Nova Scotia

Throne speech heavy on health-care talk, light on housing

Premier Tim Houston’s government dedicated its first throne speech to talking mostly about health care, but it was the scarce mentions of housing that caught the attention of opposition members.

Premier Tim Houston says his housing plan will soon be released

Lt.-Gov. Arthur LeBlanc reads the throne speech Tuesday at Province House. (Robert Short/CBC)

Premier Tim Houston's government dedicated its first throne speech to talking mostly about health care in Nova Scotia, but it was the near absence of anything related to housing that caught the attention of opposition members.

The document, read by Lt.-Gov. Arthur LeBlanc, talked about improving access to care, building more long-term care beds, increasing mental health supports and the Tories' plan to tackle a system plagued by staff shortages and long wait times.

"Yes, the challenges are significant, but they can be addressed and doing so is the No. 1 goal of our government. We have to return to the place where every person in this province knows that when they get sick, they will be able to access the care they need," read LeBlanc.

The Tories campaigned on a plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to try to improve the system. Houston and Health Minister Michelle Thompson recently conducted a listening tour to hear directly from health-care workers.

The speech referred to that tour, as well as recent announcements of pairing people without a family doctor with access to virtual care, and an expanded patient-transfer program intended to free up paramedics and ambulances for emergencies.

Housing makes brief appearance

If health care was notable for how much of the speech it occupied, housing — another major issue facing Nova Scotia — was notable for its scant mention.

The situation is referred to in a single paragraph on the 10th page of the 13-page speech.

"There is a housing crisis in Nova Scotia. We have a plan to address this crisis — and attracting and training more tradespeople is critical to its success," reads the speech.

The plan referred to building more housing stock. There was no mention, however, of immediate or short-term measures that could help a situation that's seen surging house sale prices and ballooning rents prior to the introduction of temporary rent control last November.

Houston told reporters at Province House the public shouldn't read too much into the limited reference, and said his government's housing plan is imminent.

"We're just making sure with stakeholders that it's going to get the job done," he said.

"We hear the concerns of tenants, we hear the concerns of Nova Scotians, and we'll put together an integrated plan that we'll be willing to share in the coming days."

Houston said there would be shorter-term measures intended to act as a bridge until there is more housing availability, but declined to provide specifics until the complete plan can be released.

Opposition leaders weigh in

Liberal Leader Iain Rankin said he's willing to see what the government's housing plan has to offer, but he said his party would put forward legislation of its own and he called for rent control to remain in place for the foreseeable future.

"To only put a couple lines in the speech, I think, is a mistake, but we're early in the session so we'll give the opportunity to see what they bring forward," he told reporters.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill was less conciliatory.

"The word housing is mentioned less than the word blueberry," said Burrill.

"What do we have in the speech on the rent cap? We have nothing. What do we have on house prices moving beyond affordability? Nothing. What do we have on homelessness? Nothing."

Government will move 'as fast as we can'

Houston said some of the key economic features his party campaigned on, including a tax break for people younger than 30 working in the trades and the ability for companies to get back half of their corporate taxes if they use them to top up employee wages, are in the works and will be rolled out soon.

"We'll do them just as soon as we can," he said. "We'll go as fast as we can."

The speech also touched on accountability measures Houston has already promised, including fixed election dates, order-making power for the information and privacy commissioner, and more frequent meetings of the legislature's standing committee on public accounts. Those meetings will no longer have the topic restrictions imposed on them by the former Liberal government.

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