NEW GLASGOW – Healthcare, highway twinning and small businesses were the focus of a discussion that took place Monday night at the Pictou County Wellness Centre.
MP Sean Fraser hosted a Town Hall Community Consultation Session to get a feel for the issues constituents in Central Nova and in particular, Pictou County are experiencing.
The most prominent of the issues seemed to be health care and access to family physicians.
Fraser acknowledged, “Healthcare is a major issue for our riding and Pictou County in particular. It’s no secret there was a closure of the Mental Health Unit recently … one of the reasons is we didn’t have an adequate number of healthcare professionals to safely run the unit.”
But Fraser went on to say, the issue is much broader than that.
“We failed to attract at least seven doctors in the last 15 months because of a lack of access to residency programs. To me, that’s a starting point and I have been trying, with admittedly little success to date, but I am going to keep working on it.”
Amanda Hill, a local dentist who attended the meeting agrees. “It boils down to community and a sense of community and making these people want to stay but it’s also an issue of access,” she noted.
Fraser says with an issue like this, although it is very much a provincial issue, there is no reason why all levels of government can’t co-operate to find a solution.
He suggested initiatives that promote after work life in Pictou County like PULSE Pictou County and Pictou County 2020, groups in which young professionals can become involved.
One woman felt more access to English as an additional language courses may entice doctors and other professionals to move to the area, while someone else questioned whether the provincial tax rate is a deterrent.
One woman felt if the province and Pictou County focused on innovative techniques to medicine or research that it would entice more doctors to come to the area to be a part of something groundbreaking.
“This is just the starting point to the conversation and I would love to speak to you all more in depth about this,” said Fraser.
Robert Parker, a county councillor, was concerned about the twinning of the TransCanada Highway 104 between Sutherland’s River and Antigonish.
“I’m tired, as a lot of people are, of having so many people die on that stretch of highway. If it comes down to saving lives on the highway, I’m in favour of it (twinning). The truth is, far less people have died on that stretch of highway between Oxford and Masstown (since the tolled highway) – it’s almost a sin knowing that and not doing anything about it,” said Parker, questioning what federal funding there is for twinning the highways.
“Until the government is asked for funding, I can’t say where they stand, but my thoughts and those of some of my colleagues is, we are for it,” said Fraser.
He noted there are currently eight stretches of highway in the province that are being looked at for twinning and this particular stretch to Antigonish is number three on the list.
Although many people seemed to be in favour of highway tolls, Andy Thompson, deputy warden for the municipality, felt it was unfair to continue to tax rural Nova Scotians.
“The cost should be spread out over the entire province,” he said.
Another man, who felt very strongly about the issue claimed, “Sean Fraser should put his foot down in Ottawa and get this started. It shouldn’t be tolled from here to Antigonish. You should get working on it. I’m a Pat Dunn man and I went to him about it, I don’t know what they’re doing about it, but you’re the boss…”
Fraser reminded the constituent that until the province applies for funding, the federal government is at a loss as to what they can do.
“I’m certainly no one’s boss,” he laughed. “It has been suggested to me that if it is not tolled, it could take 15 years to get done.”
One woman suggested the community fundraise to have the highway twinned, but Fraser noted a project like that can cost billions of dollars.
When it came to the small business discussion, Fraser noted they are the engines that drive our communities. He questioned what small business owners felt were road blocks to success.
One woman simply stated taxes were the biggest hurdle.
She also mentioned payroll deductions as well as the basics to open a business like power and Internet costs.
“I don’t think customers are the issue,” she stated.
Another business owner mentioned heavy regulations which he finds a burden. Another mentioned Employment Insurance and the issue with owning a seasonal business and how EI regulations are making it difficult on seasonal workers who can’t find a job in the winter months.
Fraser says he is always willing to talk about any issues constituents have and would like to see more people walk through his office doors.
Central Nova MP Sean Fraser speaks with Pete Burns after a community consultation session at the Pictou County Wellness Centre. (Harvie photo)