HALIFAX – The Liberals wrapped up a turbulent fall legislative sitting with a third midnight sitting to pass the government’s controversial wage legislation.
The five-week fall session was marred by twists and turns that knocked the Liberals off message more than once.
Andrew Younger kicked off the sitting in November by releasing a secretly recorded conversation between himself and Premier Stephen McNeil’s chief of staff at the time, Kirby McVicar. Ultimately the recording, and two subsequently released recordings, cost McVicar his job and McNeil a trusted advisor and friend.
On the recording McVicar appears to be offering Younger’s wife a job. The Liberals said a job offer was never made and McVicar tried to discredit Younger’s version of events by releasing Younger’s personal health information. Until that point, McNeil had defended McVicar, however, within a day of the personal health information disclosure, McVicar resigned.
“Kirby has been an outstanding friend to me and a colleague and this has not been an easy day for either one of us,” McNeil said on November 24.
READ MORE: Premier accepts Chief of Staff’s resignation
Speaking to reporters Friday, the New Democrat’s interim leader, Maureen MacDonald, said the Liberals never got back on their game after the Younger debacle.
“Its just dysfunctional its been a dysfunctional session,” MacDonald said.
The Liberals also faced widespread criticisms when they introduced a bill dramatically increasing pedestrian fines.
It will now cost Nova Scotians more if they are caught jaywalking than if they’re caught driving through a red light. Changes to the children and family services act were also polarizing.
Then, just as it seemed the Liberals would avoid the labour strife that has dogged previous sittings, the teachers union rejected a tentative deal. That put the Liberals’ other union negotiations on shaky ground and led the NSGEU to delay a vote for a tentative agreement with its civil servants unit.
The government lashed out at the NSGEU and threatened to rescind the offer if a vote wasn’t held quickly. The union called the government’s bluff and said the earliest it would hold a vote was January. The government then backed down.
“We’re trying to be calm and take second step which is to allow more time for partners to consider options,” Deputy Premier Diana Whalen said.
READ MORE: Government appears to be backing down from threat to union
Less than two weeks later, the government introduced public sector wage legislation. Among other things the bill, once it’s proclaimed, will freeze the wages of 75,000 public sector workers. The NDP promised to filibuster the act, so the government forced three midnight sittings within a week to ensure the opposition couldn’t delay its passage.
The New Democrats said the government was union busting while the Progressive Conservatives maintain Bill 148 is likely illegal.
“It’s going to be found unconstitutional and it’s going to end up costing taxpayers more,” Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie said.
In addition to taking on the unions, McNeil also took on Doctors Nova Scotia, accusing them of asking for an “unconscionable” pay increase of 55 per cent.
Doctors Nova Scotia says that’s “inaccurate” but won’t negotiate in public by disclosing more information. The association says members are “disappointed” with Bill 148, which takes away their right to arbitration.
READ MORE: Liberals could push doctors out of province: Doctors Nova Scotia
However, when asked about the criticisms in question period, McNeil said Doctors Nova Scotia is offside with it’s membership. “Doctors Nova Scotia do not quite frankly represent the doctors,” McNeil said – something the association rejects.
Despite the rough ride for the Liberals, McNeil isn’t moved by critics and says his government got important work done.
“The electricity act that came through, the changes made to the children and family services act – are all positive things for the province,” McNeil said. “[Bill 148] caused the most debate, now it’s my hope that people get back to the bargaining table and find a resolution at the bargaining table.”
The Liberals’ poll numbers are still sky high compared to those of the opposition parties. According to Corporate Research Associates’ latest poll, 64 per cent of decided voters support the Liberal party.