POLITICS

New holiday, fracking wastewater ban among promises in Nova Scotia throne speech

11/28/2013 01:13 EST | Updated 01/28/2014 05:59 EST
HALIFAX - A new winter holiday and a ban on the importation of hydraulic fracturing wastewater are among the initiatives Nova Scotia's new Liberal government is promising to introduce in the fall legislative session, its first since winning power.

Premier Stephen McNeil laid the ground for his government's agenda with a throne speech Thursday promising to bring in 10 pieces of legislation.

"Nova Scotians voted for change and that change is underway," Lt.-Gov. J.J. Grant read from the speech.

"This begins with open and accountable government. This begins by respecting Nova Scotians' tax dollars."

McNeil is also promising to amend a contentious labour law brought in by the former NDP government that imposes arbitrated settlements on first contracts for newly unionized workplaces within one year.

He said he would remove that time limit in order to encourage negotiated settlements.

"There still will be the provision there ... that would allow you to go to the labour board if it's deemed someone is bargaining in bad faith or if someone isn't bargaining at all," McNeil said before the speech.

He said the government's first bill would be aimed at breaking the monopoly of Nova Scotia Power on the province's electricity grid, a promise that was central in the Liberal's campaign platform. He said there would also be measures to tighten the rules and increase transparency on government loan programs to businesses.

Legislation to amend the act covering the government's information arm, Communications Nova Scotia, is also planned along with an immediate and independent review of politicians' salaries and benefits, pensions, living allowances and other expenses, the speech said.

McNeil said the salary review would broaden a process that is already mandated.

He said a ban on the importation of hydraulic fracturing wastewater is needed because it doesn't make sense to take in that waste when there is a moratorium on fracking in the province while an independent review of fracking is underway. McNeil said he wants to send a clear message to other jurisdictions where fracking is also a hot-button issue.

"If New Brunswick wants to do fracking or any other province wants to do fracking, don't look to the province of Nova Scotia to deal with your fracking waste," he said.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie, whose party campaigned hard to scrap what he called politicians' "gold-plated pensions," welcomed the expanded review of the remuneration package for members but said he'd be looking for concrete action.

"It sounds good, but I want to see if it really leads to changes in the pension plan or not," said Baillie.

He said McNeil's promise to change the first contract arbitration law falls short, calling it a compromise on a bill that should be scrapped because of its chilling effect on business.

NDP Acting Leader Maureen MacDonald said the throne speech was light on details and she expressed disappointment that the Liberals plan to revise the labour bill.

"I think there is a false understanding of the impact of that legislation," said MacDonald. "No businesses have left Nova Scotia that I'm aware of."

The speech included the government's intention to create a new statutory holiday in February, something that had been championed in the past by Finance Minister Diana Whalen while she was in Opposition. She had submitted private member's bills calling for such a holiday eight times.

The government has said the new holiday likely won't take effect until 2015.

The throne speech was the first since the Liberals won last month's election, taking 33 of the legislature's 51 seats.