PARRSBORO – Gary Burrill sees health care as being the issue everyone will be talking about when Premier Stephen McNeil calls a byelection in Cumberland South.
The provincial NDP leader spent Tuesday and Wednesday in the riding visiting with business people and party supporters in preparation for the vote to replace former PC leader Jamie Baillie.
“It doesn’t matter where you are in Nova Scotia today the Number 1 issue is the deterioration of our health care system and in particular the doctor shortage,” Burrill said.
Emergency room closures are frequent at both the South Cumberland Collaborative Emergency Centre in Parrsboro and the All Saints CEC in Springhill. Because of this, he said, additional strain is being placed on the regional hospital in Upper Nappan.
This is all happening at a time, Burrill says, the provincial government is refusing to admit there’s a crisis in health care.
“On one hand you have the collapse of primary care in that people can’t get a doctor so they come to the ERs and at the same time the smaller ERs are collapsing because there are no doctors to staff them,” Burrill said. “This leads people into the larger ERs, which were not designed to handle them. These regional ERs can’t discharge people because this government has not built a single nursing home bed in the time in the four-plus years its been in power.”
Burrill said he has spent considerable time in the legislature trying to determine what the Liberal government’s plan is for health care and has come to the realization it doesn’t have one.
“They live a cocoon of arrogance they’ve spun around them and they do not think there’s a crisis in the health care system. They’re thinking that people are making it sound worse than it actually is and that if everyone will just be patient everything will work out,” Burrill said. “I just don’t think they have a plan and are making it up as they go.”
The NDP leader believes Nova Scotians would be more forgiving or understanding if government were to admit there’s a problem in health care and that it needs time to take a step back and take a look at the system as a whole and how it can be fixed. Instead, he said, they’ve done the complete opposite by ignoring what doctors, patients and families are saying.
He also thinks a bit of honesty would go a long way.
“Instead they have this super-central health board and no member of the public is allowed to attend their meetings, no one knows where their meetings are and no one is allowed to read the minutes of those meetings,” Burrill said, adding he’s incredulous that government is about to go down the same path by eliminating school boards. “People tell us there’s no one they can call locally or hear our local voice heard. We can’t get anyone in Halifax to answer our emails. This is the mess that’s been created in health care and now they’re going to do the same thing in education. I’m flabbergasted by it.”
While Cumberland South has been a PC stronghold since 1998 under Murray Scott and then Baillie, Burrill is confident his party can win the riding since byelections are often regarded as a referendum on a government’s performance.
“It’s always open when there isn’t an incumbent,” Burrill said. “We recognize this is a seat where our opponents have had more success than we’ve had in the past, but I think there’s an opening to hear a message of community renewal by investing in people, education and health care. I don’t think anyone should bet the house against us.”
New Democrats in Cumberland South have yet to select a candidate. Larry Duchesne ran for the party in the last two elections and hasn’t decided if he’ll put his name forward this time.