MIDDLETON, NS - The five candidates for the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservative leadership held their first debate May 24 in Middleton, laying out their platforms and taking only the occasional shots at each other’s positions.
About 125 party faithful and candidate supporters turned out, with more watching the event online.
Each candidate answered five questions, with the last two coming from the audience. The questions covered health care, education, forestry and the privatization of the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation.
Speaking about the province’s doctor shortage and the need to recruit new family physicians, Kings North MLA John Lohr said, “We have to accept that there has to be a pay differential, that we pay rural doctors a premium or a bonus.”
He also said he would fire the board of the Nova Scotia Health Authority and incorporate the authority into the Department of Health and Wellness.
Former MLA and current Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Cecil Clarke said the Dalhousie University School of Medicine needs to open up more seats for Nova Scotian students so they can practice in the province and not go elsewhere. With the creation of a single health authority, he said, “We lost local decision-making in the regions.”
Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, the MLA for Cumberland North, was a nurse before politics, and helped bring new physicians to the Amherst area in the past.
“There are problems, and one of them is a lack of family physicians,” she said. “I believe we can recruit and retain physicians, and create a world-class health care system here in this province.”
Julie Chaisson, a management specialist and the only candidate who has not served as an MLA, said the province has been reactive to health care issues for too long and it needs to be proactive.
“We need to have a strategy not only for our doctors, but for our nurses and our other health care professionals.. we have to do succession planning, we have to know how many doctors we need.”
Tim Houston, the MLA for Pictou East, said in order to recruit and retain doctors, government has to take pressure off the system.
“We need to support our doctors and health care professionals, and create a culture of innovation. That’s why I’m suggesting making a $100 million investment in chronic illness treatment and prevention program.”
The next debate is June 21 in Dartmouth. The leadership convention will take place Oct. 26 and 27 in Halifax.