County leaders work toward good things to come in new decade
The dawn of a new decade has local political leaders looking forward to a bright future.
The past year was filled with opportunities all across Pictou County, according to the area’s municipal leaders. It was highlighted by the development of the Pictou County Regional Enterprise Network and infrastructure upgrades in some areas. Improvements to health care have been on the minds of Pictou County residents and the agendas of those we elected to serve our interests.
There are plenty of positives looking ahead: a fixed loop transit system is being tested in a couple of communities, there will be an increased focus on the climate and a renewed desire to continue to work together.
As has been the tradition over the last few years, Advocate staff invited our municipal leaders to share their highlights of the last year and outline their goals for the coming year. Here are their responses
Pictou West MLA
For me, the last 12 months allowed me to fulfill one of the goals I set for myself when I first got into politics — to protect children.
I was very proud to introduce three bills in October that I hope will safeguard kids from sexualized human trafficking. Our legislation would make education about sexualized human trafficking part of the curriculum in school, establish a team of crown attorneys with specialized knowledge about human trafficking and make it mandatory for victims of human trafficking to have support as they go through the court system.
The work I did with victims and their families was very gratifying and I will continue to do everything I can to stop sexualized human trafficking in our province.
Early in 2019, I was honoured to take on the role of the Health critic for the Progressive Conservative Caucus. It is a huge responsibility and one that I take very seriously. Every day I hear from someone who doesn’t have a family doctor or who is unable to access the care they need. It is so frustrating and often heartbreaking. We have to do better. People deserve proper health care to help them thrive in our communities.
During the fall session of the legislature, I asked questions about health care almost daily. With a health care crisis, it is more important than ever to make sure the government truly understands the depth of the problem and the devastating effect it is having on Nova Scotians. Rest assured, I will continue to be a vocal advocate on this important subject.
2019 marked a new beginning for the Progressive Conservative Party. With Tim Houston as our leader, we are focused on capitalizing on the potential of our province and making positive change for Nova Scotians. We can have opportunities that bring our children home, that help our businesses grow, and that provide modern options for access to health care.
With Tim at the helm, we are modernizing our party by staying true to our fiscally responsible roots and renewing our commitment to socially progressive policies. It is an exciting time and I am proud and honoured to be a part of it.
While my work in the legislature often means I have to be in Halifax, Pictou West is my home and where I feel most connected. Every day I am grateful for the people of Pictou West for trusting me to represent them. People are my passion and this job allows my passion to meet purpose which is helping people to my best ability. It truly is a privilege to serve the innovative and resilient people of Pictou West.
I want to thank everyone who contributes to our wonderful county of Pictou.
Pictou Centre MLA
We continue to be very fortunate to be living in a province that possesses the natural beauty of our 7,400 kilometres of coastline, lakes, green forests, farmland and numerous small communities.
With a population of under one million, our province continues to be recognized as an area of friendly and inviting residents.
The province continues to have the highest number of farmers’ markets per capita in Canada, and the oldest farmers’ market in Canada is in Halifax. We have a very popular farmers’ market in New Glasgow, where residents from Pictou County support local farmers, and have access to healthy, locally grown food.
But despite these bright spots, we face substantial challenges. The overall net provincial debt is expected to grow to $15.3 billion, while the 2019-20 budget indicated that the province’s total expense estimates reached $10.98 billion.
Health care consumes $4.6 billion of the budget, while Education and Early Childhood Development costs $1.4 billion; Community Services, $1 billion; Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, $497 million; Environment, $385 million; and Labour and Advanced Education, $396 million, to name just a few of the largest budget items.
Health care is clearly the number-one priority for a majority of Nova Scotians. The Liberal government believes there is enough money in the budget to make a positive difference to the health care Nova Scotians are receiving; however, simply adding money to the health budget isn’t enough to improve services.
We know from six years of Liberal government that our health system needs better management. The merger of the provincial health authorities into a single mega-authority hasn’t resolved emergency department backlogs, waitlists for long-term care, and other serious challenges.
All too often, health care decision-makers operate in individual silos. The Nova Scotia Health Authority needs better communication between departments and with patients and health care professionals. It’s time for our government to provide a system that permits local decision-making, and makes a patient-focused system a reality.
During the fall session, I had the opportunity to introduce several bills, but two that I’m very proud, that called for a financial literacy course for high school students and improved school bus safety.
Financial literacy is so important to stability and success in life. It is critical that in the early years, young people learn how to manage their money responsibly and thoughtfully. The course proposed in my bill would teach students the basics of money management: budgeting, saving, debt, investing and giving.
My “Respecting School Bus Safety” bill is about protecting our children. The bill would penalize drivers that fail to stop behind a school bus when children are boarding or exiting the bus. The bill would increase the maximum fine and a driver’s demerit points. In 2017, some 1,100 incidents were reported with respect to drivers improperly passing school buses, and police reports have indicated an increase in drivers not stopping for school buses.
School buses transport approximately 82,000 students a day across the province, and being late for work or simply not paying attention are not valid excuses when the lives of children are at risk.
Unfortunately, the Liberal government did not appear interested in passing these common sense pieces of legislation.
I am presently the Transportation Critic for the PC Caucus. In that role, it was very encouraging this year to finally see some action with the 38-kilometre section of Highway 104 from Sutherland’s River to Antigonish. This project is expected to be completed by 2023.
I’d like to deliver a thank-you to all the amazing charities in Pictou County, and the countless volunteers who devote their time and expertise to making their particular campaigns successful.
Anxiety continues to grow for Pictou County residents and beyond with the Northern Pulp/Boat Harbour announcement. Our communities and thousands of Nova Scotians have a lot of anxiety built up.
As the MLA for Pictou Centre, I will continue to work on behalf of the community. As my constituents already know, my door is always open.
Pictou East MLA
I’ve been the Leader of the Official Opposition for a little over a year and can’t tell you the immense pride and sense of responsibility that I feel. I am more committed than ever to leaving a positive mark on our community and this province.
2019 was quite a year. We went four for four on by-elections and welcomed four new exceptional MLAs. They truly care about their communities and I am proud to serve with them. Each victory was a “high.”
On the “low” side of things, health care continues to be the number one issue in the province. ERs continue to experience backlogs and closures, wait lists continue to grow, and there are still 50,000 Nova Scotians waiting for a family doctor.
I give credit to the government for taking some steps to acknowledge the crisis (new agreement with doctors, hints at changes in structure,) but the crisis remains and I don’t know that the people that steered us onto the rocks can save us.
This past sitting of the Legislature, I was immensely proud of my colleague, Pictou West MLA Karla MacFarlane, for introducing three pieces of legislation that protect our children. They addressed the need for a curriculum on human trafficking in our education system, proper resources in the justice system, supports for victims of human trafficking as they navigate the courts.
Our Caucus didn’t stop there when it came to protecting our children. I introduced a bill that would make vaccines mandatory for students enrolled in the public school system. We are seeing preventable diseases make a comeback, and we can’t sit idly by.
I also called on the government to safeguard young people from health risks associated with vaping. In October, I introduced legislation that banned flavoured e-liquids. I’m happy the government responded earlier this month and announced that it would ban the sale of flavoured e-cigarettes and e-juices.
As a leader, I continue to encourage a progressive spirit in our PC Party, one that remains inclusive and ensures all Nova Scotians feel represented and heard. I will continue with this spirit in the new year, while keeping true to our fiscally-conservative roots.
The premier’s decision on the Boat Harbour Act literally down to the wire and it didn’t have to be like this. Thousands of Nova Scotians are worried sick about what the future holds — and while I can’t put myself in the shoes of those impacted, I share their anxiety.
Finally, I want to thank the residents of Pictou East for their understanding and compassion during my transition from your MLA to the added responsibilities of PC Party Leader. You are the reason I decided to run for elected office, and the reason I am fortunate enough to be an MLA. I love what I do because of the people. I know my responsibilities as a leader sometimes take me away from Pictou County, but just know that I’m doing this because I want all of Nova Scotia to thrive. I’m hopeful that if I am fortunate enough to be elected Premier we can do great things together.