PORT HAWKESBURY: Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil made three Strait area stops during the second week of the spring election campaign, pledging to respond to a court ruling regarding Acadian communities’ rights within provincial electoral boundaries and insisting that a review of Nova Scotia’s school boards must precede any examination of the province’s education funding formula.
On May 11, Premier Stephen McNeil McNeil met with the TELUS Cup champion Cape Breton West Islanders at the Al MacInnis Sports Centre in Port Hood, then visited Zutphen Contractors in South West Mabou with Inverness candidate Bobby Morris, before meeting with supporters at the headquarters of Cape Breton-Richmond candidate Michel Samson at the Port Hawkesbury Shopping Centre.
In Port Hawkesbury, McNeil announced that Samson, who served as Acadian Affairs Minister in the recent Liberal administration, would address a January ruling by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal that the previous NDP government’s 2012 approval of new electoral boundaries that dissolved the former ridings of Richmond, Clare and Argyle was unconstitutional.
“We will do it right – we won’t do it quickly,” the Liberal Leader stressed.
“It’s more important that we get that right, when it comes to minority representation, to settle what the courts brought to us… It’s a file that [Samson] will handle, and I’ll gladly turn it over to him, because he will do it right.”
In response to recent assertions from multiple Strait regional school board (SRSB) members that the provincial funding formula for school boards is outdated and no longer fits regions with large population declines, McNeil noted that his party has pledged to conduct a review of school board operations across the province, including the boards’ central offices.
“We believe there’s a lot of money in central offices in school boards, and we need to look at where we streamline that process – not to save money, but to turn that money right around and put it into classrooms and schools,” McNeil suggested.
The Liberal leader added that a 24 per cent board-member stipend increase recently approved by several school boards across the province, including the SRSB, sends a mixed message.
“When you’re asking about a funding formula and then providing yourself with a 24 per cent pay increase, something doesn’t make sense there,” McNeil charged. “We will be changing the legislation so that government determines that increase, not [the school boards].”
As he marks his tenth anniversary as provincial Liberal Leader, McNeil is also challenging the assertion from the province’s opposition parties that his administration has only implemented budget cutbacks during its mandate, and pointed to recent investments into expansion projects at the Regional Occupation Centre (ROC) Society and L’Arche Cape Breton as contrary to this assertion.
“There hasn’t been a single budget where we haven’t put more money into education, we haven’t put more money into home care, where we haven’t invested in infrastructure for health care,” McNeil declared.
“Both opposition leaders haven’t been paying attention for the last three years. If they would have been, they would have seen that we’ve been making investments in communities, really, from the time we’ve come in.”