The tune had a familiar ring. As John Savage entered the packed ballroom in Dartmouth, N.S., for his election victory celebration last week, the strains of Don’t Stop (“thinkin’ about tomorrow”)—the Fleetwood Mac hit that served as the theme for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign—blared from loudspeakers. Like Clinton, Savage had dealt a crushing defeat to a right-of-centre opponent—in this case a Conservative whose party had ruled Nova Scotia for 15 years. As he savored his victory, the Welshborn family practitioner repeated his campaign promise to put unemployed Nova
Scotians back to work. “It is time to turn words into deeds,” the Liberal party leader declared. But as with Clinton, Savage’s biggest challenge may be meeting the expectations created by his campaign. “This government,” declared Halifax pollster Donald Mills, “may be in for a very short holiday.” Still, Savage’s victory over Premier Donald Cameron, who promptly announced his resignation, was impressive. The Liberals won 40 of the legislature’s 52 seats and 50 per cent of the popular vote. The Conservatives took a mere nine seats and 31 per cent of the vote, while Alexa McDonough’s New Democrats won three seats with 18 per cent
of the vote. In part, the Liberals rode to power on a wave of public discontent with a party that had been in power for too long— and that had failed to distance itself from the scandal-ridden years of former Conservative premier John Buchanan.
Equally important, though, was the Liberal campaign promise to create jobs without running up the cost of government. In a province where the unemployment rate was 14.4 per cent in April, compared with a national rate of 11.4 per cent, that campaign platform clearly struck a chord. At the same time, Savage’s approach differed sharply from the preoccupation with deficit slashing that has gripped most governments across Canada. And opposition politicians who preach a message similar to Savage’s expressed pleasure with the voters’ verdict. Francis LeBlanc, Liberal MP for Cape Breton Highlands/Canso, whose party also advocates increased efforts to create jobs, said: “His success shows that the public realizes that creating jobs while keeping costs under control is not necessarily incompatible.” Savage maintains that a balanced approach is the key to the province’s future. During an interview with Maclean’s two days after his victory, he emphasized that he would continue some of the cost-cutting measures instituted by the Cameron government. But, simultaneously, Savage wants to create jobs with a strategy that borrows heavily from the formula now being used by Liberal Premier Frank McKenna to turn around the economy in neighboring New Brunswick.
Savage’s game plan: eschewing the government subsidies and megaprojects that characterized the economic initiatives of the
past and instead concentrating on steps that will nurture smaller community-based businesses and help further diversify the economy. In addition,
Savage wants to convince new types of businesses—ones that will be able to compete in the technology-oriented global economy—that there are advantages to setting up shop in Nova Scotia, such as the lower crime rate and relatively inexpensive real estate.
And like his Liberal counterpart in New Brunswick, Savage plans to be an active salesman for his province. “I have a suitcase and I’m ready to go,” he said.
However, Nova Scotia’s 23rd premier may have far less room to manoeuvre than his predecessors. The province’s economic outlook is gloomy: the slump in the fishing and mining industries, and a cap on federal transfer payments, have helped drive the number of unemployed to 60,000 from 53,000 a year ago. But creating enough jobs to make a sizable dent in the unemployment figures will be difficult. “The Liberal government’s ability to do what it promised is extremely limited,” said Fred Morley, an economist with the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council.
Savage may also have a tough time delivering on another campaign pledge—ending the widespread patronage that has long been a fact of political life in Nova Scotia. He has promised quick action, including an audit of the department of transportation, which has traditionally rewarded supporters of the governing party with jobs and contracts for such
‘I HAVE A SUITCASE ANDITVI READY TOGO’
—Liberal Leader John Savage work as construction and paving. As well, Savage has said that he intends to establish an all-party legislative committee that will review appointments to provincial boards and commissions.
But the new premier, who won his party’s leadership in June, 1992, will likely face pressure to continue patronage from rural Liberals who have been excluded from government jobs and contracts over the past decade and a half of Tory rule. In fact, that point of view was articulated during the campaign by two Liberal candidates—both of whom won seats. They said openly that hiring preference for government jobs should always be given to political friends. (Both were rebuked by Savage.) Declared Brian Crowley, a political science professor at Halifax’s Dalhousie University: “My sense is that the Liberals will be more in tune with the old-style way of doing politics than the Tories under Cameron.”
Being traditional is an accusation that few people have ever levelled at Savage. The son
of a doctor, he was bom in the coal and steel town of Newport in south Wales. After earning his own medical degree, he emigrated to Canada in 1966 to set up practice in Dartmouth. There, he quickly earned a reputation as a social activist. Given to sporting a long beard and smoking a briar pipe, he set up a free medical clinic in the predominately black community of North Preston, raised money for medical supplies and aid for Nicaragua and taught sex education in the Dartmouth school system. Today, the beard is long gone. But a photograph showing Savage—who is married and the father of seven children—embracing Canadian
activist and songwriter Bruce Cockbum still decorates his office.
Clearly, Savage is a far cry from Cameron, a dour former dairy farmer who served as a cabinet minister under Buchanan. And Savage’s government will almost certainly differ from the previous Tory administration in terms of style. For one thing, the Liberal cabinet is expected to include Wayne Adams, the first black ever elected in Nova Scotia. Behind the scenes, the Liberals have assembled a team of younger strategists and advisers—many of them in their 20s and early 30s. “We need a sea change in attitude if we want to turn this province in a new direction,” Savage told Maclean’s. Buoyed by his party’s huge victory, he must now face the challenge of charting his government’s course—without disappointing his province’s electorate.
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