Lib­er­als win

But PCs, NDP make solid gains

Cape Breton Post - - Front Page - BY MICHAEL MAC­DON­ALD

Nova Sco­tia vot­ers gave Premier Stephen McNeil a sec­ond shot at gov­ern­ing on Tues­day, hand­ing his Lib­er­als an elec­tion vic­tory af­ter a term marked by two bal­anced bud­gets, labour strife and a ris­ing cho­rus of com­plaints about an over­bur­dened health-care sys­tem.

It wasn’t im­me­di­ately clear if it was to be a sec­ond ma­jor­ity govern­ment — or a reduced mi­nor­ity.

Four hours af­ter the polls closed, the Lib­er­als were elected or lead­ing in 27 rid­ings, the Tories were elected or lead­ing in 17 and the NDP were elected or lead­ing in seven rid­ings.

At least 26 seats are needed for a ma­jor­ity. There were tight races across the province, with Jamie Bail­lie’s Con­ser­va­tives mak­ing a strong show­ing.

In a speech to sup­port­ers late Tues­day, NDP Leader Gary Bur­rill noted the pos­si­bil­ity of a mi­nor­ity govern­ment — and said he would be will­ing to work with any party in­ter­ested in sup­port­ing the NDP’s ideals.

“We have cam­paigned so hard on the ba­sis of the idea that Nova Sco­tia needs ma­jor in­vest­ment in the lives of our peo­ple, so a govern­ment that is pre­pared to move for­ward with such in­vest­ments will find in us a dili­gent and strong ally,’’ Bur­rill told sup­port­ers at a ho­tel in down­town Hal­i­fax.

“And a govern­ment that fails to move for­ward such in­vest­ments will find that it has to con­tend in a se­ri­ous way with our op­po­si­tion.’’

Party sup­port­ers at McNeil’s elec­tion head­quar­ters in Bridgetown cheered as the Lib­er­als were de­clared the vic­tors. How­ever, party pres­i­dent John Gil­lis said it was clear the vot­ers had sent the Lib­er­als a mes­sage about the state of health care in the province.

“Health care was a big is­sue for many Nova Sco­tians,’’ he said. “It cer­tainly made an im­pact in some ar­eas, par­tic­u­larly in Cape Bre­ton. As the govern­ment, ma­jor­ity or mi­nor­ity, we must face that and we must re­act strongly to it.’’

At dis­so­lu­tion, the Lib­er­als held 34 seats in the 51-seat leg­is­la­ture, the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives had 10 and the NDP five. There was one In­de­pen­dent and one seat was va­cant.

McNeil, the former owner of an ap­pli­ance re­pair busi­ness in the An­napo­lis Val­ley, was re-elected in his rid­ing of An­napo­lis, while Bail­lie took his north­ern Nova Sco­tia rid­ing of Cum­ber­land South. Bur­rill won his seat, Hal­i­fax Che­bucto, the rid­ing he chose to con­test af­ter win­ning the party lead­er­ship last year with­out a seat.

When the 30-day cam­paign be­gan, the Lib­er­als held a com­fort­able lead in the polls, as they had for much of their man­date. But the gap nar­rowed slightly as Bail­lie re­peat­edly com­plained about doc­tor shortages, emer­gency room clo­sures and a lack of men­tal-heath ser­vices.

The McNeil govern­ment was also un­der fire early in its man­date for a se­ries of cuts to se­niors’ long-term care and pub­lic ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing cut­backs to non-profit groups serv­ing those with hear­ing loss, eat­ing dis­or­ders and epilepsy.

In the two months be­fore the elec­tion cam­paign, the Lib­er­als at­tempted to soften their image by spend­ing tens of mil­lions of dol­lars amid a flurry of daily, feel-good an­nounce­ments.

But the health-care is­sue even­tu­ally dom­i­nated the cam­paign.

Bail­lie made a point of re­peat­edly telling vot­ers McNeil had failed to de­liver on a 2013 prom­ise to make sure ev­ery Nova Sco­tian had ac­cess to a fam­ily doc­tor. Al­most four years af­ter the premier made that pledge, about 100,000 Nova Sco­tians are still look­ing for a doc­tor.

On the fi­nal day of the race, Bail­lie again re­turned to a theme that he said was res­onat­ing with vot­ers at the doorstep.

“Every­where I go in Nova Sco­tia, peo­ple tell me that they are frus­trated and afraid be­cause of the state of our health-care sys­tem,’’ Bail­lie told a rally in Dart­mouth. “Ev­ery­one ac­knowl­edges there is a cri­sis in health care — ev­ery­one ex­cept Stephen McNeil.’’

Bur­rill also said health care was the No. 1 is­sue when he was meet­ing vot­ers at the doorstep.

Dur­ing the cam­paign, McNeil said his govern­ment’s de­ci­sion to re­duce the num­ber of health care authorities to only one would lead to more in­vest­ment in front-line care. And he said he would im­prove ac­cess to pri­mary care by cre­at­ing 70 col­lab­o­ra­tive care clin­ics, spend­ing $25 mil­lion to hire doc­tors and spe­cial­ists and ex­pand­ing tu­ition re­lief for med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als.

But it was clear McNeil’s prom­ises were com­ing up against some hard truths.

At the mid­point of the cam­paign, when McNeil an­nounced he’d spend $78 mil­lion over four years on col­lab­o­ra­tive clin­ics

and would hire 50 more doc­tors a year, a frus­trated 68-yearold re­tiree ar­rived at the event to vent his frus­tra­tion over his wife’s two-year wait for a fam­ily doc­tor.

Ear­lier in the cam­paign, about 500 doc­tors and cit­i­zens ral­lied in North Syd­ney over a wide range of health-care is­sues. And the Con­ser­va­tives went so far as to hold a se­ries of their own health-care rallies dur­ing the cam­paign.

The premier dis­missed the move, say­ing Bail­lie was just try­ing to scare peo­ple.

But it was clear that the is­sue took on a life of its own in a province that has a pop­u­la­tion that is, on av­er­age, older than vir­tu­ally ev­ery other province in Canada.

For his part, McNeil boasted about an im­proved econ­omy, two con­sec­u­tive bal­anced bud­gets and a penny-pinch­ing ap­proach to pub­lic spend­ing that en­abled his govern­ment to ta­ble a spring bud­get that of­fers a mod­est tax cut for low- and mid­dle-in­come earn­ers.

McNeil, whose Lib­er­als won their first ma­jor­ity in 2013, said the tax cut would not have been pos­si­ble were it not for his de­ter­mi­na­tion

to rein in wage in­creases within the pub­lic sec­tor.

How­ever, that com­mit­ment led to ugly stand­offs with the province’s health-care work­ers and pub­lic school teach­ers. There were protests at the leg­is­la­ture, two brief strikes and back-to-work leg­is­la­tion that the unions con­demned as dra­co­nian.

While McNeil and Bail­lie both promised four more years of bal­anced bud­gets, Bur­rill pre­sented a rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent ap­proach. He cam­paigned on a plat­form that called for adding close to $1 bil­lion to the province’s ac­cu­mu­lated debt over the next four years, mainly to im­prove health care and education.

Bur­rill, a United Church min­is­ter, has said his party was in­spired by Justin Trudeau, whose Lib­eral party won the 2015 fed­eral elec­tion by, among other things, pledg­ing to spur the econ­omy through deficit fi­nanc­ing.

But the pro­vin­cial Lib­er­als la­belled Bur­rill a “hard left’’ politi­cian, while a Tory spokesman called the NDP plat­form a “reck­less spend­ing orgy.’’

In this three-photo com­bi­na­tion image Nova Sco­tia Lib­eral Leader Stephen McNeil, left to right, Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive Leader Jamie Bail­lie and NDP Leader Gary Bur­rill are seen dur­ing a lead­ers’ round ta­ble at Saint Mary’s Univer­sity in Hal­i­fax on Thurs­day, May 25. Af­ter Tues­day’s pro­vin­cial elec­tion, the Lib­eral govern­ment had been re-elected, but there was no de­ci­sion by press time as to whether McNeil would lead a mi­nor­ity or a ma­jor­ity govern­ment.

CAPE BRE­TON POST PHOTO

Vot­ers en­ter a polling sta­tion at the Riverview Y’s Men Youth Cen­tre on West­mount Road on Tues­day.

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