Nova Scotia

Northside-Westmount candidates cite health care, economy as top issues

Better health care, improving the economy and sending a message to Nova Scotia's governing Liberals seem to be the common threads among most of the candidates contesting the Sept. 3 byelection in Northside-Westmount.

Northside-Westmount one of 3 byelections called for Sept. 3 after PC MLAs quit to run federally

The Northside-Westmount byelection will be one of three in Nova Scotia held Sept. 3. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

Better health care, improving the economy and sending a message to Nova Scotia's governing Liberals seem to be the common threads among most of the candidates contesting the byelection in Northside-Westmount.

The Sept. 3 byelection was called after Progressive Conservative MLA Eddie Orrell resigned to run in the fall federal election for the Conservative Party of Canada.

Byelections are also being held that day in Sydney River-Mira Louisbourg and in Argyle-Barrington, where PC MLAs Alfie MacLeod and Chris d'Entremont also resigned to run for the Conservatives in the federal election.

Ronald Crowther, a chef from North Sydney who is the New Democratic Party's nominee, said health care was the top concern when he ran in the 2017 provincial election, and it remains so today.

"In the two years since the general election, not much has changed, except the announcement of the closure of the New Waterford hospital and the Northside General, which has people terrified and at wit's end," Crowther said during a roundtable discussion on CBC's Information Morning Cape Breton.

An organizer with Capers 4 Healthcare, a community group focused on improving health care, Crowther said people in the riding are worried about the Liberal government's plan to redevelop health services.

The seven candidates running in the Northside-Westmount byelection are clockwise starting from the top left: NDP Ronald Crowther, Liberal Paul Ratchford, Green Ron G. Parker, Independent Andrew Doyle, Atlantica Party Thomas Bethell, Independent Danny Laffin and PC Murray Ryan. (Submitted)

The government plans to close two hospitals, expand the Glace Bay and Cape Breton regional hospital, and build new long-term care facilities and community health centres.

Crowther said the NDP is the only party committed to keeping the hospitals open.

Murray Ryan, the Progressive Conservative candidate and an accountant from North Sydney, said the Liberal plan to focus on infrastructure that will take a few years to build ignores the immediate need for doctors and nurses.

"That's the cart before the horse," he said.

"The Liberals came into town last year and said, 'If we build it, they will come.' This isn't a field of dreams. We need pitchers on the ground, to use the baseball metaphor."

PCs dropped original candidate

Ryan was a last-minute candidate for the Conservatives, after the party dropped Danny Laffin the day nominations were set to close.

PC Leader Tim Houston said Laffin had failed to fully disclose his past to the party, but declined to say exactly what that meant.

Laffin, a trainer with the provincial Department of Transportation who lives in North Sydney, also declined to be specific.

He managed to get his name on the ballot as an Independent candidate before nominations closed.

'People are looking for hope'

Laffin told Information Morning Cape Breton that health care is in crisis, but he said people are also concerned about the economy, getting an increase in equalization payments from the province and support for small businesses and youth.

"I can tell you there's some very sad stories out there and people are looking for hope," he said.

Liberal candidate Paul Ratchford, a police officer and former paramedic from New Victoria, which is outside the riding, said he's hearing that health care is a major concern, but it's not the only one.

'A lot of concerns'

"What I'm doing now is listening to a lot of people at the doors, and there's a lot of concerns," he said.

"I may not have your solution, but I'll find it for you."

Independent candidate Andrew Doyle, a musician from Sydney Mines, also said health care and education top a list of concerns in the riding.

He said unequal pay between doctors in Cape Breton is making it difficult to get physicians to work in the community hospitals outside Sydney, and higher pay in other provinces means many leave the area for good.

Education concerns

Doyle said burnout has become common among doctors, nurses, paramedics and teachers.

"I was talking to teachers who were practically in tears, looking at me going, 'I don't have the support system I need to face the educational challenges in the classroom,' because things have been cut and chopped and teachers are being told basically to deal with it," he said.

The area also needs sustainable economic development, especially in tourism, Doyle said.

Ron G. Parker, an information technology worker from Halifax, said the Green Party is making a concerted effort to run candidates in all ridings in the next provincial election.

He said the party offers a "strategic voting alternative" to the traditional parties.

Getting away from fossil fuels

The byelection results won't change the makeup of the government, said Parker, but voting Green would send a message.

He also said the party is committed to helping communities like Cape Breton transition their economies from fossil fuels to the green economy.

Atlantica Party Leader Thomas Bethell, who lives in Sydney Mines, was unable to take part in the roundtable due to his work as a truck driver.

No automatic fix

However, in an emailed statement from the party, Bethell said the health-care crisis is felt deepest in Cape Breton.

He said measures that would help Cape Breton's economy and improve health care include cutting the HST from 15 to 13 per cent, eliminating mandatory vehicle inspections and forgiving loans for medical school graduates who stay in Nova Scotia.

"These common sense ideas will not be an automatic fix to all of Cape Breton's problems, but they are at least a start," said Bethell.