Premier accuses opposition of fearmongering as health-care strike vote looms

With health-care unions poised to hold a strike vote on illegal job action, Premier Stephen McNeil says opposition MLAs are “fearmongering” by raising concerns about a possible health-care strike.

Opposition MLAs say government needs to do more to broker a deal

Premier Stephen McNeil says he expects health-care unions to abide by the law that prevents job action until essential service agreements are in place. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Premier Stephen McNeil says opposition MLAs are "fearmongering" by raising concerns about a possible health-care strike.

On Wednesday, the four unions representing health-care workers in the province announced that the inability to make progress in negotiations with the Nova Scotia Health Authority and IWK Health Centre is prompting them to prepare for a strike vote.

Legislation the Liberals passed early in their first mandate requires the two sides to reach an agreement on essential services before job action is permitted. The unions allege, however, the employers have avoided finding a way to make progress on the issue. Both sides have filed complaints against the other during the negotiating process.

Reflecting the public's views

On Thursday, McNeil told reporters at Province House health-care unions "assured Nova Scotians that they would have in place" essential services agreements if they were to exercise the right to strike, which is one of the reasons the government was willing to allow them to bargain as a group after the district health authorities were merged.

He said he expects the unions to reach those agreements before taking any kind of job action and the premier suggested there is no room for the employers — the provincial health authority and IWK Health Centre — to move on their position.

"We have what we believe is essential," he said. "We believe we reflect the views of Nova Scotians, they have [their] view."

Interim Tory leader Karla MacFarlane says it's troubling that things have reached such a point with health-care workers that they'd consider illegal job action. (CBC)

Interim Tory leader Karla MacFarlane said she's waiting to hear from the unions about their concerns and proposals, but she's troubled things have reached this point.

MacFarlane said the premier needs to get everyone to the table so a plan can be reached. She said it's obvious what's going on in the province when it comes to health care, and no one needs to fearmonger.

"It's absolutely truth that people are going without a doctor with serious medical health concerns like cancer, like diabetes, mental health, and they have no one to turn to."

NDP Leader Gary Burrill says the government needs to heed the concerns and criticisms about the state of the system coming from health-care professionals. (CBC)

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said it isn't just opposition MLAs who are sounding the alarm.

"Some of the most respected people in clinical care in Nova Scotia are the primary people who have been raising the concern that our health-care system is in a crisis and a mess," he said.

When doctors and other health-care professionals are raising such concerns, they're speaking from a position of expertise, and to suggest otherwise diminishes the concerns, said Burrill.

'Essential service is important'

He said the government lacks skill when it comes to "negotiation and bargaining and conversation and listening."

But McNeil said essential services legislation was required to ensure some level of service could be counted on in the event of job action. Despite the time that's gone into this with no results so far, McNeil said he doesn't see a need to consider a different approach.

"I believe essential service is important. I believe that health-care services that Nova Scotians have come to expect are important."

About the Author

Michael Gorman

Reporter

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia who covers Province House, rural communities, and everything in between. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca