Montreal, January 15, 2006 • No 162




Clinton P. Desveaux lives in Nova Scotia. You can visit his blog at




by Clinton P. Desveaux


          As Canadians are about to elect a Conservative government in Ottawa, it may be relevant to see what kind of conservatism we've had here in Nova Scotia over the past several years.


          Premier John Hamm announced in the fall that he was stepping down as leader of the Progressive Conservative party in Nova Scotia. A leadership convention will be held in early February. Hamm boasted about his achievements while in office, including the fiscal responsibility he brought to provincial government and the business friendly environment he fostered. But did Hamm really bring about any of this? Was he truly a conservative leader? Unfortunately the answer is no.

No conservative leader

          True, under his government the provincial budgets got balanced, but Paul Martin balanced budgets at the federal level for years, and so does the NDP government in Saskatchewan. No one in their right mind would call Paul Martin or the NDP conservatives. The real hallmark of a true conservative is spending. A true conservative seeks to cut back government spending and reduce the role of the state.

          When premier Hamm took over the reigns of power many of us thought that is was exactly what he would do: reduce not only the size but also the role of the state. Many of us believed that he would cut spending and lower the overall budget numbers. That, after all, is what fiscal responsibility is all about.

          But Hamm turned out to be what might be called a Keynesian Conservative, which means he had a rabid propensity to spend whatever money he could get his hands on. Oh, he would talk about cutting spending, but sometimes a cut is not really a cut... To understand what I mean by this you need to understand how mathematics works in politics.

          Let’s take a hypothetical example. Say the former Nova Scotia Liberal premier Russell MacLellan promises to spend $400 one year, and to follow up the next year with $700 of spending. That would represent a net spending increase of $300. So far this is basic mathematics.

“Despite all his boasts about 'fiscal responsibility,' there never were any spending cuts under Hamm. Total government expenditures actually rose every year that he was in a position of authority.”

          Meanwhile, John Hamm comes into office and promises to increase spending to $600 instead the following year, from the original Liberal number of $700. This means we would end up with a net spending increase of $200, right? Wrong. Under political math, Hamm and his followers would claim that spending has actually been cut because their spending hike is lower then the Liberals. Of course, in both cases the Liberal and Progressive Conservative numbers represent a net spending increase.

No spending cuts

          That’s what happened under Hamm. Despite all his boasts about “fiscal responsibility,” there never were any spending cuts. Total government expenditures actually rose every year that Hamm was in a position of authority. He could have done something about it and he chose to do nothing.

          Then there’s his talk about improving the business environment in the province. This from a man who placed new consumption taxes on the cost of fuel in Nova Scotia, who openly discussed regulating automotive fuel prices, who talked about shutting business down on Sundays, who considered “fat” taxes, and who passed special race-based legislation for First Nations and Black Nova Scotians. To top it all off, he increased income taxes. Now you be the judge, did Hamm truly follow through on a conservative agenda?

          Yes, I do understand that Hamm was what some might call, "the best of the worst possible choices," but the fact remains that although he had five solid years to roll back the state, Hamm chose not to do so.

          Of course, now that Hamm is stepping down, many Nova Scotians are wondering if they will finally be offered a pro free-market alternative to Keynesian conservatism and to tax and spend Liberalism. We can only hope so.

          Then again, even Albertans understand these hard learned lessons that Nova Scotians have gone through. If King Klein of Edmonton can crank up spending levels to unheard of numbers and still be considered a conservative, what does that say for the conservative movement in general?