The leaders of Nova Scotia’s three main parties went head-to-head Wednesday evening, in the first leaders’ debate of this election campaign.
The 90-minute debate was carried by CBC.
Liberal Leader Iain Rankin, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston and NDP Leader Gary Burrill made their pitches to voters less than three weeks away before election day on Aug. 17.
Health-care, the housing crisis and the economy took centre stage — as Global News live-blogged the discussion:
The leaders begin by making their opening remarks.
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Liberal Leader Iain Rankin says this is a time of “recovery” and “optimism” and lists what his government has done, and plans to do — including a deal for affordable child care.
PC Leader Tim Houston says it’s time to fix health-care and that his party is the only one that has been upfront about how much this will cost. He says he hopes people “like” his party’s promises, and if they do, “hire us.”
NDP Leader Gary Burrill highlighted the need for affordable housing and the “cloud of anxiety and depression,” which means a greater need for mental health support.
The first topic is health-care — including staffing problems and ER closures.
Rankin says his party has made targeted investments, including supporting education for health-care workers.
Burrill says it’s important to ensure there’s adequate staffing in hospitals and long-term care.
Houston says health-care is in crisis, and that nurses have “bore the brunt” of this pandemic. He says the Liberals have failed at providing a doctor for every Nova Scotian.
On the topic of closing rural hospitals, Rankin says he won’t close a hospital without engagement with the community.
Rankin says the model of care has changed, but Nova Scotians deserve to see a physician when they need. That’s why they’ve increased nurse practitioners in the collaborative-style model. He says the pandemic has affected recruitment.
Burrill says many jurisdictions use physicians assistants, and Nova Scotia isn’t using that to its advantage.
Houston says the government needs to respect health-care workers, and support them. He says 70,000 Nova Scotians are trying to get access to care. He says his party would improve health-care “because you’re worth it” and points at the camera.
On the topic of long-term care, Burrill says we have an “aging tsunami.” He points again to the chronic problem of understaffing, and says staff to client ratios should be legislated.
Rankin says there are independent reports that they’re following, and that his government has already made moves to increase beds.
Houston says “Iain’s government has chosen to look the other way.” He brings up Northwood, making requests for money for improvements, “and then look what happened, tragic losses at Northwood” in reference to COVID-19. He says he wouldn’t let that happen.
Rankin admits that the wait time for a long-term care bed is too long, but that there are new beds coming.
On the topic of rent control, Burrill says an NDP government would immediately bring in rent control. He says that his opponents have said that rent control doesn’t work, but says it “works for sure.”
Houston says we need more housing stock and more supply. “We need to encourage the construction of more housing” and would like to encourage more people to enter the trades to achieve that. He says that he does not support rent control.
Meanwhile, Rankin says that rent control is one tool of many, and that it was useful during the pandemic.
Rankin says he “agrees with Tim” that it is a supply issue.
When Burrill presses him again on whether he supports rent control, Rankin repeats it was necessary during the pandemic, but not long term.
Houston says his plan for economic recovery means “innovative” ideas, which includes increasing paycheques and a “buy local” program that is part of his party’s platform.
Rankin says they were “on the right track before the pandemic hit” and that we need to get back on that.
Burrill disagrees, and says that Nova Scotia has the lowest median income in the country.
Rankin points to the $10-a-day child care agreement with the federal government, and social programs that his party has brought in.
Rankin says we will get to $15 minimum wage, but that too suddenly will be hard on small businesses.
Houston says his better paycheque guarantee program would help workers, because if employers have to choose between paying taxes or putting the money towards paycheques, they’ll choose paying their employees.
Burrill says there is no time that a $15 minimum wage has been as important than when a province is in recovery. He says it’s tough to think about strong economy bounce-back without the $15 minimum wage.
Rankin says “well, somebody’s got to pay for all this spending.” He says his party is prepared to spend, but that big deficits are too much to burden future generations with.
Houston says as an accountant he understands the ramifications of deficits, but that health-care needs to be fixed and is the priority.
Burrill says that Rankin’s idea we can move out of a deficit in four years is foolish.
On the topic of diversity and inclusion, Houston says “we’re three white men up here” and that their political journeys are nothing compared to what women and diverse politicians have experienced.
Rankin says there is systemic racism in institutions, and he recognizes his white privilege.
Both Rankin and Houston say they have a diverse slate of candidates.
Burrill says it’s very important to recognize the reality of racism in Nova Scotia in many different forms. He says it’s also a time of increased awareness.
He says the Wortley Report on street check recommendations need to all be adopted, as well as the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action that are pertinent provincially.
Houston brings up the need to “walk the walk” and brings up the Liberals’ former candidate in Dartmouth South, Robyn Ingraham, who says she was ousted by the party for her boudoir photos. He says that Rankin’s party forced the woman to lie about her reasons for stepping down, and stigmatized mental health.
Rankin says that “in fairness to Robyn I’m not going to speak about her through you,” and that he has been trying to reach her. He also says he trusts his staff.
Houston says we need to knock down barriers for diverse communities. He says he wants everyone to take part in the growth of the economy.
Burrill says at the centre of his party’s platform that there be a task force on the green economy, and that would include Indigenous and Black voices, alongside business and education sectors.
On the topic of fisheries and moderate livelihood, Houston says the federal government has to define moderate livelihood. He says it was failed government policy.
Meanwhile, Rankin says licensing of catch is through the federal government, and he wouldn’t change that.
Burrill says provincial legislation need to be adjusted so they are in line with the capacity to give affect to the court mandated right of moderate livelihood fishery.
On the goal of 90 per cent of our electricity from renewable resources by 2030, Rankin says that there’s a target already of reaching 80 per cent. He says we need to continue to press forward to bring more clean energy into the system and that’ll create more jobs.
Burrill says “we are talking about an emergency” and that we need a consistent greenhouse gas emissions reduction target that is in line with international goals — in other words, 90 per cent.
Houston says his party’s platform also includes 80 per cent, and that his platform is real and achievable. He also says he’s prepared to work with the other parties to work on the issue of climate change, and that they don’t need “political bickering.”
Burrill asked Rankin: “How can you credibly present yourself as a climate champion when you have not reversed the decision to turn Owls Head into a golf course?”
Rankin says he will not be in favour of any project that has adverse impact on the ecosystem but that he will listen to what communities want.
Houston says Rankin can’t go around presenting himself as an environmentalist, and “do what you did at Owls Head.”
Rankin says we need to listen to people — including landowners and community members. He repeats it’s a process and they’re going through it.
Burrill criticizes the Liberals for what they did to the biodiversity act. He says they are the author of the “shriveling” biodiversity act.
As for Northern Pulp’s proposal for effluents in Pictou Harbour, Houston says we nee to highly scrutinize applications.
Rankin asks Houston “where were you?” when we made the difficult decision to close Boat Harbour.
Burrill says Northern Pulp shouldn’t be allowed to do to Pictou Harbour what they did to Boat Harbour, “period.”
On the topic of attainable home ownership, Rankin says there is so much in-migration and that we do need to make adjustments for housing affordability.
Burrill repeats the need for permanent rent control, and says it will strengthen the path to home ownership.
Houston says the province needs a government with vision that adds to the housing stock, and he plans to do that by adding people in the trades.
On the topic of Air BNBs and regulations, Burrill says rules around them need to be strengthened. He says we don’t want “ghost hotels.”
Rankin says regulations are in fact in place, and that due to our limited housing stock and demand, those rules may need to be revisited. But he says some people need that second income, but he isn’t against reviewing regulations.
On the topic of how to invigorate small communities, Rankin says a robust infrastructure program the Liberals have is expanding high-speed internet and that by 2023, they will reach the target of 99 per cent.
Houston argues we can’t build our small communities without adequate health-care. He says housing, health-care and good jobs is what will help rural Nova Scotia.
Burrill says he agrees with the other two leaders, but that we can’t forget rural schools.
When asked if they’d commit to fixed election dates, Houston says “absolutely we’ll do it.”
Burrill says “yes.”
Rankin says “if we had fixed election dates, we would have had an election during the third wave, so we need that flexibility.”
During closing statements, Houston says that he’ll give “everything” he has to make our lives better. He talks about health-care, environment, tourism, and protecting our heritage.
He says a “Tim Houston government” would listen to all — no matter their gender, race, faith, sexual orientation, or how they’ve voted in the past.
Rankin praises Nova Scotians on how we’ve dealt with the pandemic. He adds he’s becoming a father this fall and he’s optimistic about what the province is doing. “This is our time, this is our future,” he says.
Burrill says if he’s given the opportunity to govern, these things will happen in Nova Scotia: permanent rent control within a month, a system of same day mental health clinics, greenhouse gas emissions commitment will be expanded, fees for after school care removed, and staff to patient ratios in long-term care will be regulated.