About this Citizens’ Guide

I was spurred to write this Citizens’ Guide by a startling political event.

On December 5, 2016, all public schools in Nova Scotia were closed by ministerial order. The legislature was called into emergency session to consider a bill that would impose a contract on teachers. Schools would stay closed until the bill was passed.

Usually people don’t really care how their legislature works. Suddenly, it mattered. Lots of people started asking lots of questions.

I read on social media quite a lot of comments about the legislature that weren’t accurate. It’s not always a big deal, but incorrect facts can send conversations off in the wrong direction and cause people to draw wrong conclusions.

As it turned out, that emergency session on December 5, 2016, lasted a single day. The bill was never introduced.

But even though that particular issue evaporated, I thought it would be helpful to have a permanent Citizens’ Guide to the Nova Scotia legislature. The Nova Scotia legislature is a strange place, and hard to understand unless you’ve been on the inside.

I was on the inside for fifteen years: three years as the NDP caucus research director, then twelve years (2001 to 2013) as a member. I was elected four times as the MLA for Halifax Fairview. I was also a cabinet minister from 2009 to 2012 and again in 2013. I was a member of the New Democratic Party (NDP).

I wrote a book about my time in politics called What I Learned About Politics: Inside the Rise and Collapse of Nova Scotia’s NDP Government (Nimbus, 2014). It’s still widely available, and also available in e-book format on all major platforms. It’s about Nova Scotia politics in general, but there’s also lots in it about what really goes on at the legislature. I also wrote a book called The Effective Citizen: How to Make Politicians Work for You (Nimbus, 2017). It’s about how to work with politicians to get things done.

I’m now a professor of business law at the Rowe School of Business at Dalhousie University. From November 2013 to March 2017 I also provided political analysis for CBC Nova Scotia on television, radio and the web. Neither Dalhousie nor the CBC is connected to this Citizens’ Guide in any way, and they are not responsible for any of the content.

I’m going to build this Citizens’ Guide one question at a time, until it is more or less complete. If you have a question that isn’t already answered, please be in touch. To keep this Citizens’ Guide manageable, I’ll write only about the legislature, and not politics or government in general.