The leader of Nova Scotia’s NDP is still waiting to hear government’s plan to help the province’s economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gary Burrill says people across the province want the same answers from their provincial government.
“What are your plans, what are your ideas, what are your suggestions for the things that government should invest in as a way of pulling our province out of this, unprecedented, in our lifetimes, economic downturn?” Burrill asks.
Burrill says the pandemic has revealed the desperate state of a number of social programs, and his party would start by reinforcing the province’s social safety net.
The NDP leader has been sounding the alarm on the need for more beds in nursing homes since he was elected to his position, so it’s no surprise a revamp of long-term care homes tops his list. He says both the previous NDP and PC governments invested in the creation of thousands of long term care beds. But that came to a halt under Premier Stephen McNeil.
“When the liberals came to power, there was a moratorium placed on the opening of new nursing home beds and it’s placed a lot of people in a vulnerable situation from the point of view of viruses of all kinds, but particularly, COVID,” said Burrill.
He says COVID-19 has demonstrated the need to move away from the shared-room model in nursing homes and every person in long-term care should have their own room and own bathroom.
The NDP leader says staffing levels also have to be increased to ensure the safety and proper care of residents and investments should be made to train and hire more continuing care assistants. He says Nova Scotia used to have a model in place that kept facilities supplied with enough care workers.
“If you think back to ten years ago, people were entering this field in droves,” said Burrill. “There were subsidy programs about the tuition for CCAs at the community college. There were innovative programs by which, you could go in and get your GED and your CCA at the same time. I can remember attending community college graduations, eight, nine years ago, when the CCA class would take you longer to get from A to Z through the diplomas of the CCAs then it would for all the rest of the graduates – this was in Truro- all the rest of the graduates combined.”
Burrill says attracting new people into the profession has become more difficult as constant under-staffing at long-term care homes took its toll.
“Lifting that requires two people ends up being done by one person. What drew people originally to that very important work - their love for older people, their motivation to provide them support, that kind of got pushed to the side and it’s place got taken by frustration of never having enough people there to work, day in and day out, year in and year out. So people got ground down and burnt out. The next thing we knew, we didn’t have enough CCAs in Nova Scotia,” says Burrill.
He gives the federal government full marks for identifying the income crisis and providing Canadians with an income to see them through as many were put off work by the pandemic. But says by comparison, the provincial government has done little to support workers in need of a financial lift.
“When you have, as we do in Nova Scotia, a third of your working people working for less than $15 an hour, no surprise that the population doesn’t have enough money to buy the goods and services businesses have to sell to pull us out of an economic contraction.”
Burrill says the province also has the authority to impose rent controls to keep people from spending half the money they make just to keep a roof over their heads.
The NDP leader is eagerly anticipating bringing these ideas forward in the Nova Scotia legislature, which hasn’t sat since the start of the pandemic began and is legally bound to sit before the end of the year.
Reported by Ed Halverson