Liberals put price tag on election promises
Nova Scotia's 3 major party leaders were all in one place Wednesday for only the second time this election
Welcome to CBC's Election Notebook, your source for regular updates and essential news from the campaign trail.
It's Day 20 of Nova Scotia's 31-day provincial election campaign.
The final Liberal platform plank
The Liberal Party released the last of its platform planks Wednesday and said the price tag for all its new election promises would be nearly $455 million over four years.
"We'll have new programs, great ideas and initiatives that will make life more affordable for Nova Scotians," Liberal Leader Iain Rankin said at the announcement. "It is a plan that sets this province on a clear course to recover from the pandemic."
The largest share of the spending falls under the Liberals' economic platform and totals nearly $183 million. Health-care spending accounts for nearly $127 million, about $94 million goes to housing and other affordability measures, and skills training gets about $78 million. Programs for addressing climate change and the environment are largely offset by the $50 million the Liberals expect to bank each of the next four years through the cap-and-trade auction.
The $455-million figure does not include any pre-election spending or several spending commitments that were announced before the election was called.
Items that were left out of the platform costing exercise, but have been touted extensively on the campaign trail, include the province's $37-million contribution for a new fleet of electric buses and a new garage for Halifax Transit, and $1.1 million to design a new Bedford-Halifax ferry.
Rankin has said he would bring the provincial budget back to balance within four years, after going into more than half a billion dollars in deficit with pandemic spending. Previously, the Liberal government under Stephen McNeil had been staunchly committed to delivering balanced budgets.
"Our economic platform builds on what we started as a government. Our financial position as we entered the pandemic allowed us the capacity to support small businesses and other sectors that were hit the hardest during the pandemic. It ensures that we can continue to support these businesses," Rankin said Wednesday.
The Liberals' new economic plank marks the fifth and final one for the party this campaign. New commitments include $30 million over 10 years for COVE — the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship — and a $3-million fund for local film and television production.
Rankin also said he would create a new cabinet position for "digital government and services." The new cabinet minister would be mandated, among other things, to ensure government services follow the same digital standards for ease and security.
The economic platform document also includes previously announced plans to twin more of Nova Scotia's highways, improve rural internet services and provide grants to tourism operators recovering from the pandemic downturn.
The Progressive Conservatives say their platform would cost $553 million in the first year.
The NDP have not yet released a fully costed platform.
NDP promises physician assistants
NDP Leader Gary Burrill said there is no button to push to solve Nova Scotia's shortcomings in primary care, but his party is proposing changes that he said will set things in the right direction.
"When it comes to the crisis of providing primary care, we're really in the taking-of-first-steps business," he said.
One of the first steps Burill said an NDP government would take is to hire seven physician assistants to work in emergency departments and primary care settings across the province.
Physician assistants work under the supervision of doctors and their role is similar to that of a medical resident, taking on basic assessments and straightforward cases.
Physician assistants are commonly used in Ontario and Manitoba, and across the country by the Armed Forces. There are currently three working in Nova Scotia in orthopedics as part of a pilot program.
Burrill said it's past time for Nova Scotia to expand that pilot. The seven physician assistants he proposed would be in addition to the three already practising.
"In the Forces, there are a lot of physician assistants. Many of them when they retire from the Forces work within their profession, but not in Nova Scotia because the position is not integrated into our model of care," he said.
"So we are familiar with it in Nova Scotia and yet we don't have the benefit of it."
Burrill estimated it would cost $700,000 annually for the seven new physician assistants.
Dozens of candidates from across the province agreed to spend Wednesday living the life of someone with Type 1 diabetes. They posted photos and videos of themselves pricking their fingers, which they were asked to do 10 times throughout the day.
The challenge was organized by two Nova Scotia women who each have a child with diabetes. Their goal was to highlight the difficulties of living with this disease — and the cost.
Chamber of commerce forum
For only the second time during this summer's campaign, the leaders of Nova Scotia's three main political parties were in the same room to talk policy.
The Halifax Chamber of Commerce hosted an hour-long discussion Wednesday morning with Iain Rankin, Tim Houston and Gary Burrill, who fielded questions on eight topics, including housing, the economy and women.
Houston and Burrill once again accused Rankin of not being a true environmentalist. Burrill leveled the accusation for the way the Liberal government handled the Biodiversity Act.
"How can you be taken seriously as an environmentalist and an advocate for climate change, having gutted and eviscerated this important biodiversity piece of legislation?" said Burrill.
Rankin countered that Burrill supported the bill in the end.
"So we passed an act, the first of its kind, not only in the country, but North America," said the Liberal leader. "I'm proud of our caucus for making sure we did that."
Houston used the cabinet decision to remove Owls Head from the list of Crown properties pending legal protection to bolster his argument.
"You can't really call yourself an environmentalist and do what you did with Owls head," he said.
The chamber event also allowed Burrill to go after Houston for a key plank in the PC platform — creating fee codes for private practitioners who want to provide mental health support within the public system.
"If we provide billing numbers for MSI to private psychological services, we will create a situation where there will be an exodus of therapists and counsellors and mental health care providers from the public and into the private sector," said Burrill. "And we will have worse wait times than we have today."
The NDP leader said that's because private counsellors and psychologists charge double what those in the public system get from MSI.
Houston said his focus is on getting people the help they need sooner.
"We're going to work with the private practice practitioners to make sure that those fees are appropriate," he said. "But we can't ignore the problem. We need to mobilize all of the resources to get people the care they need."
Notes on voting
Early voting numbers continue to be high relative to the 2017 election. As of the close of polls Tuesday, more than 25,500 voters had either cast ballots or requested write-in ballots. At the same point in the last general election, just shy of 9,500 early votes were in.
Elections Nova Scotia has been urging people to vote early in this pandemic election.
For anyone looking to vote, first check whether you are registered to vote with Elections Nova Scotia.
Once registered, you can vote in advance of election day by requesting a mail-in ballot or by visiting a returning office or advance polling station.
On election day, polling stations will be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. AT.
More information on voting is available from electionsnovascotia.ca.
with files from Jean Laroche