The first throne speech for Premier Iain Rankin’s leadership promised to focus on economic equality, inclusion, and respect for the environment.
“In framing my government’s vision for Nova Scotia, it is nearly impossible to untangle and separate these three elements,” according to the speech read by Lt.-Gov. Arthur LeBlanc at Province House on Tuesday.
“These are the threads of steel that support the foundations of our plan.”
It was the first sitting at the legislature since the pandemic arrived in Nova Scotia about a year ago.
Rankin made his pledge to the environment a major pillar of his recently successful Nova Scotia Liberal Party leadership bid. He stressed the issue in the second paragraph of his speech, following a land acknowledgment.
“….[W]e have a reverence for our natural world and a belief in protecting it and sharing its bounty.”
For those who followed Rankin’s leadership bid as well as his early times as premier, the speech sound familiar.
His intention to move Nova Scotia away from utilizing coal for energy by 2030 (10 years sooner than planned) was reaffirmed, as well as the vow that the territory would be the first in the nation to become carbon-neutral.
All state offices will utilize renewable electricity by 2025.
‘Higher-value production with lower ecological impacts’
The government of the previous lands and forestry minister additionally plans to accelerate the enforcement of the recommendations of the Lahey report on forestry practices
“to adopt ecological forestry principles, placing the protection of the ecosystem and biodiversity in the forefront of forest management practices.”
It is widely expected the provincial government will relaunch a Biodiversity Act in its initial days.
“My government is committed to higher-value production with lower ecological impacts as we innovate away from industrial forestry to ecological forestry.”
Rankin told reporters that consultation would as well start this spring to form the regulations for the new Sustainable Development Goals Act.
Passed over a year ago, the bill hasn’t moved forward because the COVID-19 pandemic derailed public consultation efforts. Environment and Climate Change Minister Keith Irving said that would not be a hindrance to his work.
“There’s obviously a lot of interest, and I’m very anxious to get to work with Nova Scotians to put this plan together and get to work on the issues of climate change, greenhouse gas reductions, and the overall protection of the environment.”
Province looks to build a more inclusive society
There are pledges to continue leading the territory through the pandemic and further vaccination rollout.
The successful effort to date has been noticed, with the speech referring to the fact the 18 counties in Nova Scotia experienced rising in-migration from other parts of the country in 2020.
The speech additionally touched on the government’s promise to a more inclusive society, one that looks into issues like the need for economic equality and systemic racism.
Up to that point, the speech referred to the newly established Office of Equity and Anti-Racism Initiatives and the appointment of Andrea Anderson, a Black woman, as the new public service commissioner. She is the first person of African descent to serve in the powerful position in the N.S government.
A commitment to social well-being
The speech included vows of help for food producers, tourism operators and to address affordable housing. The state is waiting for the report from the new affordable housing commission around May, and which will constitute recommendations.
During his campaign, Rankin spoke about the need for a program review. In the speech and later talking to reporters, he made it clear that it would not be an ordinary review but one that measures programs by whether they largely improve people’s social well-being and if they help or hurt the environment.
“Most Nova Scotians want to see success, and they don’t just see that in rudimentary metrics like GDP growth,” Rankin told reporters.
“We’ve done very well to grow the economy and grow our population, now it’s time that we start looking at quality of life and social well-being.”
Tory Leader Tim Houston said it is proper to focus on people’s well-being, though he said he wants to hear more solid plans from the premier and his government about how they intend to handle some issues affecting the public, especially as it relates to healthcare.
The Tories also brought to the attention on Tuesday that 60,000 persons in the province are on a waiting list for a doctor.
“It’s very hard to have a good quality of life when you’re waiting a year to access mental health and addictions support,” Houston told reporters. “It’s very hard to have a good quality of life when you’re concerned about how your family can access care.”
NDP Leader Gary Burrill added that he was concerned by the absence of one particular subject in the speech.
“I think it’s discouraging that we should mark the one-year point in the pandemic with a throne speech that doesn’t even mention this key public health and economic issue of paid sick leave.”
The House won’t sit on Wednesday, as MLAs must wait till Thursday to pass amendments to the rules to allow them to sit using a hybrid model. This will have just 3 members of each party and 2 Independent MLAs present, with the rest appearing through video link.
Independent MLA Alana Paon would not issue the unanimous waiver necessary to deal with the issue on Tuesday, and so 15 MLAs, the minimum required for a quorum under normal circumstances, will be present at the legislature on Thursday, whereas Paon speaks to the amendments before the hybrid model eventually comes to force.
Speaking to reporters, Pan said, among other things, she is not happy with the lack of information she received prior to Tuesday’s speech about how the hybrid system would work and what would happen in case of any technical challenges during daily business.
The Cape Breton-Richmond MLA said it was additionally crucial for her to have a shot to debate the motion so she could express her frustration with the Liberal government’s choice not to sit during the coronavirus pandemic.