Hants West candidates weigh in on local topics during civil debate

Ashley Thompson athompson@hantsjournal.ca
Published on October 3, 2013

Voters in Hants West have a passionate lot to choose from.

About 200 spectators attended the Avon Chamber of Commerce Election Debate hosted in King’s-Edgehill School’s Fountain Performing Arts Centre the evening of Oct. 2. Joe Seagram, headmaster at KES, moderated the candidates’ forum.

Candidates Torin Buzek (Green), Claude O’Hara (Liberal), Chuck Porter (PC) and Brian Stephens (NDP) fielded questions about the struggling economy, attracting doctors to rural areas, infrastructure renewal, the roles of municipal and provincial governments, twinning Highway 101 throughout Hants West, assisting small businesses and municipal reform.

The mild-mannered candidates managed to hold the attention of the large crowd throughout the 90-minute debate without exchanging jabs, or belittling their opponents.

Buzek’s light-hearted one-liners often offered some welcomed comic relief in between responses detailing the vision of each candidate.

Promoting environmental stewardship topped Buzek’s list of priorities, O’Hara said he feels he can truly make a difference and generate growth in the area as MLA, Porter vowed to continue fighting for what’s best for his constituents as he has done during his seven years in office and Stephens promised to continue assisting the most vulnerable in society as a member of an NDP government. 

Buzek, the first candidate to deliver opening remarks, said the primary issues the province is facing are all interconnected.

“Tonight we will… discuss topics such as the economy, health care, education, energy, among other things. For me, all of these topics are interconnected and we can’t talk about changing one without looking at how it will affect the rest. The thing that has the most effect on any of these issues is the environment,” said Buzek, a Martock-based farmer and theatre instructor at Dalhousie University.

O’Hara, a retired police officer and former executive director of the Hants Regional Development Authority, said he would take charge within his first 100 days of office by striking a health care action team to address the issue of retiring family doctors and take the lead in regional cooperation and attraction initiatives.

“Sitting idle on the sidelines will not take us where we need to go,” O’Hara said.

Porter, a former paramedic, noted that the current government has yet to commit to installing a dialysis unit in the local hospital, and stated that MLAs should never allow party politics to distract them from the real issues that affect the people of Nova Scotia.

“They should set aside partisan politics and they should be working for everyone. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing — all Nova Scotians being served fairly,” the incumbent offered.

Stephens, a Nova Scotia Legal Aid lawyer, said the NDP government has taken a number of steps to make living in Nova Scotia more affordable. He listed decreasing the small business tax by 40 per cent, removing the HST from home energy and family essentials, introducing an affordable living credit, encouraging affordable housing projects and increasing the minimum wage as a few examples.

“This is the kind of government that may not get the headlines, but it’s one that’s made a real difference in the lives of today’s families and that’s the kind of government that I want to be a part of,” he said.


Making a positive impact

When asked to provide three examples of how they could positively impact the Hants West region as MLA, the candidates had their answers at the ready.

O’Hara cited an Alternative Energy Innovation Centre for Hantsport, networking with world leaders visiting Halifax and pushing for the reopening of Sepracor as opportunities.

Stephens said he would support the Avon, Land of Plenty branding campaign started by the Avon Chamber of Commerce, promote the region as an area offering a high quality of life within close proximity of Halifax and highlight the region as a central location from which manufacturing goods can be distributed throughout Nova Scotia.

Porter said the PCs have already promised to reduce taxes and address high power rates, and added that decreasing regulation would create more opportunities for business.

Buzek would push for a move away from fossil fuel dependency by supporting the growth of the renewable energy sector, fight for the creation of more green jobs and support programs that will help educated people remain in Nova Scotia.


Attracting doctors

The candidates came prepared to share their ideas on how to attract doctors to the towns and rural areas in the Hants West riding.

Stephens said promoting the quality of life the area offers to medical students is key.

Porter feels offering doctors assistance with student debt in exchange for a long-term commitment in a rural area, and improving upon the collaborative approach to reduce the workload in emergency departments, would prove to be appealing incentives.

Buzek agreed with Stephens, and added that focusing on preventative medicine would significantly lighten the workload of medical doctors.

O’Hara reiterated that he intends to launch a health care action team if elected to deal with the fact that several local doctors are expected to retire within the next two to five years. He also said the Liberals are willing to give 25 new doctors settling in rural Nova Scotia a $120,000 break on tuition fees if they remain in the province for at least five years.


Twinning of the highway

O’Hara was the first to respond to a question prompting the candidates to explain how they would expedite twinning the entire stretch of Highway 101 running through Windsor.

He recalled the day when, as rookie police officer serving in Windsor in 1976, he responded to his first fatal accident on the highway. He said the mother and two children lost in that accident are now his incentive to push for the twinning of remainder of the highway.

“There isn’t a kilometre on there that… we haven’t experienced death on this highway and tragedy. That’s the incentive that we should need as people to see the rest of the highway twinned.”

Stephens noted that the stretch of highway from Falmouth to the exhibition grounds recently received new guardrails and was repaved to make the roadway safer to travel on but, above all else, motorists must slow down.

Porter, who said he saw the tragic results of dangerous driving too often in 17 years as a paramedic, said a jersey barrier would be a good solution in the causeway area, but he feels the twinning work must be completed.

Buzek admitted roadwork would not be a priority of the Green Party, which is more interested in rebuilding the railway from Windsor to Halifax and decreasing the number of cars on the road.