NDP leader Gary Burrill will run a deficit to hire more doctors and nurse practitioners. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

NDP leader Gary Burrill made his first campaign promise in the busy waiting room of Dr. Ajantha Jayabarathan, a family doctor known  to CTV viewers as “Dr.A.J.” for her regular appearances on the regional network. Burrill said difficulty in finding a family doctor is the top issue he hears from voters — Statistics Canada estimates 100,000 Nova Scotians go without — and that the McNeil government is not doing enough to fix it.

“The $8.4 million that is allocated in the budget to address the problem of primary care is like the money that is allocated for an oil change, when what you really need is a motor job,” Gary Burrill told reporters in the doctor’s waiting room. “It’s out of proportion to the problem, and if we become the next government, we are going to make this our focus and we are going to make the investment.”

Campaign literature from the NDP claims the $2.4 million the Liberals have budgeted this year to recruit 50 doctors can’t be accurate — unless each doctor earns only $48,000. (The Liberals also put $6 million in the budget for collaborative care teams). Burrill notes that not only has the McNeil government broken a 2013 campaign promise to provide a family doctor for every Nova Scotian, but more people are without a doctor today than were three and a half years ago.

Nova Scotia doctors are retiring and leaving the province faster than new physicians can be trained — something Dr. A.J. says the province’s Physician Recruitment Plan would have realized sooner if it hadn’t relied so long on outdated billing data from 2005-2009.

Numbers presented by Doctors Nova Scotia last month during the Public Accounts session of the Legislature indicate that 100 new family doctors per year for the next decade will be needed to fill the gap.

Burrill said an NDP government would allocate $120 million over the next four years — $30 million a year — to address the doctor shortage. To get there, the NDP aims to establish 60 collaborative care practices employing 60 nurse practitioners and 60 family doctors.

Burrill was careful not to promise a doctor for every Nova Scotian, though. Instead, he said an NDP government would run “a short-to-medium term deficit” to put more money into both health and education — just how large a deficit won’t be revealed until the NDP releases its full election platform.

“This is exactly the road the federal Liberal government has been on for some time,” said Burrill in defense of greater spending, “to recognize the need to stimulate the economy and address social needs, including health, and that’s why we have federal budgets in a deficit position. This is also an approach that it is now well affirmed within the field of economics, and a majority approach within the western world. It is only in Nova Scotia where the idea is prevailing in 2017 that we can get where we need to go by cutting and hyper-focusing on producing budget surpluses. This is an idea that has been discredited.”

Across town, Liberal leader Stephen McNeil was promising more money for roads and “community infrastructure,” which he said would create “thousands of jobs across the province.”

McNeil announced a Liberal government would spend an additional $60 million over four years to repair gravel roads — that’s on top of $10 million worth of gravel previously announced for this year. He also promised $50 million a year to build and repair schools and community recreation facilities. And he re-announced $390 million to twin 70 kilometres of provincial highways and build a new Burnside connector over the next seven years.

PC leader Jamie Baillie was also promising to create “thousands of jobs” by spending big on infrastructure to try to get the provincial economy moving at a faster clip.

Baillie used Guildfords, a successful insulation contractor in Burnside Industrial Park, as a backdrop to announce a $1 billion commitment over 10 years to launch a “Rebuild Nova Scotia Fund,” with a matching $1 billion contribution expected to flow from Ottawa. “For too many years, improvements to important infrastructure have been postponed or delayed,” Baillie said. “Our crumbling roads and rundown hospitals are the result.”

According to the PC leader, the Fund would be established to pay for a new hospital to replace the Victoria General, twinning sections of provincial highways, bringing highspeed Internet to rural Nova Scotia (a do-over from the days of PC Premier Rodney MacDonald), doubling the Department of Transportation’s Rural Impact Mitigation budget, and creating an Environmental and Community Enhancement Fund.

Baillie said the $1 billion expenditure to replace Infrastructure could be accommodated while still maintaining a balanced budget.

Voters will decide how much credibility to give that statement as well as the big budget promises made by the other two leaders on Day One of the campaign.

Meanwhile, a quick tally shows the NDP with the highest proportion of women candidates at just over 40 per cent, the PCs at just over 30 per cent (up substantially from 20 per cent in the last election) and the Liberals hovering around 23 per cent.

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

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    1. You should see how blurry Baillie is IRL!! Is that an NS Politician, or the ghost of bald plush toy in a suite?! Either answer wouldn’t be far off the mark! ZING!!!

  1. “Dr AJ”, unfortunately, also continues to write columns for the Chronically Horrid 🙁
    BAD IDEA for an NDP supporter!

  2. Glad to see a solid summary of the parties’ platforms for the upcoming election.