In name only

Written by Brenda Schimke

Conservative leader, Erin O’Toole, and Premier Jason Kenney were ecstatic when Tim Houston, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Nova Scotia, won a surprising majority victory in their recent provincial election.

Seems O’Toole and Kenney are buoyed by this news and believe they, too, can now topple the federal Liberals and NDs. But is a Nova Scotian conservative anything like an Alberta conservative?

Nova Scotia provides a great lesson on how political party labels have little to do with day-to-day governance.

In 2009, Darrell Dexter surprised all political pundits and became the first ND Premier of Nova Scotia. His ‘Better Deal 2009’ included keeping operating rooms open, taking HST off of home electricity, fixing rural roads, helping seniors and reducing tuition fees. A classic ND agenda—but, Dexter also promised to balance the budget.

By year four, Dexter had succeeded in bringing the province back to a balanced budget, but little else. In the 2013 election his NDP party faced a crushing defeat.

Fast forward to 2021, the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative leader, Tim Houston, spent the entire campaign promising investments in the province’s health care system. The Nova Scotia health care system has had a chronic shortage of family doctors, excessive waits for ambulances, long distances to hospitals and a lack of mental health supports. Houston, a conservative, spoke not a word about a balanced budget.

New Democrat Premier Dexter’s efforts to balance the budget is exactly in line with Premier Kenney’s priority since his election.

It’s actually the stuff of fairy tales to promise that public health, public education and infrastructure will be enhanced while simultaneously balancing the budget. Houston understood the contradiction and based his campaign on values much more in line with Rachel Notley and Alberta New Democrats.

Houston believes in the reality of climate change and doesn’t support O’Toole’s vision for childcare. The Conservative party’s return to Harper tax credits and demand-side incentives to create affordable childcare spaces didn’t work then and won’t work now.

O’Toole has embraced the old Harper/Scheer playbook, including his recent promise of a one-month GST holiday. That isn’t governance, that’s a gimmick to suck you in and then deliver a surprise agenda when elected.

O’Toole’s announcement that he would appoint a minister responsible for red tape reduction declares to the rest of the country that he’s in Jason Kenney’s camp. Since the pandemic began, conservative premiers in Ontario, Manitoba and New Brunswick have kept their distance from Kenney. He’s no longer Canada’s conservative kingmaker.

Progressive Conservative Premier-elect Tim Houston, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative populist leader Doug Ford and ND leader Jugmeet Singh have a common mission—to govern to today’s reality, not regurgitate 1980 neo-liberal dribble. O’Toole has chosen to stay true to yesterday’s trickle-down economics and a belief that individuals or the private sector can do everything better than governments. Which, of course, was totally debunked during the pandemic.

Covid taught us that balanced budgets are not the end-all, be-all. It taught us that small, ‘efficient’ governments and the free market were ill-prepared for a crisis. We learned the hard way that governments are our best friends in times of trouble, and they need to be resilient and ready to face the next unexpected event.

Premier-elect Houston won’t balance the budget abruptly or even within the next decade if elected again, but will address the realities facing Nova Scotians today and those that impact future viability.

Progressive Conservatives in Nova Scotia have nothing in common with Alberta’s united conservatives. And therein lies O’Toole’s biggest challenge—developing policies within a divided party whose members hold radically different values.


Brenda Schimke

ECA Review

About the author

Brenda Schimke

Schimke is a Graduate with Distinction from the University of Alberta with a BCom degree. She has lived and worked in Alberta, BC and Ontario.