It’s election time in Nova Scotia and The Advocate gave each candidate an opportunity to touch on topics of local interest. Here are the three candidates from Pictou East …

Deborah Stiles
NDP
Pictou East

How will you/your party deal with the lack of physicians in rural areas of Nova Scotia, like Pictou County?
The Liberal government has spent three and a half years building a centralized health bureaucracy while front-line health care has gotten worse and ER closures have skyrocketed. Too many Nova Scotians are waiting for family doctors and unable to access timely health services in their communities. An NDP government will partner with health care professionals to better meet the needs of communities and improve patient care. We will invest $120 million into making sure the people of Nova Scotia have the health care they deserve. This includes $30 million each year over the next four years to hire more doctors, nurse practitioners and other health professionals based on community needs. This will reduce the number of people in Pictou County waiting for a family doctor.

What will you/your party do to improve/restore access to mental health services in rural areas of Nova Scotia, like Pictou County?
An NDP government will double the initial investment of the Mental Health Strategy in order to cut wait times for community-based mental health care in half. We will reverse the cuts to community mental health organizations and add an additional $150,000 in funding. We will open three pilot mental health hubs to take pressure off emergency rooms, help people in crisis, and connect them to long-term community-based care.

The Nova Scotians for Equalization Fairness in 2012/2013 gave a breakdown of 16 areas of Nova Scotia that have not received their fair share of payments from the provincial government. In Pictou County, this is $20 million. What will you/your party do to correct this?
The federal government now provides a new stream of direct funding for municipal infrastructure, as well as sharing with municipalities much of the gas tax collected by Ottawa. In Nova Scotia, an NDP government will provide the first-ever core funding of transit services in Pictou County and areas like Pictou County throughout the province. An NDP government will make investments in a housing strategy and hub schools. These are the kind of steps that will ensure a fairer deal for Pictou County and other areas outside HRM. The breakdown done by NSEF was rejected by the courts and by the auditor general. Nevertheless, an NDP government will be open to working with Nova Scotia municipalities to seek a consensus on how municipal equalization can be improved to better serve the citizens of Nova Scotia. These are historic challenges; if I’m elected in Pictou East, I will work to truly make them a thing of the past.

What will you/your party do to make post-secondary education more accessible and more affordable?
The NDP will eliminate tuition fees for Nova Scotia Community College, opening the doors to opportunity for a generation that has largely had them shut. This is the first step towards making post-secondary education more affordable in Nova Scotia. The Liberals have allowed university tuition fees to skyrocket in Nova Scotia. Other provinces such as Ontario and New Brunswick have introduced policies to make university affordable, and we should be showing similar leadership in Nova Scotia. That’s why we will also make an investment to reduce tuition at universities by 10% over four years.

What will you/your party do to improve the rural economy?
Our strategy for economic development starts at the roots — and that includes rural areas and rural resources — and grows upwards. By prioritizing education and social infrastructure, we can create strong ground for a dynamic economy that will revitalize, incrementally, rural communities. An NDP government will invest to make life more affordable for Nova Scotians by raising the minimum wage to $15, reversing the McNeil government’s cuts to targeted employment programs and establishing a Task Force on the Local Economy. We will re-open the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, and work with municipalities to introduce a program for improving local access to high-speed Internet. By making these investments we can ensure that our economy works for everyone, not just those in cities or those with higher incomes.

What is the one thing you think Pictou County needs?
Pictou County has a lot of what it needs already: in Pictou East, remember, we have beautiful and productive forests, impressive farms of all sorts and sizes, friendly people, stunning seashores (Melmerby Beach, etc!), hardworking folks who are the fisheries, the creative industries, professions, and everything in between. However, we need more jobs of the type that take into account the global transformations taking place now. Through taking steps as partners with municipal and federal government, Pictou County can do more of what has been happening. We can build jobs in the new economy, while re-localizing and re-regionalizing the food system (and forests and marine resources are a part of this, too).

Tim Houston
Progressive Conservative
Pictou Centre

How will you/your party deal with the lack of physicians in rural areas of Nova Scotia, like Pictou County?
I think there’s no question, it’s a serious issue in Nova Scotia and definitely Pictou County. So there’s a couple of things: there’s government policy that often makes it so that doctors don’t want to come here, there’s government policy that frustrates doctors who are here. We’re hearing a lot of doctors speak out in the media about things they would like to see improved in the system. We need to listen to them and treat them with respect. When we’re trying to recruit doctors in this province, we shouldn’t be disrespecting to the doctors we have. We also need a proper recruitment and retention policy. We have 3,600 Canadians studying to be doctors abroad; they want to come back to Pictou County, we need a process to help them get their credentials so they can practise here, where they want to be. So treat them with respect, listen to some ideas around credentialing, that’s how we’ll start to get out of this, and have a proper retention and recruitment plan.

What will you/your party do to improve/restore access to mental health services in rural areas of Nova Scotia, like Pictou County?
With the closure of the unit here in Pictou County we hear differing stories of how effective that unit was, but just to remove it and remove it under the guise that it was temporary was disingenuous. People in Pictou County should be able to access mental health services when they need them, where they need them. We have wonderful mental health professionals in Pictou County and across the province, they’re a little over worked, so we need to have a proper plan to provide services where they’re needed, when they’re needed. We shouldn’t be forcing people to the point of crisis before they can access the help that they need and want. So more psychiatrists, more access to psychologists, more access to counsellors and social workers… that’s going to require an investment, we need to prepare for that. I think the removal of the unit was short-sighted in many respects. So, more resources for sure.

The Nova Scotians for Equalization Fairness in 2012/2013 gave a breakdown of 16 areas of Nova Scotia that have not received their fair share of payments from the provincial government. In Pictou County, this is $20 million. What will you/your party do to correct this?
As a provincial government what we should really be looking at, what we should be challenging communities to come up with, is economic development ideas and then, as a provincial government, we should be evaluating those, assessing those, working with local communities and then trying to support them, so the concept of fair share of who’s due what, I think that comes up organically from the ideas of the community and we should support Nova Scotians who are trying to advance their communities. I don’t think the government should ever be in the business of saying it’s somebody’s turn, we see that in old-school politics quite often and it often leads to partisan decisions. So I think the provincial government should be conscious of what’s going on around the province and they should be supporting community efforts to further their community, to create jobs and they should look at it like that. It won’t always be numbers on a spreadsheet, it will be common sense.

What will you/your party do to make post-secondary education more accessible and more affordable?
The cost of university is very expensive. The taxpayers in this province provide financial support to the universities, over $100 million. So I think we need to stand back and say, what are the universities doing with the money they are receiving? We need to take a real hard look at are we getting value for money and are the students getting value for money. Then we need to look at how do we help the students that have come through the university system and paid for their education. How do we help them get established in life and we talk about the graduate retention rebate. It served a purpose… but we can look at those types of things that say to the students that come through the university system in Nova Scotia, we want you to stay here, to work here, to get a job here. So I would say we need to get the tuition rates in Nova Scotia universities back down to the national average.

What will you/your party do to improve the rural economy?
I do believe that proper highspeed internet across this province … has the opportunity to be the biggest economic development initiative since the railway. And if I go through rural parts of Pictou County and little communities like Sunnybrae and Edgerton, I think about them when the railway came though, they had hotels, stores, maybe a little tavern. The work-from-home demographic is expanding dramatically but you can’t work from home if you don’t have internet. People will come to Nova Scotia and buy a beautiful home out in the country and have a little garden and some self sustainability if they can work from home, and they need high-speed internet to do it. We have tremendous opportunities in rural Nova Scotia, we just need to find a way to unlock them and give people the tools they need to create their own opportunities.

What is the one thing you think Pictou County needs?
Jobs. People need decent jobs to make a good life here and the province needs them working. We need people paying tax as a province so we can afford health care, education, roads and stuff. So in Pictou County we need jobs, we need opportunity for people because when you have a job you tend to be healthier, happier. And of course roads, we need better roads, we need to invest in roads, we’re prepared to do that. Getting the economy going. We have some tax initiatives that are Pictou County home grown that can maybe help kick start the economy. I’m proud of those, those are in our platform. But it’s to really give people the opportunity to live and work here.

John Fraser
Liberal
Pictou East

How will you/your party deal with the lack of physicians in rural areas of Nova Scotia, like Pictou County?
The Liberal platform has a number of initiatives to address the shortage of rural physicians. First and foremost is the creation of 70 collaborative health teams, which expands upon the current program, funded by a $78 million investment over four years. These will offer doctors the resources and supports necessary to allow them to enjoy a quality of life rarely possible in a rural area under the independent practice model. We will add 10 more residency spaces and a further 10 to facilitate internationally trained foreign doctors. At a cost of $11.7 million, a tuition relief program for a five-year term of service will together, promote physician retention. These steps should result in 25 new doctors a year.

What will you/your party do to improve/restore access to mental health services in rural areas of Nova Scotia, like Pictou County?
The greatest problems in the mental health field are related to access and timely intervention and support. To improve in these areas, our program includes a) a central intake systems (no wrong door), b) 35 new clinicians in community-based support positions, c) an expanded crisis service, d) mental health support in collaborative practices, e) an increase of 50 staff in the Schools Plus program, f) PTSD legislation will be fast-forwarded, g) an opioid addiction action plan. The cost is $20 million plus, but the cost of NOT reacting in this field of mental health services is drastically more.

The Nova Scotians for Equalization Fairness in 2012/2013 gave a breakdown of 16 areas of Nova Scotia that have not received their fair share of payments from the provincial government. In Pictou County, this is $20 million. What will you/your party do to correct this?
Equalization payments are the mechanism for redistributing federal funds to the provinces so that similar levels of basic services are accessible to all provinces and territories. Nova Scotians this year received a record level of equalization from Ottawa. A significant portion is earmarked for specific purposes and must be spent in those areas, i.e. mental health, home care, etc. It is important for each MLA to make themselves aware of the distribution of these resources and to ensure that our area receives its fair share. From the factors you present in the question, I expect that may not have been the case.

What will you/your party do to make post-secondary education more accessible and more affordable?
The opportunities for post-secondary education in Nova Scotia are second to none. We have 10 world-class universities and an equal number of community colleges. The expansion underway at St. FX, and the Stellarton campus of NSCC will serve us well into the next generation. The Liberal government has a policy of zero interest on student loans and a loan forgiveness program. We have also doubled the investment in the apprenticeship START program. The latter will allow students who complete their undergraduate degree in five years or less a maximum of $30,000 in non-repayable support. As a father of six grown children, I certainly could have benefited from such a generous program in years past!

What will you/your party do to improve the rural economy?
The rural economy is a dynamic and significant economic engine in Nova Scotia and Pictou East. Some impressive statistics for your consideration — wild blueberry harvests represent over 50 per cent of provincial fruit production; the export market for lobsters is approaching the billion dollar mark; combined crab, scallop and shrimp exports are near half a billion dollars. The modernization at Abercrombie and the Boat Harbour project promise continued strong employment in forestry with improved environmental standards. The Liberal platform has two major initiatives of $8 million each for agriculture and aquaculture. The resulting innovations and increases in production have the potential to add 1,000 new jobs to our economy. Along the Shore Road in my area, local entrepreneurs have a planned five-acre vineyard in Egerton, a commercial oyster expansion (Merigomish Harbour) and hemp farming (Bailey’s Brook). Boosted by record tourism income in our province, the rural economy is growing in significance.

What is the one thing you think Pictou County needs?
This is a hard question. I asked a variety of people — young students, working moms, seniors and many others — to help me come up with an answer. Their responses had an amazing similarity. “We need the confidence to invest in our future.” “We have to innovate and be willing to take risks.” “We have to be inspired by the success of our fellow citizens.” “We need to recognize our opportunities and embrace our future.” “We have to be a community that willingly reaches out a helping hand to the less fortunate.” Is that more than one thing? Perhaps, perhaps not. Best of luck to all the candidates.