Liberal Leader Zach Churchill accused Premier Tim Houston of turning health care into a “raffle” and “a game show” during question period on Tuesday.  

The criticism came after the government issued a news release Monday inviting health care workers to submit “common sense” ideas to improve the health care system. The ideas should be “simple, easy to implement, and with little or no funding.”  

Ideas will be put into a random draw and 50 health care workers could win $1,000 each if their name is picked. A panel will choose a shortlist of 20 practical suggestions and Nova Scotians will apparently get to vote on “the top ten” ideas to be implemented.

According to Health Minister Michelle Thompson, 214 ideas were received within the first 24 hours of the contest, but that still didn’t impress Churchill.

“I don’t think the best way to build health care policy is through a raffle. It’s desperate and it shows us that the ideas the premier ran on aren’t working,” Churchill said.

“The fact he’s now offering people $1,000 to help fix health care for him, he’s forgetting the fact Nova Scotians are paying him $200,000 a year to fix health care for them.”              

‘Completely ridiculous’            

Houston said he brought the idea home from Singapore, where he recently visited. He countered Churchill’s criticism, saying “we are always listening to health care professionals and those on the front lines. Sometimes people say to me ‘I’m putting things on an electronic chart and then I have to write them by hand.’ Those are the kinds of frustrations. So, let’s get them on the table and fix them… sometimes a little bit of cash motivates people to put their thoughts down.” 

NDP leader Claudia Chender called the contest “completely ridiculous” and “a distraction.” 

“We have massive challenges in health care. We have labour shortages, we have wait times, we have infrastructure problems. These are big challenges that need big fixes and have big dollar amounts attached,” Chender said.

“So, instead of sweetening the pot for a number of people willing to send an email, the premier should do the job people elected him to do and actually make changes that will improve the system.” 

The NDP leader noted that members of the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union (NSGEU) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) have previously submitted suggestions to the health minister that could provide a logical starting point.  

Violence at schools

A response to a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy request filed by the NDP shows the number of incidents involving violence at public schools increased by 25% from the 2021-2022 school year to the 2022-23 school year.

Since 2017, the reported number of incidents at schools has increased 23%. That includes the 2020-21 school year when school was out several months due to COVID-19. Here is the chart tabled by the NDP in the House of Assembly: 

School Year Incidents Annual % Change Enrollment Annual Enrollment %Change 
2022-2023 17,234 25.1% 129,121 3.1% 
2021-2022 13,776 22.5% 125,124 2.9% 
2020-2021 11,240 8.2% 121,600 -1.3% 
2019-2020 10,386 -30.1% 123,239 2.2% 
2018-2019 14,864  6.2% 120,604 1.4% 
2017-2018 13,991  118,962  

From 2017 to today, violent incidents are up by 23.1% while the student population is up 8.5%.

NDP Education spokesperson Suzy Hansen asked Education Minister Becky Druhan how the government plans to address this issue. Druhan said all violence at school is “unacceptable” and stabbings like the incident at CP Allen High School in Bedford last spring that involved a student and staff members are “scary and troubling.”  

Druhan said mechanisms are in place to address the issue and the Department of Education is currently reviewing the code of conduct that deals with discipline. Druhan said she is willing to work with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU).  

A white man with short brown hair and wearing a grey blazer over a black shirt stands in front of several microphones speaking to reporters.
Ryan Lutes, president of NSTU. Credit: Jennifer Henderson

NSTU president Ryan Lutes was present in the gallery Tuesday and heard the exchange during question period. Lutes said the NSTU has been urging the province “for the better part of a year” to strike a working group that includes teachers tasked to produce a plan to address the upswing in both the number and the severity of assaults.

While Lutes couldn’t pinpoint one particular cause for the violence he did say, he had suggestions.

“I think mental health supports is a big part of it. I think ensuring our kids have appropriate consequences and are supported in the right way is another part of it. I think poverty plays into it. It’s a complicated issue and for me to say there is one thing that will fix it, does a disservice to how pervasive and how complicated the problem is. But we are not going to get to a solution by just burying our heads in the sand and assuming the problem is going to go away.”

Chronic understaffing at Nova Scotia jails

Cole Harbour-Dartmouth MLA Lorelei Nicoll wants to know what the justice minister intends to do about staff shortages at the Central Nova Correctional Centre in Burnside. Lack of adequate staff that has resulted in inmates spending more time in their cells prompted criticism from Justice Christa Brothers in decisions released last July and again last week. 

A man wearing a suit and tie and glasses clasps his hands while looking ahead.
Nova Scotia Justice Minister Brad Johns chairs a meeting of the Law Amendments Committee in Halifax on Monday, April 3, 2023. Credit: Zane Woodford

Here’s part of the exchange between Nicoll and Justice Minister Brad Johns during question period:

Nicoll: What steps has the Justice minister taken to ensure that effective measures to hire and retain staff are underway or has the minister allowed the staffing shortage to continue?

Johns: Similar to just about every other field in this province right now, corrections is having recruiting challenges. We are continuing to hold recruiting drives as well as training those who come on. We are aware of the issues and are trying to address them…One of the challenges we have is people who are off on long-term sick leave.

Johns could not provide an estimate for how many positions are vacant at corrections facilities across the province. He promised to find out and table the average number of vacancies as soon as possible. Johns asked MLAs to help with recruitment and let their constituents know corrections officers are well-paying jobs with health benefits.     

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. Chender is right in saying the NSGEU and CUPE have documented many things their members want to see modernized but they all cost money. And if you start to invest in updating one thing then you break something else because there are so many interdependencies. So the PCs need some quick and easy wins and this will do it for them. The housing problem will be their Achilles heel … it is stopping healthcare workers from wanting to live in Nova Scotia.

  2. It’s easy to run a campaign saying that one will fix the health care problems if elected. The Premier is finding out what he surely would have thought – this is one tough nut to crack. Certainly, no one realistically thought this was a one term fix. It may be too late to fix it – we may need to start over, but it’s probably too late for that too. Small steps at improvement is what it will take. Why not ask for the input of others in the trenches? Fix the small things one at a time and over an extended period we, hopefully, will be getting some place.

  3. So now after paying the hundreds of thousands of dollars we (taxpayers) pay the leadership of NS Health Authority for solutions is being reduced to 50 prizes of $ 1,000 prizes for solutions. The ideas are coming from the staff who the leadership along with Tim Houston have met and held extensive talks over the past 2 plus years; them giving you the ideas for free, now you going to have a vote on the best ideas, go figure?? You have spent millions of dollars on proposed solutions put forth by your leadership group at NS Health, maybe money is not the problem here, it is your leadership group, ever think of that!!
    Mr. Houston you inherited a big problem in Medicare but you have only made it worse, it was expected to take more than one term to fix , but I think you may not get that time! Our medical care WITHIN the system (nurses, doctors, support staff) is WORLD CLASS but the access to the system is 3rd world variety. Time to clean house with the ineffective, underworked and overpaid leadership.

    1. But it’s very unpleasant and costly to free the public service of poorly performing bureaucratic leadership and the story is the same for the health authority. I would love to know what Oldfield really thinks of the leadership team she oversees and the bureaucrats at Health and Wellness.

  4. RE: Violence in Schools
    It is clear that mental health, poverty, and a variety of other social factors are at play here. This is a reflection of the breakdown we are seeing within society at large. But schools are where we can also solve some of these problems and get kids off to a good start living within a community. But to do that we need to seriously address staffing levels across the board. We need more classrooms of smaller sizes, we need more teachers, we need a lot more EPAs.

    I have heard stories from kindergarten teachers of students who are violent, throwing chairs, punching, swearing, running away. These are kids who desperately need help, and often aren’t getting nearly enough.

    We need to focus our economy on caring and looking after one another, at actually improving society. Not focused on apps, widget production, and especially in Atlantic Canada whatever the next “get rich quick” scheme is the government will dump money into funding billionaires for.