Nova Scotia party leaders clash over health-care in televised debate

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(left to right) Nova Scotia NDP Leader Gary Burrill, N.S. Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie and N.S. Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil wait for the start of the leaders’ debate in Halifax on May 18, 2017. (Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Nova Scotia’s major-party leaders clashed over health-care in a televised campaign debate Thursday.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie and NDP Leader Gary Burrill attacked Liberal Premier Stephen McNeil’s track record, with Baillie questioning McNeil’s 2013 promise that every Nova Scotian would have access to a doctor.

“You promised them a doctor,” Baillie told McNeil, who cited a number of other promises he’d been able to keep.

Baillie said one of the hardest calls he’d had to make was to Kim D’Arcy, whose husband, Jack Webb, died Feb. 1 after he had languished for six hours in a chilly emergency-room hallway and was bumped from his room by another dying patient during five days of struggles in Halifax’s largest hospital.

“We need more doctors. We need them urgently,” Baillie said.

Burrill asked McNeil if he would admit there is a health-care crisis.

“Do I believe there’s a crisis? No,” McNeil said. “Are there challenges? Of course there are.”

McNeil defended his record, saying the province’s health system has improved during his term, and his government has taken measures to train and bring more doctors to Nova Scotia.

His government reduced administrative costs by merging health authorities, he said.

McNeil said a re-elected Liberal government would invest in collaborative care teams to ensure all Nova Scotians have access to primary care.

McNeil also defended attacks on his labour relations record, arguing he has to represent all taxpayers at the negotiating table with teachers and other public service unions.

Burrill said teacher morale “is at an all time low,” and promised to reopen negotiations with the provinces teachers, cap class sizes and hire more specialists.

Baillie said it’s time to take politics out of classrooms and make decisions that benefit children.

“Let’s give teachers the real discipline and attendance policies they deserve and let’s get mental health into classrooms,” he said.

Baillie criticized Burrill’s promise to make community college tuition free.

“Making education free means we’re going to train people to go somewhere else,” he said.

Nova Scotians go to the polls May 30.

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