From Skip Hambling
THESE ARE STRANGE DAYS in Nova Scotia. Maybe not Jim Morrison and the Doors “Strange Days” strange—but strange nonetheless.
Tim Huston, our new Conservative premier, keeps acting strange. Not like a politician at all—Conservative or otherwise. But more like a regular guy. Someone who knows “The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks / That flesh is heir to.” In other words, a human being.
This can leave you as perplexed as Darwin on the Galapagos: how to classify this strange animal—a Conservative without a heart of stone? Does he deserve a second look, or is it all just part of one more politician’s long con? The fact that such a question seems fair to ask in Nova Scotia these days is, in itself, strange.
Tim Huston has only been premier since the provincial election in August 2021. But, more than once in those seven months he has actually said exactly what he’s thinking, right out loud, and then doubled down by acting on what he says.
For example, he recently went out of his way to publicly scold the commissioners of the public inquiry into the mass murder of 22 people in Portapique, N.S. last April. He issued a statement that reminded the commissioners that they should make room for, and listen to, the victims’ families and make sure that they were not “kept in the dark”.
Then, he doubled down. When asked why he felt he had to issue the statement he told reporters that there was nothing more important than listening to the families’ concerns because: “If they didn’t have faith in the inquiry, how could the rest of Nova Scotia.”
Here was one prominent actor in the established power structure openly criticizing another prominent actor and refusing to back off when challenged. Something as rare out here as finding a 100 pound blue lobster in the wading pool on the Halifax Common.
In another remarkably human response, Huston had a long face-to-face meeting with Continuing Care Assistants one day and then increased their wages by 23% the next. He said he was moved by listening to their stories of courage and endurance on the pandemic frontlines and simply did what seemed right.
Compare that to Ford in Ontario, who calls the frontline workers heroes but limits wage increases to a maximum of one per cent total compensation for three years.
Tim Huston on the line
The Huston surprises keep coming. His election campaign was built on just one big issue: fix our broken health care system. On March 7 Houston announced a new campaign to recruit more doctors to the province. And any doctor interested in practicing in Nova Scotia might get a call from Houston himself.
According to a press release, any doctor who is interested in practicing in Nova Scotia can go to the new Come Home to Nova Scotia website and they will get a call from a recruiter within 24 hours. Huston makes the same pitch in a video posted on Twitter, with the same promise of callers getting to talk to a real person, who might just be him.
He could mean it, or it could be just clever branding—or both. Regardless, it’s nothing we’ve seen here before.
Also under the heading of give the people what they want are Houston’s decisions on Owls Head provincial park and scheduled minimum wage increases.
The previous provincial government stubbornly refused to deny an American consortium the possibility of turning Owls Head (a pristine piece of Atlantic shoreline) into a golf course. The public campaign against that possibility engaged thousands. It was as big an issue as any here in recent years.
Just days after taking office, Huston agreed to save Owls Head and confirm its designation as protected land.
The decision to keep to an agreed schedule of minimum wage raises was not as dramatic. But Houston’s commitment to stick to the plan, and not find some way to weasel out of it, was refreshing following eight long years of austerity piled on austerity by the previous government.
Huston’s time has not been free of missteps, however. If he was fully tuned in to the community with his Owls Head decision, he was totally tuned out with the Black community.
Just days in he outraged the Black community by firing two African-Nova Scotians who headed up the division of African Nova Scotian Affairs. He replaced them with white men. He did some hasty internal restructuring to make amends. But the minister of African Nova Scotian affairs is still a while man—as are all 19 provincial cabinet ministers.
Another fumble came with Houston’s decision to go to court to try and get out from under an appeal court decision that said the province could no longer deny people with intellectual and physical disabilities equal access to income assistance and housing/care outside of large institutions.
Houston had said he wouldn't do this.
He had said he would honour the court decision and no longer allow discrimination against people with intellectual and physical disabilities.It was a human thing to do: to stop treating some of our most vulnerable folks like second class citizens. Then he changed his mind. And so it goes.
It was Doctor Johnson who remarked: “The thing about a dog walking on his hind legs is not how well he does it—but that he does it all.”
That seems to be where we are with premier Tim Huston these days: marvelling that we have a politician who ever acts human at all—never mind how often, or how well, he does it. Strange days indeed. Cue the music.
- 30 -