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Nova Scotia Liberals announce health-care platform that builds on spring budget

Nova Scotia Liberal Leader Iain Rankin makes a health-care promise during the election campaign on July 27, 2021. Jesse Thomas/Global News

Nova Scotia’s Liberal leader is promising an additional $131 million to bolster the province’s health system if elected Aug. 17, saying the money will build on the nearly $400 million earmarked for health care in the 2021-22 budget tabled in March.

Iain Rankin used the backdrop of the province’s largest hospital, which is undergoing a $2-billion redevelopment, as he announced his party’s health-care platform in Halifax Tuesday.

Read more: Keeping track of the N.S. election and promises from main party leaders

Rankin said the Liberal plan targets investments in areas such as physician and nursing recruitment, virtual care and mental health.

“It builds on what is already underway in Nova Scotia,” he told reporters.

Rankin said the plan will see the existing budget for physician recruitment doubled to $5 million in order to establish a new office to help recruit doctors from around the world. He said the office, to work within the Department of Health, would use expertise from top recruitment firms.

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As well, Rankin highlighted $4 million to be spent over three years to create 270 new seats to train licensed practical nurses at the Nova Scotia Community College as part of a $69-million commitment announced Monday.

He said a key to creating more access to the system would be drawing on a broader range of health professionals – a far cry from a Liberal campaign promise in 2013 of a doctor for every Nova Scotian. “Doctors are needed, but the old model of having a family doctor taking on 5,000 patients is not happening anymore,” Rankin said.

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Another $6 million will be used to expand virtual care in order to give people who are currently waiting for a family doctor access to care. According to the province’s wait list, just over 69,000 people were without a family doctor as of July 1.

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Virtual care has been tested in two pilot projects during the pandemic, and Rankin said the results are encouraging, although he stopped short of saying it will be used as a substitute for traditional primary care.

“It is here to stay in some form, but it’s not the saviour,” he said. “It doesn’t replace every single type of visit that you have with a physician.”

To help increase access to mental health services, Rankin said $4 million will be spent annually to launch eight new mental health walk-in clinics in areas with the greatest need and with close access to regional hospitals that can provide further treatment as needed.

Before the election call, the Liberals announced $96.5 million to create new long-term care beds and to renovate existing facilities.

The Progressive Conservatives have promised $430 million in new spending for the health-care sector, including a pension plan for doctors, the extension of operating room hours on weekdays and 2,500 more long-term care beds.

When asked about the large discrepancy in the funding platforms, Rankin dismissed the idea that large sums of money alone will address health-care needs.

“I think it’s about finding the right programs,” he said.

The NDP has also pledged to increase physician recruitment efforts while expanding virtual care and the number of collaborative emergency care centres, among other measures.

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Meanwhile, NDP Leader Gary Burrill committed his party Tuesday to a faster pace of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the province.

Burrill said if elected his government would introduce a target of lowering carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030 if it forms a government.

The Liberal government said before the election campaign it was committed to reducing its greenhouse gas levels to 53 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050.

Net zero emissions means the total greenhouse gases resulting from human activity would be equal to the amount removed from the atmosphere through natural means and sequestration, also known as carbon capture.

Burrill said his party’s promise is the equivalent to taking 240,000 cars off the road, as compared to existing targets.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 27, 2021.

– With files from Michael Tutton

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