N.B. Liberals make play for senior vote with recruitment of nursing home workers’ union head

Click to play video 'Nursing home union leader hopes to grab seniors’ vote in Saint John riding' Nursing home union leader hopes to grab seniors’ vote in Saint John riding
Complaints about conditions for staff and residents at long-term care homes are commonplace. However, a prominent union leader will now be running for one of the major parties, as they try to capture the seniors vote in Saint John Lancaster.. Silas Brown has more.

The New Brunswick Liberal Party is trying to position itself as the party best suited to tackle issues in long-term care homes with the recruitment of Sharon Teare.

Teare is the president of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions and was on the front line of the often tumultuous contract negotiations that wrapped up earlier this year. As union president, Teare has spoken at length about the lack of resources and staffing faced by nursing home workers across the province.

“Seniors’ voices matter. I have proven that I am a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. Seniors, not only in my community, but around New Brunswick, need a voice to speak for them,” Teare said at a Liberal campaign event in Saint John on Wednesday morning.

The Liberals have yet to unveil their plan for long-term care, but recruiting Teare, who will run against incumbent social development minister Dorothy Shephard in Saint John Lancaster, sends a strong message.

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Read more: PCs, Liberals set tone for campaigns as New Brunswick election gets underway

“Having a visionary plan for long term care and related issues is critical as we recognize the challenges associated with the aging demographics of our province,” Liberal campaign co-chair Rob McKee said in a statement.

“We must respect the dignity of our seniors and ensure that our focus allows people to stay in their homes as long as possible, but also ensures the necessary supports are in place to provide the proper long term care services for those who require them.

“We are pleased to welcome Sharon Teare, a passionate advocate for seniors and long-term care, as the Liberal candidate for Saint John Lancaster. The specifics of our plan for seniors including long term care will be unveiled in the near future.”

Click to play video 'Reaction to an election being called amid COVID-19 mixed among New Brunswickers' Reaction to an election being called amid COVID-19 mixed among New Brunswickers
Reaction to an election being called amid COVID-19 mixed among New Brunswickers

According to the executive director of the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents’ Rights, Cecile Cassista, plans for how long-term care homes, and seniors in general, will be protected during a potential second wave of COVID-19 should be front and centre in party platforms.

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Cassista said she would like to see high-dose flu vaccines covered for all seniors, not just those living in long-term care, as well as widespread testing inside homes.

“I would like to see all the seniors in these care facilities tested. Also the workers. You know, we have a lot of the workers out on stress leave, so we’re putting them in an uncomfortable situation where quality care could be jeopardized,” Cassista said.

Read more: New Brunswick Liberals announce ex-Tory deputy premier as candidate in election

Cassista also raised concerns over visitation in long-term care homes, which is still severely limited and can’t even happen in person in some cases.

Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs raised similar concerns while at a campaign stop in Moncton on Wednesday.

“I think the biggest challenge we’ve got right now, however, families need to see their family members in nursing homes,” he said.

“If I’m getting complaints anywhere, it’s ‘When am I going to see my mom? When am I going to see my dad?’ They’re really losing ground because there’s no social interaction.”

When asked about Teare’s Liberal candidacy, Higgs said their relationship improved once negotiations between the union and employer wrapped up.

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“I enjoyed discussions with Sharon … You have discussions, you have disagreements, but we have a six-year agreement and nobody appreciates what the nursing home workers did more than I,” he said.

Higgs also said if he is re-elected he would commit to continuing discussions on how to improve working and living conditions in homes outlined in the terms of agreement as part of the contract.