NDP leader visits Antigonish during province-wide tour

ANTIGONISH: The leader of Nova Scotia’s New Democratic Party was in Antigonish last week on the first leg of a summer tour of the province.

On July 4, Gary Burrill attended the Antigonish Highland Games Street Fair on Main Street. Burrill was in town meeting with NDP members and the public, including a tour of the Antigonish legion facility that is being shared with the Canadian Association of Community Living.

“When the session is out, the job for me, as well as for all members of the NDP is to get out and talk to as many people in as many places as possible, every day,” Burrill said. “We’re asking people what are the things at the top of their minds. What are the kinds of issues that they would like us to bring forward. We’re at this hammer and tongs all summer long all over the province looking to prepare out work for the legislature when it resumes in the fall.”

Burrill said he enjoys meeting and speaking with people and the event in Antigonish was a great chance to do both. While Antigonish was once an NDP riding under former MLA and cabinet minister Maurice Smith, the leader said the party is focused on all ridings, not just those they once held.

“No political enterprise in Nova Scotia can be successful… unless it speaks to what we need to do in the rural part of the province, what we need to do in the small towns of the province, what we need to do in the two urban municipalities,” Burrill stated.

This responsibility to consult communities is missing from the current provincial government, Burrill said, pointing to the recent announcement of changes to hospitals in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality when residents and officials did not know what the province was planning.

“Nova Scotia only works when all communities and all regions of the province are heard from… and are consulted,” the NDP leader said. “This is one of the things, in my view, which is lacking so badly in the present government.”

While in Antigonish, Burrill said one common issue was the loss of local voices in the decision making process. One example was the dissolution of Nova Scotia’s elected English language school boards in favour of the provincial Advisory Council on Education, out of Halifax. Another example was the replacement of district health authorities with the Nova Scotia Health Authority, also in Halifax.

Rather than the paths of “supercentralization” or “hypercentralization” being adopted by the McNeil government, Burrill said all regions of Nova Scotia must be heard.

“People are quite aware, quite mindful of how the government in Nova Scotia has shifted, in the course of the last couple of years, in the direction of Halifax, in the direction of centralization,” the NDP leader stated.

“There’s a real growing understanding in the province that if we’re not careful, we’re going to end up not with the Province of Nova Scotia at all but with the city state of Halifax.”

Among the other topics that require a government willing to listen is the lack of palliative care services and space at the Strait-Richmond Hospital, as well as the recent announcement of lay-offs of Continuing Care Assistants at the R.K. MacDonald Nursing Home in Antigonish, Burrill noted.

“We know that palliative care is one of the most important services that is offered by a lot of our community hospitals and it’s one of those things that it’s very important for it to be offered in the setting of a community,” the NDP leader stated.

“Nursing home administrators have got their backs to the wall… and this has happened in a number of places around the province. The government took away $8 million from nursing homes and they put $3 million back but the net result has been the cuts.”

As part of this listening tour, Burrill expects to spend more time in other parts of the Strait area this summer but no dates and locations have been finalized.

“It’s very important to speak to people in different communities and see the different faces that these problems have in different communities,” Burrill said. “And to be able, for us, to speak in the legislature on the basis of people’s actual experience and what it is that people actually say and how is it that people are actually making sense of what’s happening where they live, so that, for us and for me, those conversations are the very highest priority that there is.”