While Nova Scotia has largely managed to keep COVID-19 under control over the past 18 months, the province isn’t out of the woods yet.
The virus continues to surge in other parts of Canada, especially in unvaccinated people, propelled by highly transmissible variants.
Throughout the pandemic, the governing Liberals have been calling the shots, with the assistance of chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang. But now that a provincial election is underway, it’s possible that there could be a new government as early as next month to lead us through COVID-19.
Global News sent the leaders of each of the three main political parties the same five questions about how they plan to address the COVID-19 pandemic moving forward. Each was asked to keep their answers to 100 words or fewer and some responses have been edited for length.
How would your government address a potential fourth wave of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia? Would you be prepared for another province-wide shutdown?
Liberal leader Iain Rankin: We will address a potential fourth wave in the same manner as previous waves, by working closely with our Public Health officials and acting quickly when required. The health and safety of Nova Scotians will always be my number one priority.
Progressive Conservative leader Tim Houston: Nova Scotians have done an incredible job of following public health guidelines. We need to keep following Public Health advice and encouraging our fellow Nova Scotians to get vaccinated. I am prepared to work with Public Health for the continued best interests of Nova Scotians.
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New Democratic Party leader Gary Burrill: The last 16 months have shown that the people of Nova Scotia will come together and do what is required to protect their neighbours by stopping the spread of COVID-19. An NDP government will be guided by public health in all decisions related to restrictions and other measures that may be required to address the spread of COVID-19. We know that the people of our province will be ready to support each other once again.
What do you think about our current vaccination rates? What would your government do to increase vaccine uptake?
Iain Rankin: Nova Scotia is currently one of the provinces leading the country in vaccinations. Nova Scotians have stepped up throughout the pandemic to do their part. Other jurisdictions are now seeing an uptick in infection rates among unvaccinated people and so I will continue to encourage Nova Scotians to get fully vaccinated as it is the best protection against the disease and its variants.
Tim Houston: I’m pleased to see that our vaccination rates have caught up to our neighbouring provinces. I thank everyone who had received their first and second dose.
Gary Burrill: Public health and the people of Nova Scotia have done the hard work of getting us to the point we are at in the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of people have stepped up to do their part by staying home when needed and getting vaccinated when asked. People need to be supported with good information to make health decisions about vaccination. An NDP government would ensure that people are supported with the best resources and information available to combat vaccine hesitancy.
What precautions would your government put in place for the upcoming school year, especially while children under the age of 12 have not yet been vaccinated? Would you make masks mandatory for students?
Iain Rankin: I will follow the advice of our public health officials to ensure that all Nova Scotians stay safe from this disease.
Tim Houston: A PC government would take the lead of Public Health to ensure that schools are safe for students. It’s important to remember that apart from the pandemic, in recent years, reports emerged shining light on lead levels in drinking water and concerns over ventilation in schools. Many schools have yet to have these issues addressed. We were also the first party to release a plan for schools to reopen safely for both students and teachers in the fall of 2020.
Gary Burrill: Teachers, students and parents have borne the brunt of the difficulties of the last year and a half, and with often confusing and rapidly changing information. An NDP government would make sure to work together with teachers and parents to develop the best path forwards, along with guidance from public health in all decisions related to restrictions and other measures that may be required in schools to address the spread of COVID-19.
Would you support a “vaccine passport” for people entering the province or attending events in Nova Scotia?
Iain Rankin: Nova Scotia requires visitors to the province to be fully vaccinated or to isolate upon arrival. I do not see that changing for the foreseeable future. Protocols for events and gatherings will be determined based on the recommendations of our public health officials.
Tim Houston: While the federal government has indicated it is working on a vaccine passport for international travel, we have not heard of any plan to require vaccine passports within Canada. In fact, travel within Canada is proceeding without a passport.
Gary Burrill: We believe that most people want to do everything in their power to protect their friends, families, and neighbours from harm.
An NDP government will be guided by public health in all decisions related to restrictions and other measures that may be required to address the spread of COVID-19, including vaccine passports and how they might be used — and will do so with great sensitivity to the balance between public health, privacy and civil liberties considerations that would accompany such a program.
What would your government do to help people and businesses affected by COVID-19 get back on their feet financially?
Iain Rankin: A re-elected Liberal government would continue to focus on building a strong economic recovery for businesses and families. We have introduced historic universal child care that will see child care costs halved next year and brought down to an average of $10 a day in five years.
We have introduced a number of programs designed to support businesses including the Small Business Impact Grant Part 3 ($29 million), the Tourism Accommodations Real Property Tax Rebate Program ($7.3 million), the Tourism Restart Package ($18.2 million), and the Digital Assistance Program for Small Business. A re-elected Liberal government has committed to extending this innovative program.
Tim Houston: The pandemic for many communities served as a rallying call to shop local. We need to continue the buy local mentality and expand upon it in order to drive a strong economic recovery. That’s why the PCs will bring forward the Nova Scotia Loyal Program. The PCs are also proposing the Better Pay Check Guarantee, which will allow corporations to have 50 per cent of their tax revenue returned to them provided it is paid to their employees.
For the past two years, the PCs have proposed a tourism tax credit to encourage staycations amongst Nova Scotians. The Liberals rejected the idea.
Gary Burrill: The NDP has a plan for Nova Scotia — where the health care you need is the care that is provided, where every person and family has an affordable place to live, where the climate emergency is addressed with unprecedented investments in green jobs and a transition to a renewable economy, and where paid sick days, decent wages, and access to quality child care are available to everyone.
It is through this vision that Nova Scotia can come out of this time of challenge healthier, more prosperous, and stronger than before.