POLITICS

Nova Scotia Liberal premier to lay out agenda in first throne speech

11/27/2013 03:24 EST | Updated 01/27/2014 05:59 EST
HALIFAX - Nova Scotians can expect legislation to break Nova Scotia Power's monopoly on the electricity grid and measures to strengthen rules on financial assistance to the private sector, the Liberal premier says ahead of his government's first throne speech Thursday.

Stephen McNeil, who swept to power last month winning 33 of the legislature's 51 seats, said his government plans to tackle at least two key campaign commitments in the upcoming fall session.

"It's important that we send a signal that we are committed to doing what we said we are going to do," McNeil said in an interview.

But he also cautioned that the government is still finding its footing in what is expected to be a two- to three-week session, adding that some of its major promises will have to wait until next year

"This is really about setting the tone and then beginning to build toward what will be our first budget in the spring."

He said a fiscal update that will shed light on the state of the province's books will also be released before the end of the year.

The financial forecast will be significant. McNeil has said he would only cut the harmonized sales tax if the province reaches surpluses that would make up for the lost revenue, meaning each percentage point cut in the tax would require an estimated $190 million in the black.

McNeil said he would amend if necessary a law the NDP government passed that requires one percentage point cuts to the HST next year and in 2015. The tax stands at 15 per cent.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie, whose party holds Official Opposition status with 11 seats, is promising to hold the government's feet to the fire on its campaign promises and is already critical of McNeil's intention to hold a short session of the house.

Baillie said problems dogging the economy such as outmigration and unemployment along with high taxes and power rates need to be addressed immediately.

"The Liberals campaigned making big promises in those areas," said Baillie. "This is a time for action in our province and I am calling on the government to get on with the job."

Acting NDP Leader Maureen MacDonald, whose party went from government to third-party status with seven seats, said she is willing to be more patient.

But MacDonald said her party will be interested to hear whether the Liberals will repeal the law that would implement HST cuts next year.

"There are many challenges that lie in front of this government that were challenges we faced as government and those things need to be worked on," said MacDonald.

Decorum — or lack thereof — has been an issue that has gripped the house, and McNeil said he wants to engage the opposition parties on how to make the legislature function better.

The last session was particularly abrasive and ended with police laying charges of assault and uttering threats against former economic development minister Percy Paris following a confrontation with Keith Colwell, who is now the agriculture minister. The charges were withdrawn after Paris completed an adult diversion program.

McNeil said he would like to see more co-operation and has instructed his ministers to consider adopting good legislative ideas from the opposition.

"Part of what I really want to change is the tone of the house and as government we have a responsibility to lead that and to demonstrate by our own actions," he said.