader Gary Burrill, meanwhile, said he was troubled by the absence of one subject in particular in the speech.
"I think it's discouraging that we should mark the one-year point in the pandemic with a throne speech that doesn't even mention this key public health and economic issue of paid sick leave."
The House will not sit on Wednesday, as MLAs must wait until Thursday to pass changes to the rules to allow them to sit using a hybrid model, where there are only three members of each party and the two Independent MLAs present, with the rest appearing via video link.
Independent MLA Alana Paon would not grant the unanimous waiver necessary to deal with the matter on Tuesday, and so 15 MLAs — the minimum required for quorum under normal conditions — will be present at the legislature on Thursday while Paon speaks to the changes before the hybrid model ultimately takes effect.
Paon told reporters that, among other things, she's unhappy with the lack of information she received in the lead up to Tuesday about how the hybrid system would work and what would happen in the event of any technical problems during daily business.
The Cape Breton-Richmond MLA said it was also important for her to have a chance to debate the motion so she could voice her frustration with the Liberal government's decision not to sit during the pandemic.