Premier Tim Houston’s Progressive Conservative government campaigned on a promise to “fix health care” and balance the province’s books in four years. Well, spending on health care for 2022-23 is going up $413.4 million and there’s a predicted deficit of $506.2 million for the new fiscal year.
Jennifer Henderson dives into the budget in her report from Tuesday, identifying where the most money is going, what new taxes are coming, what election promises are being kept (and shirked), and how it all compares to last year’s budget.
A few quick highlights:
- More money being spent on affordable housing, emergency shelters and homelessness, long-term care, and support for people with disabilities. And health care, but I already mentioned that.
- Less money going to the Department of Environment and Climate Change
- New taxes on non-residents designed to help cool the housing market.
- A new $4.7 million Children’s Sports and Arts Refundable Tax Credit that allows families to claim expenses up to $500 per child
- Skilled tradespeople under the age of 30 won’t pay any tax on the first $50,000 they earn under the “More Opportunities For Skilled Trades” program. This is estimated to cost the government about $80 million next year.
- Oh, and the province’s net-debt is now $18 billion.
But if you think I’m breaking down the entire provincial budget in this little blurb, you’re kidding yourself. Head to Henderson’s full report to see how the government wants to spend your money this year.
We do have more on the budget below, though.
2. Budget reaction: critics say not enough action taken on rising cost of living
So, what’s missing from Tuesday’s budget announcement?
Jennifer Henderson continues her coverage with a variety of responses to the Tim Houston government’s 2022-23 budget.
We hear from the leaders of the opposition parties — you may be surprised to read they found some holes. Henderson includes responses from the NDP’s Mental Health and Addictions spokesperson, the executive director of the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers, Doctors Nova Scotia, the province’s teachers union, and the CEO of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, to get a picture of how the new budget will affect Nova Scotians in different sectors.
Though there was praise for health care spending, there’s also criticism of a lack of spending on mental health. Multiple critics brought up the dire need for more housing as the cost of living continues to rise.
3. Death of Andrew Gnazdowsky: Nova Scotia Power one of three companies facing charges
In May 2021, Nicole Gnazdowsky told the Examiner the provincial government had botched the investigation of her brother Andrew’s death. Andrew was 26-years-old in October 2020, working at Nova Scotia Power’s Marshall Falls reservoir in Sheet Harbour. He’d been working for a New Brunswick company that was subcontracted to survey an underwater area near a dam in the reservoir, when a piece of equipment malfunctioned, so Gnazdowsky swam down to fix it. He would never swim back up.
Andrew’s body was found the next day, and the details surrounding his death have remained a mystery to his sister ever since. Since identifying a potential conflict of interest and a flawed medical examiner’s report in the Department of Labour’s subsequent investigation, Nicole Gnazdowsky says she’s had to dig into the tragic event on her own.
“I feel like I have a sense, a good sense of what happened,” she said last May. “But I think there’s still probably some holes in the story, and whether those will ever get filled I don’t know.”
Now, Nova Scotia Power and two other companies are facing charges related to Gnazdowsky’s death. From Yvette’ d’Entremont’s report:
The court document filed on Monday by a Department of Labour investigator names Nova Scotia Power, Brunswick Engineering and Consulting Inc. of Saint John, NB, and GEMTEC Consulting, Engineers and Scientists Ltd. of Fredericton, NB.
It accuses the three companies of several safety violations connected to Gnazdowsky’s death.
Brunswick Engineering and Consulting Inc. — the company that employed Gnazdowsky and a subcontractor at the Nova Scotia Power site — faces five charges.
In addition to three safety violations, the charges include failing to ensure a life jacket, personal flotation device or alternative means of protection was used to prevent drowning, and failing to provide required rescue equipment where a person is exposed to the risk of drowning at a workplace.
GEMTEC Consulting faces six charges, including an allegation that the safety plan for the Marshall Falls site was inadequate.
Nova Scotia Power faces five charges in connection with the incident, including failing to ensure Brunswick Consulting employees were wearing life jackets and failing to ensure they had access to required rescue equipment.
4. No. 2 Construction Battalion
One year ago this week, former minister of national defence, Harjit Sajjan, said Canada’s government would apologize to the former members of the No. 2 Construction Battalion.
If you’ve never heard of them, here’s a little background:
In the First World War, the Canadian government’s official policy banned Black citizens from serving in the armed forces. The feds feared Black soldiers, if armed, might seek vengeance on white soldiers, and so a whole generation of Black Canadians was prevented from fighting.
That didn’t keep Black Canadians out of the war, though. Despite the racist federal policy, Black citizens lobbied the government and ultimately formed the No. 2 Construction Battalion, where Black soldiers could enlist to serve the war effort in non-combative roles. The battalion formed in 1916, making its headquarters in Truro. The following year, more than 700 soldiers went overseas to assist allied forces with road construction, maintenance, and other efforts.
The Battalion disbanded in 1920, but a passionate few have worked to ensure their legacy endures.
On Monday, National Defence Minister Anita Anand reaffirmed the federal government’s intent to apologize to the former members of the No. 2 Construction Battalion. That apology is expected to come in July.
“I, as minister and our government,” said Anand at Monday’s virtual event, “are wholly committed to delivering a meaningful apology to address the discrimination that these men faced before, during, and long after their service.”
In his latest article, Matthew Byard goes deeper into the Battalion’s history, and why an apology will only be the beginning if Canada’s government is to truly make amends.
No more grinning and bearing it: dental care is health care
For most of my time as a dental patient, I lived a charmed life.
Despite a poor brushing technique — who has two minutes in the morning? — and a disdain for flossing, I didn’t have a cavity until university. I survived middle school without braces or an expensive, easily-lost retainer, and endless hours of minor hockey and shinny never led to an emergency root canal. In high school, my wisdom teeth stayed in place. Apparently, I have the cavernous, un-evolved mouth of a Neanderthal; there’s enough room in there to house the full set of 32. No painful procedure or multi-day doped-up recovery required.
For me, the dentist was just a yearly annoyance.
I didn’t understand the popular worldview that dentists were sadists. Each visit consisted of nothing more than an uncomfortable half-hour of fluoride-flavoured prodding followed by a thorough dressing down from my ever-disappointed dentist. (Floss, dammit!) Then I’d get a sticker and be on my way.
What’s more: no bills. Ah, youth.
That all changed when I left university. That’s when I lost dental insurance and my mouth started falling apart. Life truly never misses a chance to kick you in the teeth, does it?
I woke up one morning, about half a year after graduating, with a debilitating toothache. Debilitating really was the only word for it. Solid foods were inaccessible. I couldn’t breathe or bite too sharply lest my nerves explode and soon the pain became a constant, even if the tooth went untouched. It got to the point where I had a constant headache and couldn’t focus long enough to read or hold a conversation. An emergency root canal, and a few hundred dollars, would bring some welcome relief, but it was just the beginning.
Afterward, the dentist told me I was grinding my teeth and I’d have to have some more work done if I wanted to prevent more problems in the future. But without insurance, I deferred.
I eventually started working a job that offered a limited dental plan once I worked a certain number of hours. The pain returned before I hit that quota, but I held tough. I ignored toothaches on both sides of my mouth until I’d accrued the hours to pay for $1,000 of dental work. By that time, I needed multiple fillings, extractions, and root canals, plus a crown. Even with insurance, it cost me a few grand. A sizeable blow, considering I’d only just entered the workforce.
I could’ve saved a little money if I’d had all the problem teeth pulled outright, instead of fixed. But I didn’t want to walk around with holes in my smile, so I sprung for extra.
Lucky me, to have the choice. At 23, I had no dependents or mortgage. I didn’t know what paycheque-to-paycheque meant (I’ve still never felt that, to be honest). That’s not the case for everyone, and that’s the problem. For a country that prides itself on free health care, we have a funny way of putting dental health in its own category. We’re not alone, of course, though things could change soon.
Last week, through an agreement between Canada’s Liberals and New Democrats, the country came one step closer to having a publicly funded dental plan. In exchange for votes of confidence, the governing Liberals will implement the NDP’s long-sought dental coverage for lower income Canadians. No need to go into detail here, but the breakdown is this:
- Families making less than $90,000 a year, who don’t have dental insurance, will be eligible.
- The government will cover dental fees for anyone making less than $70,000.
- The plan will be rolled out over the next three years before the Liberal-NDP agreement expires in 2025, though children under 12 could be eligible later this year.
- An estimated 6.5 million Canadians could be eligible for the new program.
- It will cost a little over a billion dollars a year to run, plus about $4.3 billion upfront.
In a CBC article last week, economist Armine Yalnizyan told reporter Nick Boisvert the high price tag is likely worth it:
“While it will cost a little more on the front end, it will save money on the back end and make life more affordable … I know that people are going to say, ‘Why are we spending money?’ But that’s being penny-wise and pound-foolish.”
The federal Conservatives immediately asked that question, by the way. So why spend the money?
First, I think some level of public dental coverage is, if not popular, at least palatable to most Canadians. Dental health is just health. And trips to the dentist are as essential as a yearly physical.
The call for universal dental care is nothing new. Search it up and you’ll find articles from almost every year of the new millennium, considering the benefits of such a system. Here’s the Globe’s Andre Picard way back in 2004, when one third of Canadians lacked dental coverage (about the same as today), explaining the importance of getting everyone access to dental care:
Oral diseases, ranging from low-grade gum disease such as gingivitis to oral cancers, can have a significant impact on daily functioning and quality of life. Once thought of as merely nuisances, dental problems are now being taken seriously by health researchers.
Evidence is mounting that the health of our teeth and gums is a bellwether for the rest of the body.
Honestly, it’s surprising to read “evidence [was] mounting” 16 years ago. Teeth have been an indicator of health since humanity started betting on horses, right?
Dentistry dates back at least 7,000 years, when rudimentary tools were used in Sumeria to dig out “tooth-worms,” little demons once thought to cause toothaches. It’s arguably the first specialized branch of medicine. Why such an early specialization? Because toothaches are no joke and dental problems can be urgent, even fatal. The reason dentistry and medicine have followed their own tracks may have to do with their treatments. Whereas doctors, before modern medicine, largely used bedside manor coupled with a guessing game of natural cures and incantations, dentistry has been bona fide effective from the start. Problem tooth? Remove the tooth, remove the problem. It’s become more complex and scientific, as well as safer, but it’s had a longer track record of results than medicine.
Is that why it’s considered so separately from regular health care? I don’t know.
The 1964 Royal Commission on Health Services considered the inclusion of dental care in what would become Canada’s new public health care system, but decided to wait, citing a shortage of dentists to support such a program. As the profession grew to a level that could support a public dental system, oral health could become part of Medicare. Now here we are.
One of the last articles the Nova Scotia Advocate published before the untimely passing of Robert Devet was an editorial from dentist Brandon Doucet, arguing for universal dental care. He breaks down the problems with financial inaccessibility:
In 2018, approximately 1 in 3 Canadians lacked any dental insurance and over 1 in 5 avoided the dentist due to financial constraints. For people who lack access to dental care, preventive and routine care is neglected in order to focus resources on dealing with pain and infection, which results in a population with poorer oral health. This has many consequences on individuals and society as a whole.
For individuals, poor oral health has been shown to cause or worsen many general health conditions including: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, having a low birth weight infant, aspiration pneumonia, erectile dysfunction, osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome and stroke. Further, having visible decay or missing front teeth can affect employability and one’s self esteem.
For society, there is increased health care spending for a society with poorer oral health. One reason for the increased spending on health care is due to the effects of poor oral health on overall health. Further, hundreds of thousands of Canadians end up in an emergency department each year seeking treatment for dental pain, a problem that is estimated to cost over $150 million per year.
In that article, written during the 2021 federal election, Doucet argued for the type of dental coverage the NDP was campaigning on. The same type of coverage the NDP and Liberals are now working to implement:
It is clear that the status quo for dental care is inadequate. Maintaining a minority parliament this election is an opportunity to start expanding Medicare to include services like dental care. When Medicare was originally implemented, it was with the intention of including dental care at a later date. Now, over half a century later, it is time to follow through with this vision.
On Monday, the province announced a new development in Dartmouth that will provide 373 much-needed affordable housing units.
The affordable units will be developed and rented out by Clayton Developments. As part of an agreement with the province, the company must rent them out at 60%-80% the average market rental price for the area — for 20 years, then they can scrap the “affordable” rent if they like.
On Tuesday, Philip Moscovitch capped his summary of the story with his own editorial note: “Tying affordability to market rates ensures they are not really affordable.”
I’ve written about this before, but it’s not as obvious in the case above.
Given the current average rental price in south Dartmouth, that means a one-bedroom at 60% value would rent for just over $600. That’s actually affordable. If you work 40 hours a week at a minimum-wage job, rent on an apartment like that will cost slightly less than 30% of your income — the common definition for affordable housing.
So, good stuff there.
But the first developments in that project won’t be ready for at least a year after building begins in fall. A lot could change.
Let’s do a quick case study, looking at the second hottest housing market in the country: Toronto. (I’d examine Vancouver, but I don’t want to have a heart attack; I just want to do an experiment).
Rents in Toronto continue their ascent to the stratospheric days of yore, before the pandemic, when the average rental cost for apartments of any size was $2,335 month, before Zoom and the once-low rental markets of Atlantic Canada sent city-folk running for rural pastures and cooled Toronto’s housing scene ever-so-slightly. (Remember when Torontoians scoffed at anything east of Yonge Street? Simpler times).
Let’s look at the average rental price (for units of any size) in Toronto at three different points of the pandemic:
- January 2020 – $2,335/month
- January 2021 – $1,988/month
- January 2022 – $2,205/month
At 60% market value, those averages become:
- January 2020 – $1,401/month
- January 2021 – $1,193/month
- January 2022 – $1,323/month
Based on these three rental prices — all from the same city within a range of two years — and the 30%-of-income definition, here’s the annual income required to afford these units.
- January 2020 – $56,040
- January 2021 – 47,720
- January 2022 – $52,920
You would need to make almost $10,000 more annually to afford a unit being rented out at 60% the average market value in 2020 than in 2021. All this system does is keep rent at “affordable units” cheaper than the average. Whether people can actually afford it is another question.
Let’s continue tying affordable housing to the market. We’ve been doing that with the environment for years and that’s worked itself out, right?
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — live broadcast; Gravel Road Program and Highway Improvement Plans, with Peter Hackett, Department of Public Works
The Crucible (Wednesday, 7:30pm, Dunn theatre, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — directed by Nigel Shawn Williams; masks required, $10/$15, info here
PhD Thesis Defence, Process Engineering and Applied Science (Wednesday, 1pm) — virtual event; Allan Thomson will defend “Production and Utilization of SRC Willow Biomass in Nova Scotia”
The Crucible (Thursday, 7:30pm, Dunn theatre, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — directed by Nigel Shawn Williams; masks required, $10/$15, info here
Charlotte Mendel (Thursday, 5pm, Room 219, MacRae Library, Agricultural Campus, Truro) — the author reads from her YA novel Reversing Time
Inclusive Social Work Thrives Within and Beyond COVID-19 (Thursday, 5:30pm) — virtual panel discussion with CART transcription; featuring social work students Jenn Horne and Sammy Koladich, Dalhousie University; Adam Farhat, Carleton University; moderated by Nadia Haleeb, Dalhousie University
Engineering for Health in a Pandemic (Thursday, 7pm) — virtual event; the Dalhousie Women in Engineering (WIE) Society is hosting their third “Women of Today” Panel Event series, which will focus on how the pandemic has changed the profession of engineering and how it will impact the lives of engineering students and professionals. Guest speakers: Amina Stoddart, Dalhousie’s Department of Civil and Resource Engineering; Jade Farr, Dalhousie Electrical Engineering student; Tyra Obadan, high school student
Urban Forestry and Wood Waste in HRM (Thursday, 7pm, Potter Auditorium, Rowe Building) — also via Zoom; A team of six interdisciplinary ESS students (Justin Andrews, Breanne Johnson, Jessica Pawlovich, Erica Porato, Jack Quirion, and Samantha Sandu) worked with Kim Thompson and Charles Williams of The Deanery Project to conduct an assessment of urban forestry and wood waste in HRM. This lecture summarizes their findings, and will include a panel discussion with Christopher Googoo, Linda Pannozzo, James Steenburg, and Charles Williams. More info here.
The Neurobiology of Trauma & Supporting Survivors (Thursday, 1pm) — Zoom workshop hosted by Dee Dooley
Startups – How to, and too-honest answers with Jonny White (Thursday, 6pm) — online event
The Triune Summit: Speaking their Truths (Thursday, 6pm, McNally Auditorium) — also online; three African-Nova Scotian trailblazers will read from their memoirs, share their experiences, and speak to their journeys, followed by a Q&A; with George Elliot Clarke, Mayanne Francis, and Donald H. Oliver
In the harbour
Ship listings will be added later today.
- You know those people who recommend weed as a magic bullet cure for any affliction? The last two times I’ve had toothaches, everyone I know became that person. It doesn’t work. Your teeth aren’t muscles. Try it for yourself if you want, though.
- The CFL is coming to Wolfville this summer! Not sure if the town will be expected to build a new stadium for the game, but it should be fun.