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The Ivany Report Report: Chapter four 

Let this be our last political battlefield

This concludes the Ivany Report Report. All four chapters can be found here.
  • This concludes the Ivany Report Report.
    All four chapters can be found here.

The future prosperity of Nova Scotia should not be sacrificed on the altar of partisan politics. 
—Ray Ivany

It seems the few times our elected officials take a break from partisan politics are during international hockey tournaments and following the death of well-respected, famous Canadians.

Not even military action or war prompts the kind of unified response an important Olympic hockey game or the memory of a deceased Canuck icon can receive. Nova Scotia’s Ivany commission is hoping to add another all-for-one scenario: a team approach on the political front in the battle against economic failure.

In Canada, politics have cut deep into many processes and events. In Nova Scotia, government contracts, jobs, highway paving, infrastructure projects, government appointments—all have been affected.

Ray Ivany said it’s time our political parties came to their senses collectively in the quest for province-wide prosperity. Last winter’s Now or Never report also put forward such decade-long goals as achieving a collective attitude shift needed to embrace change, counteracting population decline and encouraging the development of new businesses.

One of the Ivany commission’s recommendations has been in place for months: an all-party committee—the oneNS Coalition—of politicians, businesspeople and other citizens. It’s preparing a 10-year action plan, to be filed with the government by December.

Observers of Nova Scotia’s political scene know the commission’s proposed alliance could be a difficult birth. Jim Bickerton, who teaches political science at St. Francis Xavier University, says the recommendation for such a sustained, joint effort is naïve, and a Hail Mary play.

“All-party alliances don’t happen in the Canadian political system,” Bickerton says via email. The system, he says, is designed for one-party majority governments that completely control the legislative agenda, and unrelenting competitive partisanship.

When co-operation happens, it’s “usually temporary and mostly behind the scenes.”

But he says changes can still take place: “The very weakness of the political system for fostering inter-party co-operation, is its strength for giving governments the concentrated power and authority to institute sweeping changes. A determined government that is not afraid to institute unpopular or tough policies has the authority and means to do it.”

An example: The provincial Liberals in the 1990s led by the late John Savage ran a government with “political courage,” Bickerton says, with a “clear vision” of what it wanted to achieve. However, those reform-minded Grits “paid a steep political price for this,” adds Bickerton, who co-wrote a book about the Savage administration.

In its call for an end to divisive politics, the Ivany Report painted a hopeful picture of co-operation. “Relatively high levels of unified purpose” aren’t part of “our current political culture, and we must therefore start from a different place,” it said.

And that place must be neutral territory that has a path leading to common ground, says Ivany. “The future prosperity of Nova Scotia [should not] be sacrificed on the altar of partisan politics,” he told CBC Radio last month.

Bickerton says Canada’s adoption of Britain’s Westminster-style of government “and the design and operation of the first-past-the-post voting system” makesa peace accord in politics unlikely.

“So long as we retain these basic institutions in their present form,” says Bickerton, “we cannot expect our political parties to act any differently than they do now.”

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