August 9th, 2022

Op-Ed -- Houston weak on pocketbook issues affecting Nova Scotians

Claudia Chender is Leader of the Nova Scotia NDP.

Every day, we hear stories from Nova Scotians across this province struggling to access our health-care system, waiting for the arrival of a paramedic, showing up at an ER to find it either closed or bursting at the seams.

We hear from families who are cutting back on groceries and struggling to pay housing costs. We hear from seniors unable to afford their medications.

Against this backdrop, last week, the premier called the legislature back for an emergency session.

The emergency? A bill preventing an MLA pay increase that had all-party support and could have waited until fall. Despite hoping for a quick one-day sitting, we agreed with the government on one thing: there are emergency issues we need to deal with. We entered the session prepared to advocate for actions in health care and on the cost of living to help Nova Scotians.

On the first day the legislature sat, the premier announced the results of the government’s Crown agencies review. The outcome was not an independent housing authority as has been recommended and promised; it was not a new structure for the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia board which has been without quorum for over a year and whose new space has been put on hold.

No, it was the streamlining of five organizations into two. Tim Houston fired the five CEOs of these organizations, two of whom were among the most senior women in the civil service, and instead chose to give two new $1,500-per-day jobs to people he described as his “close personal friends.”

Rather than propose a made-in Nova Scotia plan that deals with affordability and climate change in order to meet the new federal target on greenhouse gas emissions by Dec. 31, on Thursday, the premier chose to send Ottawa a letter saying that now is not the time for a carbon tax, without any information or explanation of what his government plans to do instead of a carbon tax to deal with climate change and the issues around affordability.

Throughout our debates, Mr. Houston chose to deflect questions about the more than 100,000 Nova Scotians waiting for access to primary care instead of telling us what happened to the apparently former head of the new Office of Recruitment and Retention.

Delays at the ER, surgery backlogs, and stress put on frontline health-care workers will continue to have a cost if the premier chooses to, as he says, “plant seeds” instead of taking the bold steps needed to fix health care.

And while we wait for these “seeds” to grow, many families and seniors will continue to struggle to afford their medications as the cost of everything continues to rise. As people are forced to decide between medicine and groceries, the Houston government is choosing not to provide direct support to those who need it.

The premier could have chosen to use the tax windfall from high gas prices to provide direct support of $500 to households making $70,000 or less. And he could have chosen to see the primary care situation for the crisis it is and commit to a plan to revitalize collaborative care so more health professionals can work to their full scope to provide care, allowing more people to have access to the primary care they need.

He could have chosen to work with people fighting the climate emergency in communities across the province instead of dragging his feet while the carbon tax deadline draws nearer.

Being the premier is about making choices — choices that ensure our government works for Nova Scotians. Right now, we need our government to step up and show up for the people of this province. Political theatre is not going to help make sure people stay healthy and housed. It won’t help transition our economy and it won't engender trust for the hard years ahead.

Nova Scotians are ready to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work to take care of each other, but we need to know that the government is on our side.