NDP leader says COVID has re-aligned focus on the importance of local

    CAPE BRETON: Last week, the leader of the Nova Scotia NDP visited Cape Breton to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 in the region and what an economic recovery could look like.

    Gary Burrill said the motivation behind his trip was to meet face-to-face with a number of people and organizations across the island to talk about the impact of these last six-months.

    “I think one thing that’s paramount in the Cape Breton conversations are as we recognize that there are going to be major levels of government investment in the direction of stimulus to support the economy, as we look to come out of this un-parallel economic contraction, is to make sure that these investments don’t stop at the causeway,” Burrill told The Reporter. “And that some of the centralization of the decision making that we’ve seen in the last few years with school boards and the administration of health and economic development that that is not reflected in the investment of the recovery period.”

    The NDP has called for an economic recovery task force that would come up with innovative ways to invest in the economy, and continues to push for an economic stimulus plan specific to Cape Breton.

    One thing at the top of nearly every discussion he had during his visit was around long-term care and that the province needs to make the investments that require to say to every person entering a nursing home to have their own room.

    “We understand now that having two and three people per room and sharing a washroom, this is a freeway for the transmission of infection,” Burrill said. “This is something that is a legitimate and important call for our collective resources.”

    Highlighting the most recent review of long-term care in Nova Scotia and the effects of the first wave of COVID-19 – along with the recommendations from the Nurses Union, and the recommendations from the expert panel in long-term care from less than two-years ago – he suggested all of these studies have concluded the same thing.

    There is not enough staff on the floors of the nursing homes in Nova Scotia to provide the level of care that we would expect for the residents of the nursing homes of the province.

    Burrill also explained how people who are working in nursing homes are finding themselves increasingly ‘working short’ but suggested the solution lies within the problem.

    “So when you have a situation where the pay is inadequate and the scenario that you’re going to sustain an injury is very considerable, you’re not going to attract people to this super important vocation,” he said. “But there is a solution to this, to make the pay reflect the importance that we understand that the work supporting people in long-term care has and then to make sure the hiring continues until we do have the adequate numbers.”

    Burrill noted how those working in long-term care no longer have the opportunity to fully interact with their residents because they’re under such incredible time pressure and their numbers are so inadequate.

    “This existed before the pandemic, but in the experience of the pandemic, I think the public has come to see this issue with a greater clarity, and we understand now with greater clarify,” he said. “When you’re talking about inadequate staff in nursing homes, when you’re talking about overcrowding in nursing homes, you are talking about a matter of life and death to an extraordinarily vulnerable population.”

    For several months, the NDP Caucus has been pushing for increased staffing in all long-term care facilities and infrastructure investment to ensure every resident has a room of their own, because people who are living in nursing homes today need a great deal more support for the fundamentals for their lives.

    One of the important things to note over the pandemic, Burrill said there has come to be a real focus on the importance of local.

    “I think this comes at an important time in Nova Scotia,” he said. “We have been living through the most hyper-centralizing period, the period of the denigration of the local.”

    Since the Liberal government came to power in 2013, Burrill highlighted how the province has seen the loss of local decision making power in health, school boards and the loss of the former department of rural and regional economic development, which was replaced with the Halifax-based department of business.

    He believes one element of successful COVID economic recovery is to re-establish the proper emphasis on the integrity and the importance of local communities, and local economies.

    “The local has been marginalised and diminished in Nova Scotia for the past seven years under a tidal wave of the centralization of decision making authority,” Burrill said. “In the past six-and-a-half-months we have come to see more and more clearly, how in fact the local needs to be prioritized and honoured and how important it is to push back against this tendency of centralization and to re-establish the priority and the local dimension of our lives.”