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Habit trail 

Editorial by Bruce Wark

I was chowing down on green chili curry the Friday night before Rodney MacDonald pulled the fuse to detonate the provincial election, when I spied a note on the spice packet. It announced that the curry company donates money to help save the endangered Asian elephant. “But what about the poor mainland moose?” I cried, well aware that the mighty twig eater is lumbering its way to extinction in the very part of our province that is shaped like a moosely proboscis. It seems the ungainly quadruped is losing its habitat but can’t change its habits.

That night I had a curry-induced nightmare in which Rodney MacDonald, sporting antlers and clad in a moose suit, went charging across the province heaving wads of cash out the windows of his campaign mini-bus and bellowing about how he wants to help families. Unfortunately, my nightmare soon came true. The political landscape may be changing in the brand-new century, but Rodney’s ungainly Tory election habits linger on: Sprinkle tax money all over the place, steal a few popular policies from the NDP, try to persuade voters you’re offering a progressive government with a new face and then, if you win a majority, govern in the same old way.

And that same old way has not been good for Nova Scotians—especially not for the families MacDonald claims he wants to help. That’s clear when you read a well-researched report released this month by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The 38-page document is crammed with facts and figures about the dismal performance of Liberal and Tory governments. It shows that for much of the last decade, Nova Scotia had the lowest per-person spending on social programs and public services of all provinces. No wonder our highways, roads, bridges, sewers and water treatment plants are crumbling. Investments in these public facilities fell by nearly half between 1988 and 2003.

Provincial support for Nova Scotia colleges and universities has been cut by nearly a third since 1992. Last year, the government’s support per student was half the Canadian average and the least of all provinces. Provincial grants to universities now cover only 42 percent of total operating costs, the lowest proportion in the country. And, no surprise, tuition fees are the highest in Canada.

While the provincial economy has been growing since the mid-1990s, more than 10 percent of Nova Scotians continue to live in poverty. Since 1989, welfare rates have fallen an astonishing 65 percent for single recipients, 26 percent for the disabled, 43 percent for single parents with one child and 31 percent for a couple with two children. No wonder the rate of child poverty has increased steadily. Now, one in five Nova Scotia kids lives below the poverty line.

Nova Scotia has the highest rates of cancer and diabetes in Canada and one of the highest rates of asthma, yet the province has been slow to invest in primary care, preventive medicine and community-based health centres. And Nova Scotia is one of the stingiest provinces when it comes to spending on culture. While most provinces, including all of the other Atlantic provinces, made hefty increases in their cultural spending between 2001 and 2003, Nova Scotia’s per capita funding fell by five percent. And in this month’s budget, the Tories once again cut grants to artists and cultural groups.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows that by avoiding tax cuts and investing budget surpluses we could restore social programs, improve public services and strengthen our economy without adding to the provincial debt. But that’s not what premier Rodney’s old-style campaign is offering. Instead of talking about how he’d fix the dismal Tory record, he’s stumping the province promising tax cuts and a grab-bag of handouts. Here’s hoping that when election day comes on June 13, Nova Scotia voters will put Moose MacDonald’s Tories on the endangered species list.

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