Nova Scotia·Analysis

Problematic political promises always come back to bite

He made the promise as Opposition leader, but now that he's premier, Stephen McNeil must come up with a way to find every Nova Scotian a family physician. That means finding 90,000 people a doctor before his mandate runs out in 2017. Is it doable?

A doctor for every family is the latest doomed campaign promise

The Progressive Conservatives said the McNeil government's promise to have doctors for all Nova Scotia's families is a broken promise. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

On September 11, 2013 Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil launched his party's election platform.

On page 14, in bold type, is the promise: "Ensure a doctor for every Nova Scotian."

Halfway through his first mandate, McNeil is 90,000 Nova Scotians shy of his mark.

Dr. John Ross — the man who advised the province on fixing emergency room closures, another perennial health-care problem — thinks this is a promise that cannot be kept, nor is it worth keeping.

Ross believes all Nova Scotians should have ready access to an appropriate health-care professional or team based on their needs, but a doctor isn't always the answer. Families should be able to see a dietician, a nurse, a nurse practitioner, a psychologist or even a pharmacist when they need help, he said.

Doctor John Ross believes all Nova Scotians should have ready access to an appropriate health care professional or team based on their needs, but a doctor isn't always the answer. (CBC)

This latest health care "crisis" comes as a result of complaints from doctors that they cannot practise where and when they want, and amidst growing frustration by families who cannot find a family doctor.

Both opposition parties are already calling this a broken election promise, despite the fact the Liberals could continue to govern until the fall of 2018, the very end of the current mandate.

But neither the New Democratic Party, nor the Progressive Conservatives are immune to making election promises beyond the power of government to fulfil or that actually make sense other than as a sop to voters during an election campaign.

NDP raised the HST 2%

In 2009, former NDP Leader Darrell Dexter campaigned on a promise to balance the budget without having to raise taxes.

Yet, less than a year later in the 2010 budget, the New Democrats raised the HST two per cent, claiming the province simply could not afford to give up hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

The federal Conservatives, under Stephen Harper, cut the federal portion of the HST twice — once in 2006 and once in 2008.

Nearly a decade earlier, in 1999, John Hamm won government for the PCs having campaigned on a platform stuffed with 243 promises, including balanced budgets, more spending on health, closing the money-losing Sydney Steel plant as well as tax cuts.

Once in government, the Progressive Conservatives didn't bother to track all those promises, given there were so many.

Liberals claimed budget was balanced

The Liberal in that race, former premier Russell MacLellan's minority government had gone down to defeat just weeks previously, after introducing a budget that the Liberals claimed was balanced, despite a commitment to spend $600 million to "transform" the health system over four years.

That money was tucked away in a health investment fund.

The pre-election ploy was roundly denounced and Hamm and his Tory team defeated the bogus balanced budget, triggering the election.

While the man heading the current Liberal government, McNeil, maintains his doctor for every Nova Scotian promise is reasonable and doable, it's hard not to question — as Ross does — the value of living up to that campaign promise.

The government often points to the fact Nova Scotia has the highest number of doctors, per capita in Canada. That would tend to suggest the answer may lie elsewhere than adding more doctors to the mix.

It also points to the need for health decisions to come from those who can make evidence-based decisions rather than political ones.


Jean Laroche


Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?