HALIFAX â€” As Nova Scotia’s party leaders fanned out across the province Sunday, health care emerged as the top campaign issue.
A rally on the downsizing of medical services in Cape Breton ignited debate among the leaders, with Premier Stephen McNeil defending the Liberal government’s track record.
In an open letter to the Cape Breton Medical Staff Association, McNeil stressed that the Northside General Hospital in North Sydney will not be closing and that emergency room physicians pay will not change.
He said changes to health care under the Liberals have curbed administration costs and directed resources towards patients.
Investments in collaborative care, dialysis treatment, new hospice units and efforts to retain more doctors in the province are some of the steps the Liberal government took to improve health care, said McNeil, who spent the day in Wolfville, New Minas, Kentville and Digby.
Progressive Conservative candidate Alfie Macleod said the doctor’s rally in Sydney Mines shed light on the health care crisis in Cape Breton.
“Cape Breton is in desperate need of family physicians, specialists and mental health services,” the Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg candidate, who attended the rally, said in a statement. “The list of problems plaguing the system is growing.”
Tory leader Jamie Baillie said Nova Scotia has a list with 100,000 people waiting for a family doctor. In addition, he said the Liberal government failed to make mental health care a priority.
A Progressive Conservative government would ease the province’s doctor shortage, he said, by doubling the tuition relief program to $6 million to keep new family doctors in Nova Scotia.
Baillie, who spent the day in Pictou Landing, the town of Pictou and New Glasgow, where he attended an open house at the Aberdeen Hospital, also promised to invest $13.5 million to bring more doctors to under-serviced areas and to recognize the credentials of Canadians who study medicine abroad.
NDP leader Gary Burrill attended the Cape Breton health-care rally and made stops in Glace Bay, New Waterford, and Sydney.
He spoke with doctors and residents at the rally to learn more about their health care concerns and “mainstreeted” with the party’s local candidates in the area.
Meanwhile, McNeil also committed on Sunday to added supports for Nova Scotians with disabilities.
At L’Arche Homefires, a social services organization in Wolfville, he said a new Liberal government would invest more than $31 million over four years, including towards enhancing day programming for adults with disabilities, expanding support programs and respite care options.
The Liberal leader also pledged to build new small options homes, houses for three to four people with disabilities in a community setting supported by staff.
The Canadian Press