Watch: Nova Scotia leaders tackle health care, housing at CBC debate
Debate moderated by CBC Nova Scotia News at 6 hosts Tom Murphy and Amy Smith
Leaders from Nova Scotia's Liberal, New Democratic and Progressive Conservative parties faced off during a 90-minute debate to discuss important issues affecting Nova Scotians on Wednesday evening.
CBC Nova Scotia News at 6 hosts Tom Murphy and Amy Smith moderated the commercial-free debate between Liberal Leader Iain Rankin, NDP Leader Gary Burrill and PC Leader Tim Houston.
The debate was broken into five sections: health care, the economy, diversity and inclusion and the environment, followed by virtual questions submitted by audience members.
After brief opening statements, the debate turned to the subject of health care.
Staffing shortages in health care
Rankin said Nova Scotia was not alone in facing staffing shortages and said emphasis was being placed on training more nurses in the province and on encouraging health-care workers to move to Nova Scotia.
"Everybody wants to be in Nova Scotia, that includes health-care workers," Rankin said.
Burrill said the health-care system in Nova Scotia was plagued by staffing shortages and insufficient investment in long-term care facilities.
Houston said "health care is in crisis" in Nova Scotia and "nurses have borne the brunt of this pandemic."
Tense exchanges over hospitals
A discussion on whether some rural hospitals should be closed led to tense exchanges between the Liberal leader and the PC leader.
According to Rankin, hospitals would not be closed in rural areas without engagement from the affected communities.
He said the pandemic had slowed down recruitment, but 80 doctors were waiting to come to the province and should arrive by the fall.
Houston said the PC party wants to work with communities.
"Look in the mirror because you've got to make better decisions on how you treat Nova Scotians," he told Rankin.
The NDP leader said his party believes the outcomes were better when people in rural communities are able to get medical care in their own area.
The future of long-term care
On the subject of long-term care, Burrill said the Liberals have only created 57 long-term care beds during their tenure.
He said despite the Liberals talking about their commitment to long-term care, staff-to-resident ratios have remained the same as they were eight years ago.
Houston said his party had a "Dignity for Seniors" plan that would see 2,500 new beds constructed and 2,000 new staff members hired in the long-term care sector.
He said that Rankin had spoken previously of "overinvesting in seniors" and the Liberals turned down budget increase requests from Northwood.
Moderator Tom Murphy asked the Liberal leader what an acceptable wait for a long-term care bed should be. Rankin said it should be two months but was currently six.
He said the pandemic had proved his government was willing to invest where required, but there was a danger of adding too much bed capacity in long-term care and ending up with empty beds.
Creating affordable housing
On the subject of affordable housing, Burrill was alone in supporting permanent rent control.
Rankin said his government made evidence-based assessments and introduced rent control during the state of emergency as a temporary measure.
Houston said the solution to affordable housing was building more housing stock and encouraging more construction.
He said this would require encouraging more tradespeople to move to Nova Scotia and providing training in the trades to Nova Scotians.
While diversity and inclusion were being discussed, Houston confronted Rankin with the issue of former Dartmouth South Liberal candidate Robyn Ingraham.
Houston said she was removed for posting photos while a male candidate "with criminal convictions" was greenlit.
Rankin said he trusted his staff and has made attempts to communicate with Ingraham three times.
Burrill said the matter raised larger concerns about politics and gender.
Moderate livelihood fishery
On the issue of the moderate livelihood fishery and the violence that indigenous fishers faced in 2020, Houston said there was a need to pressure the federal government to define moderate livelihood.
He said Rankin was beholden to the federal government and wasn't pressuring them to provide a definitive answer.
Rankin said it was a federal matter and out of Nova Scotia's control.
According to Burrill, it made no sense to have a court-mandated right to a moderate fishery without the province making adjustments for it to happen.
All three candidates pledged their commitment to addressing climate change, although Burrill's targets are the more agressive of the three.
Rankin said his party sees a path to 80 per cent renewables by 2030 and getting off coal by the same date. Houston also supports the 80 per cent target, but Burrill said it should be 90 per cent by 2030.
While mentioning the impact and destruction caused by the wildfires in British Columbia, Burrill said the climate crisis was not being handled with the urgency it deserved. He called for bold action.
Houston said all parties needed to work together to deal with the crisis, but couldn't resist taking a jab at the Liberals.
"If empty promises were a renewable, we would have solved the climate crisis a long time ago," he said.
On the topic of land protection, Burrill accused Rankin of trying to be a climate champion while allowing Owl's Head to be potentially turned into a golf course.
Houston said Rankin had taken Owl's Head off the protected candidate list "behind closed doors."
Rankin said he had an obligation to listen to people in the community of Little Harbour.