The 2017 provincial election is PC Leader Jamie Baillie’s second run as party leader vying for the top job as provincial premier. The Journal spoke to him last week about the party platform and what the PC Party promises to bring to rural Nova Scotia if elected to govern at the end of May.
“Our long-term vision is to get the economy going,” said Baillie, “and, to put it bluntly, our plan is to put thousands of rural Nova Scotians to work rebuilding the infrastructure of this province. That is the roads, bridges, schools and hospitals that we need to protect if we are going to get our population growing again.”
The current Liberal government has focused on balanced budgets over spending, The Journal asked Baillie how the PC infrastructure plan squares with fiscal concerns. “Stephen McNeil has shown that all he knows how to do is cut rural services; he’s let our roads crumble, he’s let rural schools close and that is not getting us where we need to be. People continue to move away in despair. We can be doing a lot better than that. Our whole campaign is based on growth and opportunity. I want to invest in the future of this province. We have a $2 billion Rebuild Nova Scotia Fund that we are going to invest in rural road renewal, in highway safety, in highspeed internet in all areas; because I am confidant that Nova Scotia, and rural areas, can grow if we improve the infrastructure.”
Speaking specifically to concerns in the Guysborough – Eastern Shore – Tracadie riding Baillie said, “Guysborough is unfortunately a county that has seen the most people move away but it also has the most potential. I’m excited about the future of the port, the export terminal and the potential jobs that will come with them. We need good roads and good schools and hospitals to attract people to the area to take those jobs.That is what our Rebuild Nova Scotia Fund is all about.
“We would invest in small towns. We have a plan that would put government services in small towns across the province. We know the struggles that small towns are facing. Under the McNeil government those struggles got worse. A PC government will be investing in infrastructure and small businesses so we can start to see growth and opportunity again.”
When asked to clarify where the monies for the Rebuild Nova Scotia Fund would be sourced Baillie said, “We’ve worked very hard to identify the funding necessary. We’re going to freeze the debt ratio where it is today and use the financial room that that frees up to employ thousands of Nova Scotians rebuilding our infrastructure.”
A major issue in the campaign has been the doctor shortage that is impacting the health of Nova Scotians across the province. Baillie told The Journal that the PC election platform includes a plan that will immediately recruit doctors. “We’re in a family doctor crisis right now in Nova Scotia...We have a very aggressive doctor recruitment plan that invest $19.5 million on day one to bring new doctors into rural areas and place them where they are needed most...We want to work with doctors in recruiting new doctors. Stephen McNeil has worked against doctors for three and a half years. That doesn’t work.”
One of the most contentious issues to face the current government this past year was the Nova Scotia Teacher’s Union strike. Baillie stated that, if elected, a PC government would undo the damage done by Bill 75 which sent teachers back to work with an imposed contract. “We want to work with teachers on making classrooms better. Stephen McNeil has lost the trust of teachers. We can’t get better classrooms when the McNeil government and teachers can’t work together.
“We will repeal Bill 75 which will save taxpayers millions of dollars in legal costs. We will establish a good working relationship with our teachers and invest the savings immediately in classroom reform.”
Rural concerns about education include funding formulas based on population. With decreasing populations, rural students and communities are missing out on opportunities. Baillie agrees. “The funding formula is outdated, it doesn’t work for rural areas where enrolment is declining. We will do a full review. The current formula does not take into account the economic benefits of having a school in your community and that is not fair.”
Rural libraries are facing a similar funding challenge. “I am in the libraries in my constituency all the time,” stated Baillie. “Many people rely on them for internet and job search...We can’t afford to lose those libraries. We will ensure they have sustainable funding in the future.”
Baillie concluded his comments by stating, “We have a positive sustainable plan for growth.”