Rob Wolf of the Progressive Conservatives (left), Marney Simmons of the NDP, and Lloyd Hines offered a review of their platforms at the candidate debate on May 17.

GUYSBOROUGH: The three most prominent provincial parties were well-represented last Wednesday night at the Chedabucto Place Performance Centre during a candidate debate for the riding of Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie.

The event was hosted by the Guysborough and Area Board of Trade.

Liberal incumbent Lloyd Hines, Rob Wolf of the Progressive Conservatives, and NDP candidate Marney Simmons all took to the stage to explain their platforms.

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The format consisted of opening remarks, a question-and-answer period, and closing remarks.

“Let me tell you something about this riding,” said Hines. “At 15,000 square kilometers, this is the largest riding in Nova Scotia by a huge margin. The riding was formed in 2012, and I have the privilege of being the first MLA to represent it. It covers five municipal units, and is represented federally by two MPs.”

He noted there are 140 distinct communities in the riding and that, as MLA, he’s been a busy man tending to the issues of the area.

“Since being elected, our constituency office has opened nearly 7,000 files. In such a large and diverse riding, the residents face many issues: roads, access to health care, high-speed Internet, adequate and affordable housing, home heating costs, fishery and forestry issues, and most importantly, jobs.

“We need good paying jobs to sustain us and keep our children living nearby. This is why much of my work as a politician has been aimed at developing our communities and our resources, providing work for our people, and to bring those people back who did leave.”

Simmons said she’s ready to work, if given the green light by the people of Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie. Simmons said she’s been all over the world but decided to move to Nova Scotia back in 2004, due to family ties.

“To put it simply, there is no place in the world like Nova Scotia,” she said. “I was mayor of Mulgrave from 2008-2012, and I worked in the field of municipal planning for a few years helping municipalities plan for the future. I believe that work helped me prepared me to work well with Nova Scotians at the provincial level and to make this place the best it can possibly be.

“The most important issues I’m hearing about on people’s door steps are jobs, cost-of-living, health care, and education. The NDP offers a platform that addresses these issues and more, but it puts people at the forefront of its mandate.

“Instead of making cuts to services people rely on, we can invest in health care, education, and in our communities, and make life more affordable for families and young people. I believe we can create jobs grow the economy in a way that works for everyone, not just those at the top.”

Wolf said the communities found in rural Nova Scotia are struggling, and he doesn’t see the ruling Liberals as having the plan needed to forge ahead.

“We’re facing direct challenges to our way of life, our health care, our senior population, our education, our outmigration, and our crumbling infrastructure,” he said. “Promises were made by the McNeil government that, quite frankly, were not delivered. Local health care and other services were cut, infrastructure has decayed, and other necessary services have been taken away.

“In my job as a school councillor, I deal with the issues and concerns of students and families every day. We do our best to address student needs, but we’re limited by lack of funding and corporation from bureaucracy.”

Wolf said he visited with many seniors in the area, along with home care workers, and both groups have struggles. Roads are another issue he has his eyes on.

“After traveling thousands of kilometers, I’m about to make a statement that should be a surprise to no one,” he said. “There are vast sections of our roads in deplorable condition that haven’t been addressed in decades. I won’t list them, because there are too many.”

In the question and answer period, the issue of roads popped up once again.

At that point, Hines said the “biggest shame of government in the last 30 years” is the way roads have become decrepit. The Liberal plan, he said, is to twin highways without tolls, and invest $10 million per year in gravel roads. That funding would result in $3.2 million for roads in Guysborough, Antigonish, and Cape Breton.

Simmons said the NDP plan is to maintain public ownership of roads and highways. The party has no support for tolling the highways, and the twinning idea is necessary in three or four locations.

“There are some particularly bad stretches of road where accidents have happened, but no more twinning after that,” she said. “We need to maintain the roads we already have.”

The PC plan offers a Build Nova Scotia Fund that would invest $1 billion in twinning and working on secondary roads across the province, Wolf stated.

“One of the things that can help us greatly is to continue to build a good road system so that tourism can flourish, and people who live and work here can travel safely.”

Also on the mind of locals is how to improve cell service and bring in high speed Internet.

“We have a plan in place for Internet development,” said Hines, noting that the Liberals are looking at bigger-picture projects to further develop the infrastructure.

Simmons said high speed Internet is needed throughout the province.

“It’s a priority that feeds into economic development,” she said, adding that the NDP is committed to investing in it.

“The Progressive Conservative party has a plan to spend $150 million over 10 years on rural high speed Internet,” said Wolf. “This is not just a ‘nice to have’ it’s a ‘need to have.’”

On the matter of housing, Simmons said seniors are in need of affordable and accessible places to live. Boasting economies in rural communities will provide money to pour back into housing, she said, noting that the NDP plans to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next five years.

Wolf said there are a number of housing units in the area, and some are in serious need of upgrades. Those units need work, and some people living in their own homes need housing repairs. He said the PC plan is to help people staying in their own homes make upgrades, making them more accessible and energy efficient.

Hines said $1.1 million has been awarded for home repairs through Housing Nova Scotia in the riding during the last year. The Liberals are looking at increasing the Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program to make it easier to fund emergency and septic repairs. With that, he said his party is planning to provide $8.6 million for new affordable housing for seniors.

Given last February’s move by the Liberals to legislate a contract with teachers in the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, the issue of collective bargaining inevitably arose at the debate.

“First and foremost, what’s important is fair and collective bargaining,” said Wolf, noting that he is a teacher directly affected by Bill-75. “Those rights have been legislated away. One of the things we want to do is repeal Bill 75 and renegotiates the teacher’s contract.”

Hines said the Liberal government has a high regard for its employees. He said the decision making process that went into Bill-75 was painful and long, but the government stands by the decision.

“My advice to the premier is that we’ve done the heavy lifting on the expense line,” he said. “The income statement has two sides, so let’s build the revenue side this next term.”

Simmons didn’t sugar-coat her opinion of Bill-75.

“The way teachers were treated in this last go-around was appalling,” she said. “The NDP would immediately repeal Bill-75 and establish a process of negotiating with union people, particularly teachers, instead of mandating what the government thinks they should be doing.

“On the subject of teaching, we would never, ever, ever lock children out of a classroom.”

On the matter of creating jobs, Hines pointed out to a number of ongoing projects.

“And on this side, we have all kinds of stuff on the go,” he said. “We’re hoping that some of them will materialize quickly and provide the kinds of jobs we need to bring our kids home and keep them here.”

Simmons said each community has its own unique characteristics, and fostering the skills and talents of people in these communities could lead economic benefit.

“Things like local agriculture, local services and technology and research facilities,” she said. “We need to work at the grassroots level, because the top down approach doesn’t work anymore.”

Wolf said one item outlined in the One Nova Scotia report is the importance of maintaining primary industries like forestry, farming and fishing. However, thinking outside the box is important, he said.

“We have to support the things that have been working in the constituency but also find ways to attract young people and ideas for the future,” he said.

Overhauling the Municipal Government Act (MGA) would be a good idea, said Simmons, as the rules and regulations need revisions. She said the NDP is committed to working with municipalities. Wolf echoed Simmons remarks, saying he and the Tories look forward to interacting with municipal leaders.

Hines cited 25 years of serving in municipal government as a boon to the way he interacts with municipal representatives.

The Liberals have already introduced legislation to revise the MGA that, should they be re-elected, Hines said they will further refine.

With an average age of 50.6, Guysborough County has the oldest population of all four counties making up the Strait area. It’s also an average age that’s seven years older than the provincial average.

Lowering that average is a challenge for whoever sits in the MLA’s seat.

“We have to think bigger, and we have to think outside the box,” Wolf said, noting that the area needs infrastructure to attract youth and create jobs. Once the jobs are in place, along with good roads, drawing people to the area will be far easier, he said.

Hines said offering good jobs is the key.

“We live in paradise, we have a great quality of life, but we need to offer good jobs to keep our young people here and bring back some of the people who moved out to create decent employment opportunities,” he said. “We’ve also had the largest growth in immigration that the province has ever seen in the last year and a half.”

Simmons said bringing back young people is clearly something necessary for the area, and that goal can be achieved by looking after people’s basic needs like housing and opportunities for employment.

“That will bring some back and encourage more to stay,” she said.