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Government going ‘backwards,’ NDP leader says

Nova Scotia NDP Leader Gary Burrill was in Yarmouth on Feb. 13.
Nova Scotia NDP Leader Gary Burrill was in Yarmouth on Feb. 13. - Eric Bourque

Gary Burrill critical of Liberals’ approach to health care, education

Nova Scotia’s NDP leader says the Liberal government has brought the province to the greatest health-care crisis in years and looks to be on the way to doing the same with education.

During a visit to southwestern Nova Scotia, Gary Burrill said the Stephen McNeil government’s approach to health care is not working and that a similar path for education will lead to the same result.

On health, Burrill was referring to the Liberals merging the district health authorities and creating a provincial health authority, which officially took effect April 1, 2015. On education, he was speaking of the government’s decision to do away with the province’s English elected school boards, one of the recommendations in the controversial report from consultant Avis Glaze.

Burrill said his party sees dismantling the school boards as “a major step backwards.”

It was a similar story a few years ago, he said, when the Liberals set the stage for their changes to the administrative structure of health care.

“We’ve lost a lot of local voices in health-care decision-making,” Burrill said, “and that loss is related to many of the problems we’re experiencing in primary care, long-term care, emergency care.”

He added, “local voices are an extremely important ingredient to successful administration, successful governance, successful outcomes.”

During his swing through the southwestern part of the province, Burrill had a chance to meet with people at the Roseway Hospital in Shelburne, where health care – notably frequent ER closures – has been a big issue. While he was in the region on Feb. 13, there was word of another temporary ER closure in Digby due to physician unavailability. And then another one on Feb. 15.

Burrill said when he brings up health care in the legislature, the premier says there are pockets of problems but that’s it not systemic.

“But look at it,” said Burrill, who says ER closures are common in other parts of Nova Scotia too. “These aren’t pockets. These are dots that can be connected. And, in my judgment, when you have this many people without a doctor and you have emergency room closures this widespread across the province, it’s not an exaggeration to say that you’re in a crisis. What’s a crisis but a systemic breakdown that leads to the public to lose their confidence. That’s where we are.”

 On the education front, with the fallout from the Glaze report continuing to make the news, Burrill said it’s a big move – and a wrong one, he said – for a government to propose that its citizens no longer will be able to elect school boards.

“In my view, we always have better outcomes when the people who make decisions are ultimately responsible to the people who elect them,” he said. “To do away with that, I think, is a highly backwards step.”

While health care and education are very big issues, Burrill said his party is looking at other matters too, including electoral boundaries.

Burrill cited the appeal court ruling of a year ago that found the process used by the former NDP government in 2012 to do away with minority ridings was unconstitutional.

Burrill, who was a member of the NDP government of Darrell Dexter when those changes were made, said the party accepted the court’s decision. Burrill said there would have been time to revisit the boundaries and make changes in response to the court’s ruling prior to last spring’s provincial election, when the McNeil government was re-elected.

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