Nova Scotia

N.S. premier-designate Tim Houston says pandemic management is his top priority

Nova Scotia's premier-designate Tim Houston spoke to media Wednesday following the Tories' resounding majority win in Tuesday's provincial election and said his primary focus would be public health.

Houston's Progressive Conservatives won a majority government in Tuesday's election

Nova Scotia's Progressive Conservative premier-designate Tim Houston fields questions at a media availability after winning a majority government in the provincial election in New Glasgow, N.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Premier-designate Tim Houston says his top priority is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and his first order of business is to meet with Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health.

Speaking to reporters for the first time the day after his party's resounding majority win in the provincial election, Houston said he talked to Dr. Robert Strang on the phone Wednesday morning and would be meeting with him and his team in Halifax later in the day.

Houston has invited Liberal Leader Iain Rankin and NDP Leader Gary Burrill to join the meeting.

"We have to be focused on public health first and foremost," he said.

"There's Nova Scotians all across this province that are really, really anxious about back to school. They want to know what the plan is for back to school and we want to make sure that they understand the plan and are confident about it."

WATCH | Nova Scotia Premier-Designate reflects on majority win:

As for his views on vaccine passports, how to handle a potential fourth wave and deal with rising COVID-19 cases in neighbouring New Brunswick, Houston said he would look to Strang and his team for guidance before making decisions.

"It's not a decision I'm qualified to make. I need input from the experts."

While Houston's campaign was laser focused on health care for the last 31 days, his first press conference included a number of questions on housing as, at the same time, Halifax Regional Police officers were evicting people from tent cities in the capital city.

Nova Scotia has been plagued by a housing crisis, particularly in the last two years, as rental fees skyrocket and affordable housing stock is in short supply. Houston opposes permanent rent control as a solution, favouring instead an increase in housing stock.

Transition team announced

He has not said, however, how he would bridge the gap between whenever a temporary rent cap brought in last fall by the previous government is removed and when that new stock is available. Houston said he'd implement the recommendations delivered this spring by the province's affordable housing commission.

"I understand and sympathize with those people across this province that are in rental situations and are worried about making rent," he said.

"We're going to continue to focus on solutions that actually make a difference."

Houston said housing is one of the issues he would be discussing with his transition team, which was announced Wednesday. That team will be chaired by Scott Armour McCrea, CEO of the Armour Group. It will also include:

  • Nicole LaFosse Parker, a lawyer and Houston's chief of staff.
  • Chris Lydon, a vice-president at m5 Public Affairs.
  • David MacGregor, former principal secretary to former premier John Hamm.
  • Cam MacKeen, co-chair of the Tory campaign and a lawyer.
  • Tara Miller, co-chair of the Tory campaign and a lawyer.
  • Karen Oldfield, a retired CEO and former chief of staff to Hamm.

Along with housing, Houston also inherits a health-care system that he's said for the last year is in crisis, with a growing list of people looking for a family doctor, problems with ambulance availability and a lack of long-term care beds and timely access to mental health support.

'I do not have a magic wand'

The Tories have promised to spend $423 million in their first year alone trying to tackle those problems. Change won't happen overnight, but Houston said he's confident it will start to be noticeable during his first mandate.

"I do not have a magic wand. [Our challenges] didn't all get fixed today because there's a new PC government, but I want [people] to know they will be fixed because we are focused on them."

Along with promising to meet with frontline health-care workers to hear their thoughts and concerns as his government of 31 MLAs begins their work, Houston also said he would honour his promise to bring in fixed election dates. Nova Scotia is the last province without them and Houston said the public will soon learn the date of the next provincial election.

Nova Scotians elected a record four Black MLAs on Tuesday. And while the Tories ran the most diverse slate of candidates in the party's history, none of them were victorious Tuesday.

Houston said he knows there's still more work to do.

"It's my intention to continue to make sure that every Nova Scotian sees themself in our government, but certainly in the structure of the PC Party."