Ruth Davenport - Metro Halifax
© Devaan Ingraham/The Canadian Press
Nova Scotia Premier Darrel Dexter (left) and Nova Scotia Liberal leader Stephen McNeil (right) laugh during a "Straight Talk" event hosted by the Halifax Chamber of Commerce in Halifax on Wednesday.
The first face-to-face meeting of the three provincial party leaders ahead of a widely-expected provincial election this fall was a rehearsed and scripted delivery of well-known policy positions.
The Halifax Chamber of Commerce organized the “Straight Talk” event Wednesday morning, giving each leader three minutes to respond to a series of questions about their plans to develop the province’s economic prosperity.
The leaders received the questions in advance of Wednesday’s event and were asked not to engage each other in political debate, though each got in a few digs at the others.
Premier Darrell Dexter touted his party’s work over the last four years guiding the province out of the recession and balancing the budget, positioning it for further growth.
“The Financial Times just recently said that Nova Scotia has the highest level of foreign direct investment of any province and any state in North America, per capita,” he said. “We’ve been able to put in place enough confidence…to inspire people from around the world to invest in Nova Scotia.
Dexter also deflected criticism over the provincial tax burden, citing a Fraser Institute report that suggests Nova Scotia’s taxes are not among the highest in the country.
“We end up pretty much in the middle of the pack,” he said, adding his government has reduced the small business tax every year for the last four years. “Going forward, we will see the HST come back down…because we can afford to do it and we can afford to balance it with the services that really matter to people.”
Liberal leader Stephen McNeil emphasized the need to invest in the private sector to encourage job creation, rather than making it a function of government.
“We have created an environment in this province where the government is the lender of first choice when government should be the lender of last resort,” he said. “Government should be in a position to enhance sector development as opposed to picking winners and losers.”
McNeil also emphasized the need to attract more immigrants to the province and “overhaul” the public education system to focus on literacy, numeracy and creative thinking.
He also promised a Liberal government would hold a public inquiry into allegations of abuse at the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children.
“(It) is a part of our history through discrimination and racism,” he said to applause from the meager audience. “We need to own it… to allow the healing to begin.”
Progressive Conservative party leader Jamie Baillie hammered at three major promises to lower taxes, trim government spending, and freeze power rates for five years.
“I don’t accept that (power rates) always have to go up,” he said. “You can’t have a modern and growing economy when your price of power is so far out of whack with the rest of the country.”
Baillie also made a promise to raise Nova Scotia’s population to one million by 2025 through immigration and by stopping the outmigration of young families.
“I want to be the premier that welcomes the millionth Nova Scotian to our shores,” he said. “Then truly I’ll know that we…did find a way to make Nova Scotia, finally, reach that great potential that we all grew up knowing was there.”