My take on the past year and the year to come

Welcome to 2019 and my best to you and yours in the year ahead. This report will give you a summary of some of the things that have affected the constituency of Inverness over the past year, and some commentary on what might be in store for 2019.

Things seem to have gotten a lot quieter in education with the passing of the Education Reform Act in March, and that may be exactly what the government wanted. It marked an end for school boards, at least for the elected members, because the actual school board offices with employees are all still intact. The McNeil government stated they wanted to take greater administrative control over the education system. School Advisory Committees (SACs) have been created in place of the school boards, and the Council to Improve Classroom Conditions has involved teachers, but it remains to be seen if these new structures will improve learning in the classroom. Parents and teachers must be engaged so that children are coming to school ready to learn, and getting the help they each need to be successful.

Healthcare administration saw changes a few years ago when a single provincial health authority was created and district health authorities eliminated. My greatest fear is that this faceless health authority does as it wishes, and those working in the system cannot advocate for their local healthcare services, or they could face punishment. This is a big change. Historically, some of the greatest advocates for the services we had came from the very healthcare professionals performing them. Consider the recent example of Dr. Jeannie MacGillivray who had been doing surgeries at Inverness Hospital. We all want surgeries to continue in Inverness, and Dr. MacGillivray wanted to continue providing the service, but the health authority chose to remove her privileges.

The health authority is accountable to the Minister of Health and the provincial government, but who is accountable to us? Losing Dr. MacGillivray is unacceptable and I will be working on this in the weeks ahead.

Nursing homes caught headlines this year with the discovery that some residents were suffering from pressure sores. Why, because people spending their days in bed need to be turned every two hours to avoid these sores. Some nights in some homes there is one Continuing Care Assistant (CCA) who needs to look after 30 residents. During the daytime there is often one CCA for every eight residents. Most of these residents need two people to turn them. These residents often cannot walk or go to the bathroom or feed themselves. There is a higher rate of sick days for staff, which may sometimes be due to the conditions they work in. That is not a staffing problem but a failure in healthcare management. That failure is a failure to care for our moms and dads and grandparents, many of whom are the least able to defend or advocate for themselves. Almost all of them have some form of dementia. Do people deserve to be treated like this just because they are elderly and frail and confused?

Cannabis became legal this year. The message I would offer youth is that marijuana is not harmless for everyone. Doctors are concerned about its impact on mental health and have recommended no one under the age of 25 risks using it. The McNeil government set the minimum age at 19 with the drug sold through NSLC stores. The stated purpose of legalizing and regulating it is “to protect the health and safety of youth and children,” but government procuring and selling it sends a mixed message. Cannabis may have a future to replace opium in many prescription drugs and pain killers. You can bet pharmaceutical companies who own opium fields will try to prevent this, and you can see that playing out now with the debate on removing the excise tax on medical marijuana.

In the fall sitting of the legislature, I followed up on questions I asked last year about the children’s dental program. Currently any child age 14 and under can see a dentist once a year for a check up and cleaning free of charge. Using a report from 2015, the government briefly decided this summer to only provide dental care to children based on the family’s income. I would like to think that the watchful eye of the dentist who brought this to my attention and questions in the legislature caused the government to think twice about this change. All children need dental care and the focus should be on getting more children in for these free appointments. We know that dental issues quickly become broader health problems for those who have them. Emergency dental surgeries are the result for children who have not been given the support they need to take care of their teeth. They cost the province much more, and children suffer needlessly.

This fall I introduced legislation to protect children from pornography on the Internet. The purpose was not to ban pornography, but to require Internet Service Providers to filter pornography for people who do not want it coming into their homes, and to block it from areas where children have access to free public wireless Internet. While it had the support of women’s centres across the province, and an international organization working to end sexual exploitation of children, it did not receive the support of the Liberal or NDP MLAs.

Our province is no stranger to sexualized violence among youth. We sit in the legislature and try to fix mental health issues and support victims of sexualized violence, yet what are we doing to ensure young people grow up without a steady diet of sexualized violence shaping their understanding of what is normal sexual behaviour? Nicole Merrick of Beyond Borders ECPAT Canada says her organization hopes every province and territory across Canada follows the example of the bill.

Federal government decisions affected our economy in 2018. International trade agreements impacted farming and fishing, and the discussion around “marine protected areas” is causing nervousness in the fishery. A carbon tax was handed down from Ottawa that will appear in Nova Scotia as a “cap and trade system.” Its purpose is “to protect the environment,” but it may be more about creating smoke than removing it. The Trudeau and McNeil governments want to make it look like they are doing something for the benefit of our environment, but they don’t seem to care if it makes any difference. One would think the purpose of any measure, be it a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, is to reduce consumption to reduce emissions. You and I must be penalized with a hidden fee for our consumption so we will buy fewer things and use less heating oil, electricity, and gasoline. Yet in response to my questions, the Minister of Energy has essentially said no one will be hurt by these changes. How can the government claim their cap and trade system will not hurt anyone, but also claim people will have a reason to reduce their consumption?

I do not support penalties designed to hurt people who have no choice in how far they have to drive to work or who need to heat their home in winter, and we will not help the planet by exporting jobs to places like China because government imposes penalties to do that business here. Some of our largest job creators like tourism, fishing, farming and forestry cannot function without fossil fuel use. People need choices, not penalties. LED lights, heat pumps and home insulation programs have been good choices that have helped. How many solar panels, windmills and hydro dams need to be constructed to replace the energy we get from fossil fuels? Do they not also impact the environment? Until renewable energy can replace fossil fuels, why punish the public with high energy costs?

Government has a role, but we have some power too in making decisions that help future generations. Are we ready to reduce our consumption and our impact on the planet? Should products be required to have a minimum lifespan to avoid the “throw away” culture we live in? So much of what we have is not made to last, and we throw it away only to buy it again. We can choose to buy local products and Canadian made products that sometimes cost more but are better and last longer.

In the Strait area there were some positive changes that will support jobs for people in the region and the broader economy they support. Martin Marietta announced they will be investing $50 million to modernize their operations at Cape Porcupine. A 20 per cent tariff was removed from Port Hawkesbury Paper exports to the United States. It had been in place since 2015 and was costing the plant legal fees and chewing into employee profit sharing.

Recently I spoke with someone who had an active career in gypsum production and they indicated there may be hope for renewed operations at places like Melford Gypsum. A recovery in the U.S. housing market and less availability of synthetic gypsum will help to restore demand for our gypsum. As coal plants ramp down across the continent, there are less coal fired emissions to be baked with limestone and water to produce the synthetic gypsum wallboard.

One of the more disappointing days in the legislature saw local Tracadie-Eastern Shore-Guysborough MLA Lloyd Hines and Antigonish MLA Randy Delorey sit silent as the McNeil government passed a bill to give the Port of Sydney millions of dollars of advantages over the proposed container terminal for Melford. It gave the Cape Breton Regional Municipality the power to potentially give taxpayer owned land away for free, and to allow developers to avoid paying their property taxes. Let us not forget the $2.6 million of our tax dollars left over from the $38 million Sydney Harbour dredge project completed in 2012 that are being used to hire people and pay for planning costs for the Sydney port. Meanwhile, investors in Melford are doing it on their own and have already paid over $7 million to taxpayers for their property – fair and square – and they are helping to support the people of Guysborough County with $60,000 in property tax each year.

Will 2019 be the year we get better Internet service? I do fear government’s recent announcement of millions of dollars has effectively stalled any further improvements by the private sector for rural Internet users. Why spend their money on even basic improvements, when they can spend ours? Service providers do not seem to be improving their infrastructure to keep pace with the need to transfer more data, more quickly. Many people have commented that their service has actually gotten worse over the past couple of years. Government investment may be necessary, but Internet Service Providers should not expect taxpayers to pay for regular upgrades to their existing service. There is over $190 million put on the table by the province, largely as a result of oil and gas royalties that flowed into last year’s budget from offshore activity years ago. The Waterfront Development Corporation (Halifax) has been converted into Develop Nova Scotia and its first chief mandate is to spend that money to improve our Internet. May they be successful.

Money is available for the municipality to fix the water pipes and streets of Inverness. This fall in the provincial legislature, my former seatmate and Minister for Municipal Affairs, Chuck Porter, not only confirmed this, but offered to send officials from his office to assist the municipality in applying for it. The municipality would be wise to take the offer and bring some of those dollars home to fix the streets of Inverness once and for all. In my mind, there is no reason why Inverness cannot look as nice as any of the other destinations in our province. Streets will never be paved smoothly until old water and sewer infrastructure that is constantly breaking and leaking is replaced.

This year I asked the provincial government to replace the Port Hastings Rotary. We are all familiar with the traffic delays caused by boats travelling through the swing bridge on the Canso Causeway, and how many times have we seen safety issues with people trying to find their way through the rotary. There is an opportunity to ensure the rotary is replaced with a safer solution that also reduces traffic delays. Last year $390 million was announced to twin highways, and included safety improvements for highways not being twinned. The Port Hastings Rotary should be a priority for this investment.

In the Whycocomagh-Waycobah area, repaving of Reservation Road was started and will be completed in the spring, the Whycocomagh-Port Hood Road in Roseburn had sections newly re-constructed, and Vi’s Restaurant was torn down as part of a future plan to improve safety at the intersection of the Trans-Canada Highway 105 and Route 252-Main Street.

In the Mabou area, the East Skye Glen Road, the Lake Ainslie Chapel Road, and the MacKinnon Road saw re-construction and the Mabou Harbour Road was repaved. Captain’s River Bridge on Route 19 in Harbourview received a temporary but fully functional replacement, and 7 kilometres of paving starting just north of the Joe Effie Road toward Port Hood was completed. Streets in Cheticamp received asphalt paving and Bourgeois Road received gravelling and ditching. Island Light Road will receive additional improvements in 2019. In the Margaree area, the Cranton Cross Road Bridge will be replaced in 2019. In Inverness, the Banks Road paving was finished and the Lakeview Road (off Strathlorne-Scotsville) received ditching and graveling. As part of a safety review of streets in Inverness, four new crosswalks are planned along Central Avenue to access the boardwalk, Mill Road Enterprises, Cabot Links Golf Course, and a new beach path at the north end of the village.

In the Strait area, Kings Road received ditching and graveling, and Cenotaph Road will receive just over three kilometres of repaving to complete a section ending in West Bay in spring 2019 (please forgive me as I was told this would be completed in 2017 and 2018).

Five local community centres received funding for improvements this year, and applications are available until late January for summer student employment grants. Don’t wait to apply. Get your application in before the deadline (the federal deadline is January 25 and provincial’s is January 31). Call our office if you need help.

I was pleased to see the federal government reverse their decision requiring organizations applying for employment grants to swear an oath on the issue of abortion. Abortion is a very personal matter. There was no need for the oath because laws are already in place to protect people from discrimination. The attestation moved the government beyond the law in an effort to control people’s opinion, by restricting government benefits from those whose conscience did not allow them to agree to take it.

As some of you may remember, I chaired the Public Accounts Committee of the legislature for the past five years and have sat on the committee for nine years. In December I walked out, joined by colleagues of the opposition parties to make a statement about changes made by the Liberal majority on the committee. Each opposition party had input into the witnesses we called to question. Not anymore. The McNeil government has removed that power from the opposition. To delay scrutiny, control the agenda, and have fewer meetings. Why? They may tell you otherwise but I believe it is because they must not like people who disagree with the government, or people who have a concern about how a government service is being delivered. How often does the voice of the Opposition MLAs become the voice of the public when the government does something you disagree with? That is healthy democracy.

In the year ahead we will learn what the new electoral boundaries will be for the constituency of Inverness. Will Port Hawkesbury rejoin us? Will a new Acadian constituency be created for the northern region? The commission is expected to report its recommendation in April.

I look forward to serving you in 2019, and you can count on me to run in the next provincial election whenever it is called. It may be in 2021.

Allan MacMaster

MLA for Inverness