First of two public forums held Tuesday
Health care, education, power rates among the top issues
© Dave Mathieson - Cumberlandnewsnow.com
A big crowd was on hand to hear the four Cumberland North candidates discuss the issues facing the electorate. A second forum is planned for Monday night in Pugwash.
AMHERST – The four people vying to be Cumberland North’s next MLA discussed everything from health care, to education, jobs and power rates during their first candidates forum here Tuesday.
NDP candidate Brian Skabar and Liberal candidate Terry Farrell traded jabs over Darrell Dexter’s record as premier since 2009, while Judi Giroux of the Progressive Conservatives urged those in attendance to consider her party’s platform that will create jobs and freeze power rates.
Green Party candidate Jason Blanch said it’s important for candidates and the next MLA to not be afraid to tell the truth, even if it’s unpopular with their party.
There were several pointed exchanges during forum with Farrell asking Skabar who he’d represent – the people of Cumberland North or the NDP?
“I was elected by the people of Cumberland North to represent them and I was also elected to represent the people of Nova Scotia and sometimes the best interests of the people of the province are not always the best interests of others,” Skabar said in response. “I have represented the people of Cumberland North to the best of my abilities and I will continue to do so.”
Skabar took the opportunity to ask voters if they wanted to return to the 1990s when the former Liberal government of John Savage closed the deaf school, built the toll highway and rolled back civil service wages by three per cent and then froze them.
Farrell said this election is not about what happened then, but who has the best vision for the future of Nova Scotia.
“It’s not about the toll highway, it’s about what is best now and who can do the best job of managing the economy and avoid making grandiose promises they can never expect to keep,” Farrell said. “It’s about not promising change overnight but having a plan that will work.”
Giroux said the election is about change that’s needed in Cumberland North as well as in the province. She said the election is about focusing on essential services and ending the waste in government.
The candidates differed on the future of health care locally with both Giroux and Farrell advocating for the reduction of the district health authorities in favour of more money for frontline care.
Farrell said the money saved would be used for local initiatives like continuing CECs and attracting more doctors to rural communities, while Skabar said reducing the number of health boards “would be absolute disaster” because the current system has been working well in Cumberland County.
The NDP candidate said the Liberals tried regional health boards in the 1990s and it didn’t work well for Cumberland County.
Giroux said cutting health administration to three boards would mean more money for doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and medical technicians. She said community health boards would be maintained.
On economic development, Farrell said the best thing the voters can do “is to take the chequebook away from the NDP.” Giroux said government needs to focus more on small business by cutting red tape, controlling bracket creep and reducing taxes.
Skabar said the NDP government has invested in Cumberland North through LED Roadway Lighting, Poly Cello and other businesses.
He also denied the tax difference between this province and New Brunswick has impacted business in the Amherst area. Skabar said Amherst has benefitted from cross-border shopping, more so than New Brunswick.
“Just check the parking lots at Walmart and the Superstore. Three in 10 cars are from New Brunswick,” Skabar said, adding the NDP have already promised to reduce the HST by one per cent next July and another per cent in 2015.
Power rates were also an area of disagreement with Skabar touting the Maritime Link project that will ship hydroelectric power from Labrador to Nova Scotia. Skabar said the megaproject will bring stable power rates. Farrell said his party is not against the Maritime Link project, but a bad deal that the premier really doesn’t understand.
“It’s time someone stood up for Nova Scotians and confronted Nova Scotia Power to get a better deal for renewable energy,” Farrell said.
Giroux said the present deal will see Nova Scotians paying twice for energy.
“It’s a great idea, but the Maritime Link and how we’re going to pay for it is not a good deal,” she said. “It’s my understanding that we’re going to have to pay for construction and then pay for the electricity it generates. It’s like we’ll be paying twice for our power. It’s not a good deal.”
Blanch said he’s not opposed to hydroelectricity because it’s much cleaner than the coal that’s being used now to generate power. He’s just concerned about the financial cost and how it will impact the Inuit community around Muskrat Falls.
Blanch asked the candidates their stance on hydraulic fracturing. Giroux said she has discussed fracking with party leader Jamie Baillie and his government would not allow it unless scientifically proven to be safe and acceptable to the community.
Farrell said his party is opposed to fracking and he can’t see how it could ever be efficiently and safely done. Skabar said he favours the continued moratorium until an independent review is completed. Even then, he said, he’s not a fan of the process.