Bur­rill ad­dresses hot but­ton top­ics

The Casket - - Local - RICHARD MACKEN­ZIE richard­mac@the­cas­ket.ca

With the Nova Sco­tia Leg­is­la­ture wrap­ping up its fall ses­sion Oct.

11, Nova Sco­tia New Demo­cratic Party (NDP) leader Gary Bur­rill de­cided to hit the road for a coastto-coast tour the prov­ince. His trav­els had him land­ing in Antigo­nish on the morn­ing of Oct. 16.

“To talk about some of the main is­sues which were raised [dur­ing the ses­sion],” Bur­rill said about the ob­jec­tive of his trav­els.

“Some of the things we brought for­ward which we think would be a bet­ter path for the prov­ince, and some of the things the gov­ern­ment brought for­ward and where those could be im­proved. I was in Cape Breton yes­ter­day, the north­ern main­land to­day, and I’ll spend the rest of the week in the south-western part of the prov­ince.”

Im­prov­ing care

The topic list in­cludes the avail­abil­ity to, and qual­ity of, long-term care fa­cil­i­ties across the prov­ince. Bur­rill said it’s not an area where gov­ern­ment should look to cut; it should be a pri­or­ity.

“A com­bi­na­tion of not open­ing any new nurs­ing homes and cut­ting funds on the ones we do have has put the whole sec­tor un­der ma­jor pres­sure,” Bur­rill said. “From our point of view, the NDP’S, this is not the place to squeeze. There are a lot of places in the world to squeeze but don’t squeeze the peo­ple who are liv­ing in nurs­ing homes; we can surely do bet­ter than that.”

He said that point of view is some­times chal­lenged in re­gards to costs.

“I think we have to say, there are some things that, as a peo­ple, we rec­og­nize as a pri­or­ity,” he said. “If we have to cut, we’re not go­ing to cut here. This is some­thing we’re go­ing to do well, we’re go­ing to be proud of how we do it and we’re not go­ing to say, ‘well, we couldn’t do as well by the res­i­dents in nurs­ing homes be­cause we ac­tu­ally didn’t have the money.’ This is the kind of thing for which you find what is needed, be­cause you put it on the top of the list … I think it’s a big thing.”

Bur­rill talked about the NDP in­tro­duc­ing a bill called the Care and Dig­nity Act which stip­u­lated a ra­tio be main­tained be­tween staff and res­i­dents in long term care fa­cil­i­ties.

“It says there should be in law, not just in rules or guide­lines, the per­cent­age of con­tin­u­ing care as­sis­tants (CCAS), LPNS and RNS who are avail­able at the ra­tio of those peo­ple in res­i­dence at ev­ery long-term care fa­cil­ity,” he said, not­ing, as an op­po­si­tion party to a ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment, it’s not the ex­pec­ta­tion a bill is passed but, at least, “shapes a con­ver­sa­tion.”

In talk­ing about some of the ra­tio­nale, Bur­rill noted chang­ing trends for the fa­cil­i­ties.

“Peo­ple go into nurs­ing homes now much older and more in need of help, than they used to,” he said, re­call­ing that when he first started vis­it­ing nurs­ing homes, as a United Church min­is­ter, there would be park­ing spa­ces for res­i­dents. “There is no one in a nurs­ing home I know to­day who has a park­ing space for their car, they’re in a dif­fer­ent stage of life,” he said.

“This isn’t hard to un­der­stand; it’s partly be­cause of home­care that peo­ple are able to stay in their homes longer, so they come into nurs­ing homes later. And partly, too, be­cause we’re liv­ing longer. But it means that we can’t have the ra­tio of staff to res­i­dents that we had 25 years ago. Peo­ple who come into long-term care now, they need, on aver­age, a much higher level of sup­port than peo­ple needed 20 years ago.”

In­creas­ing min­i­mum wage

See­ing Nova Sco­tia’s min­i­mum wage jump up to $15 an hour was an­other area Bur­rill went into de­tail about, while in Antigo­nish.

When asked about the dif­fi­cul­ties small busi­nesses may face with the num­ber, Bur­rill said it’s ac­tu­ally the small and medi­um­sized busi­nesses in the prov­ince which need the in­crease.

“What is the great­est chal­lenge for small and medium sized busi­nesses in Nova Sco­tia? They don’t have enough cus­tomers,” he said, an­swer­ing his own ques­tion. “Why don’t they have enough cus­tomers? Be­cause one third of the peo­ple who work for wages in Nova Sco­tia work for less than $15 an hour; that means they don’t have the money to buy things.

“There is no magic about this. In or­der for busi­nesses to pros­per, peo­ple have to have enough in­come to buy things, once in a while. Peo­ple who work for $11 an hour don’t go to stores and buy things. To a great ex­tent, they can’t even go to the store to buy their gro­ceries.”

Bur­rill said $15 is a “bench­mark” which has been reached by Al­berta and B.C. is on the path to­wards.

“There has been a move to­wards $15 an hour across the coun­try,” he said. “We need to re­mem­ber too where we are in Nova Sco­tia. We’re not in the mid­dle of the pack about this, we’re at the rock bot­tom; 10 prov­inces in the coun­try, who is num­ber 10 — Nova Sco­tia,” he said.

He also talked about Nova Sco­tians car­ry­ing a lot of credit card debt. “How can you de­velop your GDP, eco­nomic growth, when your con­sumer pur­chas­ing power at this level is in the tank? So, from my point of view, small busi­ness needs the $15 an hour.”

Le­gal­iza­tion of cannabis

Speak­ing a day be­fore cannabis is le­gal­ized across the coun­try, Bur­rill said, first and fore­most, this wasn’t a “Nova Sco­tia deal.”

“This is an Ot­tawa deal; a deal out of our hands, passed to us and we have to deal with it,” he said.

“From my point of view, I think we would be in a bet­ter sit­u­a­tion to en­ter into le­gal­ized cannabis if the gov­ern­ment had made, and I’m hop­ing they’ll do this in the fu­ture, a wider num­ber of places where it’s avail­able.

“At the mo­ment, we have 12 stores. What’s the ob­jec­tive here? The ob­jec­tive is to put the il­le­gal mar­ket for cannabis out of busi­ness through a le­gal mar­ket. I can’t see how you can do that with 12 stores. Imag­ine if we only had 12 liquor stores in Nova Sco­tia, who would be mak­ing money — boot­leg­gers. So if we want to put the cannabis boot­leg­gers out of busi­ness, we have to have more than 12 stores to do it.”

Back to ba­sics

When he took over the lead­er­ship and through­out last year’s elec­tion, Bur­rill talked about re­turn­ing the NDP to their core val­ues. He said their elec­tion plat­form rep­re­sented that ob­jec­tive and he feels there is a “hunger” for what they pri­or­i­tize.

“I think the plat­form we ran on in last year’s elec­tion was one that ad­dressed the in­come cri­sis, in­come in­equal­ity, and the en­vi­ron­men­tal cri­sis, in a way as bold, prob­a­bly more bold, than the plat­form of any ma­jor party in Canada we’ve seen in the last 25 years,” he said.

“I think there is a real hunger in the present world, that we haven’t seen for years and years, to see th­ese is­sues be ad­dressed. And, in my view, it’s the mis­sion and pur­pose of the NDP to stand for that hunger.”

Richard Macken­zie

Nova Sco­tia New Demo­cratic Party leader Gary Bur­rill was in Antigo­nish Oct. 16 as part of a prov­ince-wide tour he is con­duct­ing, fol­low­ing the wrap-up of the fall ses­sion for the Nova Sco­tia Leg­is­la­ture last week.

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