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ELECTION 2017: Q and A with Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil

Premier Stephen McNeil launches the party platform May 17.
Premier Stephen McNeil launches the party platform May 17.

Saltwire Network’s newsrooms asked the three main party leaders 16 questions. Here is how Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil responded:

1. How would you improve access to family doctors?

We will invest $11.7 million to add 20 new training spaces, 10 in Dalhousie University’s residency program and 10 in a new practice ready assessment program for internationally trained family doctors. This will mean 56 new family doctors in Nova Scotia each year.
We will also support 15 new specialist residency positions to address concerns around access to specialists.
A Liberal government will also:
 Put $12 million into the physician tuition relief program, adding 25 doctors each year with a focus on communities in need.
 Support doctors who want to use video technology to consult with patients starting next year.
 Spend $78 million to create or expand more than 70 collaborative care teams made up of doctors, nurses, mental health clinicians, social workers, and others to serve up to 10,000 patients.

2. How would you improve access to mental health care?

We will spend more than $34 million over four years to enhance access and services, create a central intake system and hire more than 100 mental health care professionals and support staff.
We will increase community-based supports, hire 35 new mental health clinicians, expand crisis service across the province, place mental health professionals in our collaborative care teams, expand the SchoolsPlus program to all Nova Scotia schools by 2019 and pilot four youth health centres in four schools.
We will also immediately pass the PTSD bill that was introduced in April, making it easier for emergency response workers to access workers compensation benefits and treatment.

3. How would you address the looming healthcare crisis tied to Nova Scotia’s aging population?

We want our older adults to be able to live active, healthy lives, and stay in their own homes longer.
A Liberal government would implement SHIFT — Nova Scotia’s Action Plan for an Aging Population to support and encourage even more seniors to stay in the workforce, become entrepreneurs and volunteer. The plan also addresses needs around community transportation and affordable housing.
We will also continue to invest heavily in home care. These investments have led to the near elimination of waitlists for home care.

4. What would your government do to foster job creation and economic growth in Nova Scotia, particularly in rural areas?

We have a comprehensive approach to economic growth for rural areas and the entire province in our platform.
Highlights include:
 Tax cut for 1,800 small and medium-sized businesses;
 Funding to improve access to high-speed Internet in rural Nova Scotia;
 Support for the wine, aquaculture, farming and fishery sectors;
 Programs to support export development and growth;
 Commitment to develop policies to support local craft beer, wine and distilling industries;
 Create a Mineral Resources Development Bank that will increase prospecting and mine development;
 Invest $48 million to fund youth employment opportunities across the province, which will help more than 2,400 young Nova Scotians find jobs;
 Focus on trades opportunities by creating seven new skills trades centres in our high schools;
 Create an Innovation Rebate Program to encourage capital investments in businesses.

5. Would your party raise taxes or lower them? If so, how and for whom?

We have committed to cut taxes for 500,000 Nova Scotians by increasing the basic personal exemption. It means 60,000 Nova Scotians will no longer be paying income taxes. We are also reducing taxes for about 1,800 small businesses.

6. How would your government further reduce carbon emissions and build a green economy?

Under our cap and trade system, we will be placing a cap on the amount of allowable emissions, declining over time, and allow companies the flexibility to lower emissions in the most cost-effective way.
Our platform contains a commitment to fund energy efficiency upgrades and home renovations to lower power bills for those most in need and to put more skilled trades people to work.

7. Do you propose to put a price on carbon and how would you implement it?

We have rejected a carbon tax. Nova Scotia has led the country in greenhouse gas emission reductions and would pursue a cap and trade system, as announced with an agreement-in-principle with the federal government in November, that would see emissions reduced further while protecting Nova Scotians’ pocketbook.

8. How would you address the issues teachers have raised about classroom conditions?

The Council to Improve Classroom Conditions, led by classroom teachers, has worked quickly and effectively to prioritize teachers’ concerns and provide practical solutions. Work is already well underway to implement their recommendations on class size caps in junior and senior high, ease requirements around data entry, and develop an attendance policy. A re-elected Liberal government would continue this partnership and listen to classroom teachers.
The Liberal government also committed to having a conversation about inclusion — an issue that many teachers have raised. The Commission on Classroom Inclusion is engaging teachers, parents and students to develop the best model for inclusion. 

9. What is your target for annual immigration to the province?

Last year more than 5,000 people came to Nova Scotia, the most since the end of the Second World War. We have worked hard with the federal government to have our nominee program grow from less than 1,000 a year to more than 2,000 and intend to build on that.

10. What would your government do to regulate legal marijuana use in the province and suppress illegal sales?

It is still too early in the process to have those details. We have been in consultation with other provinces, and would like to see a common approach taken by the Atlantic provinces. We will also make the prevention of cannabis-impaired driving a priority.

11. Would you commit to fixed election dates?

No. We have seen jurisdictions that have fixed election dates don’t always comply with them. As well, fixed dates could encourage much longer U.S.-style campaigns.

12. What is first on your list of asks from the federal government?

We want to see federal infrastructure money flowing to Nova Scotia for highways and other projects. An infrastructure package would also create jobs in our province.

13. How would you improve political dialogue in the province?

I would encourage politicians and the public to talk to each other in person more often. Online conversations are also an important way of communicating, but there are times when the dialogue becomes disrespectful, and even worse.
I would also encourage political parties to respect the public consultation process, such as the Liberal government’s conversation with Nova Scotians about twinning highways. The broad consultation over a number of weeks earlier this year was criticized, but produced a respectful discussion and led to a decision based on consensus.

14. How would your government foster a nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous communities in the province?

I’m proud to be the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and work with Mi’kmaq chiefs across the province. Cabinet and the Assembly of Mi’kmaq chiefs meet regularly and I want to see that continue. We are also regularly engaged with the Mi’kmaq through the made-in-Nova Scotia tripartite process. Nova Scotia has a duty to consult with the Mi’kmaq on issues that may have an impact on treaty rights, and that will continue. We launched the long-term Treaty education initiative in 2015 and that work is ongoing.

15. If elected, how would your government work to offer a better quality of life for people living in poverty and other vulnerable people?

Our platform contains a list of new and improved supports for those who need them most, including an increase for those on income assistance with a Standard Household Rate, as advocated by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
We will also create a work incentive for income assistance clients to let them earn more before their assistance is reduced.
Other measures include tax cuts, expanding rent supplements and affordable housing and creating a $20-million, four-year blueprint to tackle poverty.
Steps to make free pre-Primary schooling available to all four-year-olds and to expand the school breakfast program will also help.

16. What action would your government take to improve transparency, accountability and access to information?

We are proud of the action our Liberal government has taken. We joined the Open Data movement in 2016, creating a portal where anyone can access government data sets. There are now almost 400 available.
Other steps government has taken include: posting all ministerial expenses, posting health-care wait times, posting eligible freedom of information requests within 14 days of release and posting provincial investments online.

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