The Nova Scotia Liberal Party’s newly-elected leader says they’ll have to “run a better campaign” to win the next provincial election in three years and reclaim their spot as the governing party.
“We have to have strong organizations in every single riding across the province, and we have to engage the Conservatives on the health care question,” Zach Churchill told Global News Morning on Monday.
“And that’s not something that I think we did in the last campaign.”
Despite entering the month-long campaign with a big lead in the polls and momentum from their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Liberals suffered a crushing defeat to the Progressive Conservatives led by Tim Houston last August.
The PCs won 31 ridings in the newly-expanded 55-seat legislature.
Iain Rankin, who was only premier for six months, stepped down as Liberal leader in January of this year.
Over the weekend, Churchill won the Liberal leadership with 65 per cent of the vote over Angela Simmonds — the MLA for Preston and a deputy speaker.
Churchill is from Yarmouth and first joined the legislature in a 2010 byelection. He has served as a cabinet minister for the departments of education and health.
He said health care is something his party “did a lot of work on” but was never highlighted during last summer’s provincial election campaign.
“We doubled the amount of nurse practitioners. We expanded cancer care. We did a really successful job managing the situation with COVID-19. We were the envy of the world,” he said.
“And the Conservatives ran a platform on big promises for health care that they’re not delivering on.”
In his interview with Global News, Churchill also criticized the PC party for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic — including moving from weekly to monthly epidemiology updates — as well as the current hospital wait times and doctor shortage.
“It’s way worse now than it was 10 months ago,” he said.
“There’s 30,000 more people without a family doctor. That’s up to 90,000. We never saw that number go that high during our time in government.”
He added that the impact to the health care system because of COVID-19 is something “this government hasn’t really wrapped their head around yet.”
The Liberals, under leader Stephen McNeil, had previously campaigned on ensuring every Nova Scotian had access to a family doctor — something that didn’t happen.
“We got it down to — the most was five per cent without a family doctor in Nova Scotia. And it’s challenging to do that,” Churchill said.
“The way doctors are practicing is very different than it used to be as well. So we have to recognize these new realities and and also identify new access points for primary care for people that don’t have a family doctor.”
The next provincial election is in July 2025.
— with files from The Canadian Press