Pro­vin­cial lead­ers square off

Con­fi­dent Mc­Neil fends off at­tacks in Nova Sco­tia lead­ers’ de­bate

Cape Breton Post - - Front Page -

Lib­eral Premier Stephen Mc­Neil fended off mul­ti­ple at­tacks on his record Thurs­day as Nova Sco­tia’s ma­jor-party lead­ers clashed over health care, ed­u­ca­tion and the econ­omy dur­ing the first tele­vised lead­ers de­bate of the cam­paign.

Dur­ing the 90-minute backand-forth, Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive Leader Jamie Bail­lie and NDP Leader Gary Bur­rill tar­geted Mc­Neil’s bro­ken prom­ises on doc­tors and the film tax credit.

But Mc­Neil brushed off the bar­rage with con­fi­dence, a gen­er­ally calm de­meanour and an abil­ity to hold the floor. He pointed to his achieve­ments while in of­fice.

“Let’s not turn back now,’’ he said, look­ing into the cam­eras dur­ing his clos­ing re­marks. “We are in a time where we can make strate­gic in­vest­ments and con­tinue to build what we’ve ac­com­plished.’’

Still, his op­po­nents pointed to what they painted as his pen­nypinch­ing, top-down style with teach­ers and other pub­lic-sec­tor unions while in gov­ern­ment.

Both Bail­lie and Bur­rill wove into the de­bate their dis­ap­proval over Mc­Neil’s han­dling of is­sues while in power, es­pe­cially on health care.

Bail­lie ques­tioned Mc­Neil’s 2013 prom­ise that ev­ery Nova Sco­tian would have ac­cess to a fam­ily doc­tor.

“You promised them a doc­tor,’’ Bail­lie told Mc­Neil, who cited a num­ber of other prom­ises he’d been able to keep.

Bail­lie said one of the hard­est calls he’d had to make was to Kim D’Arcy, whose hus­band, Jack Webb, died Feb. 1 af­ter he had lan­guished for six hours in a chilly emer­gency-room hall­way and was bumped from his room by an­other dy­ing pa­tient dur­ing five days of strug­gles in Hal­i­fax’s largest hospi­tal.

“We need more doc­tors. We need them ur­gently,’’ Bail­lie said.

Bur­rill asked Mc­Neil if he would ad­mit the prov­ince has a health care cri­sis.

“Do I be­lieve there’s a cri­sis? No,’’ Mc­Neil said. “Are there chal­lenges? Of course there are.’’

Mc­Neil de­fended his record, say­ing the prov­ince’s health sys­tem has im­proved dur­ing his term, and his gov­ern­ment has taken mea­sures to train and bring more doc­tors to Nova Sco­tia.

His gov­ern­ment re­duced ad­min­is­tra­tive costs by merg­ing health author­i­ties, he said.

Mc­Neil said a re-elected Lib­eral gov­ern­ment would in­vest in col­lab­o­ra­tive care teams to en­sure all Nova Sco­tians have ac­cess to pri­mary care.

“Nova Sco­tians ex­pect their premier to look at all the cir­cum­stances and make de­ci­sions that they be­lieve are in the best in­ter­est of all Nova Sco­tians, de­fend those de­ci­sions and talk about what the fu­ture looks like ... and that’s what I did tonight,’’ Stephen Mc­Neil

He also de­fended at­tacks on his labour re­la­tions record, ar­gu­ing he has to rep­re­sent all tax­pay­ers at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.

“Be­ing premier you need to strike a bal­ance,’’ Mc­Neil said. “You need to make sure that not only can you af­ford the wages you are pre­pared to talk about, but you need to make sure you have room to make the in­vest­ments Nova Sco­tians re­quire in their com­mu­ni­ties.’’

Bur­rill said teacher morale “is at an all-time low,’’ and promised to re­open ne­go­ti­a­tions with the prov­ince’s teach­ers, cap class sizes and hire more spe­cial­ists.

“Let’s give teach­ers the real dis­ci­pline and at­ten­dance poli­cies they de­serve and let’s get men­tal health into class­rooms,’’ Bail­lie said.

Bail­lie crit­i­cized Bur­rill’s prom­ise to make com­mu­nity col­lege tu­ition free.

“Mak­ing ed­u­ca­tion free means we’re go­ing to train peo­ple to go some­where else,’’ he said.

The de­bate fea­tured no ob­vi­ous knock­out blows, how­ever, and a calm Mc­Neil later told re­porters he felt he did what he needed to do.

“Nova Sco­tians ex­pect their premier to look at all the cir­cum­stances and make de­ci­sions that they be­lieve are in the best in­ter­est of all Nova Sco­tians, de­fend those de­ci­sions and talk about what the fu­ture looks like ... and that’s what I did tonight,’’ he said.

Bail­lie was asked whether he had done enough to make Nova Sco­tians con­sider the Tories at the polling booth.

He said the de­bate was about pre­sent­ing his party’s long-term vi­sion for cre­at­ing jobs, while draw­ing a con­trast with “Lib­eral mis­takes’’ over the last three-and-a-half years.

“I think he (Mc­Neil) still has a lot to an­swer for, quite frankly, but for me to­day was about show­ing peo­ple that we have a more pos­i­tive way for­ward.’’

The de­bate was a first-time ex­pe­ri­ence for Bur­rill, who held his own as the NDP tries to re­bound from a sting­ing elec­tion de­feat in 2013.

“I’ve worked harder for less,’’ he quipped to re­porters.

Bur­rill said for him the de­bate was about pre­sent­ing two fun­da­men­tally op­posed views on the best way to get the prov­ince mov­ing.

“We have two par­ties that sup­port the view that de­vel­op­ing a bud­get surplus is the most im­por­tant sign of a gov­ern­ment’s com­pe­tence and a party — us — that takes the view that what’s most im­por­tant is the needs of the peo­ple,’’ he said.

Nova Sco­tians go to the polls May 30.

CP PHOTO

Nova Sco­tia Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive Leader Jamie Bail­lie took part in the lead­ers’ de­bate on Thurs­day.

CP PHOTO

Nova Sco­tia Lib­eral Leader Stephen Mc­Neil waits for the start of the lead­ers’ de­bate on Thurs­day.

CP PHOTO

Nova Sco­tia NDP Leader Gary Bur­rill gets ready to an­swer a ques­tion in the lead­ers’ de­bate on Thurs­day.

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