Report Card Insults Voters' Intelligence

Buried within the flatulent prose of the self-administered report card on the Hamm government's first two years in office are a few genuine achievements.Within weeks of coming to office in Nova Scotia, the Tories accomplished something the Liberals had been promising for years: a single set of books that accurately reflect all the province's financial transactions. For the first time, citizens of all political persuasions could debate provincial spending priorities based on an accurate set of facts.In the years since, Hamm's minions have made steady progress toward eliminating the deficit. They appear on target to meet their election commitment of balancing the books, without resort to bookkeeping jiggery-pokery.Hamm mustered the political will to kill of the Sydney Steel Corporation, though he did not succeed in selling the plant as a going concern. His government cut the proportion of provincial debt denominated in foreign currency to 31 per cent, a process begun by the Liberals. It reviewed and eventually terminated the wasteful and extravagant P3 school construction binge.These achievements weren't accomplished easily or without significant cost in reduced programs and services. Given the public's entrenched cynicism about politicians who lightly discard election promises once the ballots are counted, one can forgive the Tories for indulging in a bit of boasting.Some stupid promises were kept, too. The government wasted time and money restructuring the five Liberal-created regional health boards into nine district health authorities. The government re-instituted a buy-Nova Scotia tendering process that flies in the face of inter-provincial trade agreements, and fosters uncompetitive practices by favoured suppliers. It's easy to imagine where the impulse for an annual report card arose. Hamm rode to power on the strength of a staggering 243 promises - a tally that must have made eyes roll even within the smokiest of Tory back rooms. "Voters are fed up with politicians who don't keep promises," someone must have said. "If we're going to promise all this stuff, let's issue an annual report card showing how many we've kept and how many we still have to work on."Good idea, shabbily executed. Had the Tories assigned some objective person - the Auditor General, perhaps, or the Ombudsman (before they eliminated that position) - to evaluate their progress on fulfilling election promises, the result might have had meaning and even value for citizens weighing their options in the next provincial election.The partisan compendium of public relations puffery released last week accomplishes none of this. It's so transparently self-serving as to fool no one.The "report card," grandiosely titled, "Strong leadership ... a clear course," doesn't even begin with a list of Hamm's 243 promises. Rather, it selects 128 the Tories prefer to focus on, with no mention of the omitted 116.Each commitment is paired with one more "actions," and each of those is bulleted with a bold check mark to signify the purported fulfilment of a promise.Except that, painfully optimistic phraseology notwithstanding, many of the actions don't match the commitments. The Tories promised to establish an Information and Medical Technology Advisory Committee to ensure that purchases of medical equipment are allocated fairly to the province's various regions. The accompanying "action" says only that $15-million in medical equipment purchases were announced last February. Check? Check.The Tories promised to "aggressively claim ... jurisdictional control over the Laurentian Sub-basin." The accompanying action notes that we hired a fancy-pants lawyer and even sent the premier to Fredericton to argue Nova Scotia's case before the federal panel that will decide the case. The report card fails to mention that Nova Scotia's case was so pathetically weak, the panel unanimously rejected it, and the time wasted pursuing this useless case set back settlement of the boundary dispute by at least a year. Check? Check.The report card fails to note Hamm's lack of success in changing the formula for federal higher education funding to fairly reflect Nova Scotia's disproportionate share of university students, or his failure to persuade Ottawa to rejig the equalization formula so Nova Scotia keeps a larger share of offshore petroleum royalties.It makes no mention of the Tories' disastrous meddling with the collective bargaining process, or the Bill 68 fiasco. When reporters asked about this omission, Hamm called Bill 68 "a modest success," an eloquent testimonial to his capacity for self-deception. With modest successes like this, God spare us any failures.This is foolish stuff. It wastes time and money, and it insults the voters' intelligence.

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