JIM VIBERT: Mandate letters reveal audacious agenda for Rankin Liberals – The Journal Pioneer

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Premier Iain Rankin says his government’s ambition is to work with Nova Scotians to ensure “we have a good economy.”

If ever there was a motherhood statement, that would be it, but the words take on greater significance when Rankin explains to his ministers — and to those of us with the endurance to read his mandate letters to all 16 of them — what he means by “a good economy,” and, more importantly, by its opposite.

“An economy is good if, and only if, it permits and fosters well-being,” Rankin said, and again, you’d be hard pressed to find someone to disagree with that.

But he goes on: “An economy that is focused only on higher profits for fewer people, that concentrates wealth among a very small group while excluding many others, and that disregards the impact economic activity has on the environmental sustainability of the planet is not a good economy.”

That description of an economy that’s no good could only come from someone who recognizes those attributes in the current — or prepandemic — economy, sees its inherent inequities, and wants to change things. It may be NDP orthodoxy, but it’s quite rare coming from a Liberal.

Sure, Liberals regularly espouse something like “an economy that works for everyone,” and they talk about greater economic equality, but they also tend to steer clear of statements about higher profits and the concentration of wealth among a select few — a.k.a., their biggest donors.

Rankin’s statement affirms a belief that the pre-pandemic economy — built, as it was, on neo-liberal ideas that freemarket capitalism is the road to the economic promised land — worked great for some people but worked hardly at all for a whole lot more.


The letters are shot full of references to Rankin’s three main priorities, which, taken together, form the core of the government’s program, or as Team Rankin puts it: “The nexus between the environment, (the) economy and equity is the focus of government’s agenda.”


At 37, Iain Rankin obviously embodies a new generation of political leadership in Nova Scotia, and his government’s audacious agenda reflects the perspective, frame of reference and world view of that generation.

Rankin’s letters to his cabinet — he may not have actually written them, but he signed them — lay out the government’s broad goals and the specific objections each minister and department is expected to pursue and eventually achieve.

The letters are shot full of references to Rankin’s three main priorities, which, taken together, form the core of the government’s program, or as Team Rankin puts it: “The nexus between the environment, (the) economy and equity is the focus of government’s agenda.”

The government’s direction seems to be captured in the following, some version of which appears in all the mandate letters:

“People want action on climate change and for our province to move faster to right historic wrongs. Nova Scotia only truly succeeds when we all succeed. The work of government, across all departments and offices, must have at its core a commitment to social equity, the value of diversity, and the foundational fairness of inclusion.”

Rankin says that social justice can’t be a distant ideal, but must be a definite, measurable goal, although it’s not clear how his government will measure success in promoting social justice.


One thing about the letters is irrefutable. The reach of their ambition far exceeds the time left in the Liberal government’s mandate — 14 months.


He also wants to see a greater emphasis on equityissues school curriculum, along with what he calls “biodiversity education.” I’m not entirely sure what “biodiversity education” involves, but I’m going to go ahead and say it’s a good thing.

The letters talk about stuff like turning “waste materials” into value-added products; extending the growing season to increase year-round food production and enhance food security from local sources; and using the government’s vast purchasing power to advance its climate, environmental and equity agenda.

Rankin seemed to find a way to include, in instructions to every department and agency, ways to promote each of his government’s three priorities.

For example, the new Department of Infrastructure and Housing should act on climate change, Rankin said, by ensuring all future construction projects are designed and developed to reduce the long-term carbon impact of our buildings and infrastructure.

The letters reiterated the government’s commitment to “fiscal discipline” but seemed to suggest that the state of the province’s finances won’t dictate progress on environmental or social justice initiatives.

“(Our) government will not leave the next generation with a balanced budget and a broken system,” he said.

One thing about the letters is irrefutable. The reach of their ambition far exceeds the time left in the Liberal government’s mandate — 14 months.

There will be an election long before the goals and objectives in the letters are realized, and then Nova Scotians can decide if Rankin’s ambitions for the province match their own.

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