ARICHAT: A wide range of topics concerning the constituency of Cape Breton-Richmond, including a recent court ruling regarding the riding’s reconfiguration, came up for discussion at an election candidates’ debate held last week at the Telile Community Television studios.
The 90-minute forum, moderated by CBC Cape Breton Information Morning host Steve Sutherland, saw NDP candidate Larry Keating, Progressive Conservative candidate Alana Paon and Liberal candidate Michel Samson answer a variety of questions on several subjects, including many queries submitted by individuals and groups from all corners of the riding.
Some of the evening’s more heated discussion came in response to a question from the Seniors Take Action Coalition (STAC), which prompted Paon and Keating to take issue with the Liberal government’s cuts to nursing homes, including three within the riding.
“Just a two per cent cut to our nursing homes [makes an impact] – for example, at the Port Hawkesbury Nursing Home, they laid off eight employees,” charged Keating.
Samson criticized the other candidates’ charges that seniors in long-term care beds are now living on $5 worth of daily food allowances, and insisted that nursing home administrators were consulted before the cuts took effect.
“I had the opportunity to speak to the administrators of St. Anne’s [Community and Nursing Care Centre] and the Richmond Villa, and ask them directly: Has there been any reduction in the food budget? Absolutely not. Has there been any reduction in the hours of employees? Absolutely not,” the Liberal incumbent declared.
“That’s certainly not the conversation I had with the administrators,” Paon retorted.
The NDP and PC candidates also chastised the Liberal government’s legislated contract with Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) members, with Paon responding to Samson’s insistence that the province has already accepted 20 recommendations from the Council on Classroom Conditions that was established as part of the new contract.
“It’s wonderful that the government is finally listening to teachers, but those teachers should have been heard a lot sooner than they were in this process,” said Paon, who noted that teachers have shared their feelings of “losing control” of their classrooms while speaking to her in recent weeks.
While Keating did not address the public school system directly, he touted the NDP plan to provide free tuition to Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) students. The instructor at the NSCC Strait Area Campus also insisted that the eradication of poverty would help address many of the problems currently faced inside and outside of Cape Breton-Richmond.
“It’s a problem that spans all other problems,” said Keating, who promoted a county-wide guaranteed income supplement while seeking a seat on Richmond Municipal Council this past fall.
“Once that’s taken care of, health care, education and our economic future will be a lot brighter, and we will certainly get our budget under control. Until then, we have to make smart major investments and do the right thing.”
Addressing the issue of physician recruitment and health care, Samson touted the recent enhancements to the dialysis unit at Evanston’s Strait-Richmond Hospital and the continuing maintenance of the emergency room at St. Anne’s Centre in Arichat. He also pointed to savings accumulated with the amalgamation of Nova Scotia’s District Health Authorities (DHAs) and deflected criticisms of Premier Stephen McNeil’s 2013 promise to ensure every Nova Scotian has access to a family doctor.
“The challenge of recruiting doctors is an issue facing the entire country,” Samson pointed out. “If one could just wave a magic wand, it would be easy, but it’s not. This is a challenge that we all face.”
Other debate topics included affordable housing, economic development, retention of young people in the riding, and the issue of Cape Breton-Richmond’s size after it added the Town of Port Hawkesbury and communities in southeastern Cape Breton County following electoral boundary revisions approved by the previous NDP government.
While all three candidates spoke positively of these new constituents, Samson also defended his government’s consultation process with Acadian communities in light of a recent Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ruling that deemed the Dexter government’s approval of the new boundaries as unconstitutional. Responding to Paon’s criticism of the McNeil government for not postponing this spring’s election until after the boundary issue had been resolved, the Liberal candidate questioned the two opposition leaders’ commitment to the issue.
“What’s ironic is, leading up to this election, both [PC Leader] Jamie Baillie and [NDP Leader] Gary Burrill said they would seek an injunction to stop this election from taking place,” Samson remarked. “It’s interesting that neither has followed through on that.”