HALIFAX – Nova Scotia’s Liberal government delivered a throne speech Thursday that promised to address health care problems but saved the details for next week’s budget.
The government said it had heard concerns voiced by voters during the May 30 election campaign, in which the state of health care and doctor shortages in particular became major issues.
“This spring, Nova Scotians voiced concerns about challenges in health care,” Arthur LeBlanc, the province’s first Acadian Lieutenant Governor, said in the speech. “Government heard these concerns and will respond.”
The government acknowledged that more mental health supports are needed, along with better access to primary care and a reduction in wait times.
It said it would increase its efforts to recruit and retain health professionals including doctors, nurses and mental health clinicians.
It also said it would give doctors more flexibility so they can choose where and how to practice, and will seek advice through Doctors Nova Scotia when developing recommendations or changes to primary care.
The promise to cut wait times included a campaign pledge to add 15 new specialist residency positions, with five of those positions allocated to Cape Breton.
Premier Stephen McNeil told reporters the details would become clear when the budget is tabled on Tuesday.
“We certainly heard from Nova Scotians in the campaign that they wanted a larger investment in health care and we’ll reflect that in our budget,” said McNeil.
McNeil said the government planned a series of “strategic investments,” although he cautioned that there are no short-term fixes when it comes to doctor shortages. He added that with long term planning the problem could be fixed over time.
“This is not unique to Nova Scotia, this is Canada-wide,” he said. “I think we can come out of what has been a challenging time and improving it (health care).”
Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said the speech would leave Nova Scotians disappointed by “rehashed promises heard before.”
“There is the same old rhetoric about health care but no actual plan for more doctors,” said Baillie. “Mental health gets a tiny mention with no actual action to make mental health better.”
Known for his verbal flourishes, NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the speech amounted to “a sorry piece of obfuscatory nothingness.”
Burrill said while he expected fewer details around health care with the budget imminent, he was struck by no mention of other pressing issues.
“I think it is startling that a throne speech would be produced in 2017 in which the total number of references to the word climate and the word environment is zero. That’s shocking.”
The speech made no references to legislation to be tabled in the fall session, although a government news release later listed the government’s priorities.
They include legislation dealing with the Incompetent Persons Act, post-traumatic stress disorder, municipal expense reporting, and anti-cyberbullying legislation. There will also be amendments to the Pre-Primary Education Act in order to make the promised program uniform across the province, McNeil said.
The government also said that beginning Oct. 1 it would create an Office of Strategy Management from an existing body known as the Premier’s Delivery Unit to oversee the implementation of its priorities. Veteran bureaucrat Bernie Miller would run the office as a deputy minister.
As the legislature opened, hundreds of unionized workers marched and chanted outside the house against the implementation of Bill 148, which sets out a wage pattern for the province’s 75,000 public sector workers, and is being challenged in court.
When asked about it, McNeil seemed to take the loud demonstration in stride, saying his government’s dealings with labour were well known before the election.
“They have the right to express themselves in a peaceful way and they’ve done that,” he said. “Nova Scotians in a general election have the right to express themselves and they’ve done that.”