SPRINGHILL – Premier Stephen McNeil said June’s byelection will give Cumberland South residents an opportunity to influence government policy by having a member at the caucus table.
Hours after calling the byelection for June 19 the premier was in Springhill to visit with his party’s candidate, Scott Lockhart, and help launch the campaign.
“This is an opportunity for Cumberland South to have a government voice,” the premier said, moments after speaking to Lockhart’s supporters. “After June 19, I’ll still be premier and we’ll still be the government. This is a chance for Cumberland South to be around the table so when we’re talking about education or health care Scott’s voice will be heard.”
From Springhill, the premier went to Parrsboro to campaign with Lockhart and said he would be make further trips to the riding in support of the Liberal candidate.
While other candidates have said the byelection is an opportunity for the voters to send a message of dissatisfaction to the government, the premier said it would make more sense to have someone in the Liberal caucus with a direct line to cabinet and himself as premier.
McNeil said the byelection will be about continuing to invest in the community and the province.
“We have committed to a new school in Springhill and that school will be built,” the premier said. “We will be talking about the fishery down along the shore and how we’ve been able to maintain the higher price for seafood. We will be talking about how we’re in our third record year for tourism and how we’re going to support economic growth and job creation.”
Although PC candidate Tory Rushton has accused the premier of playing politics with the school, McNeil said building the school is not an election issue. The school, and the replacement for the Rainbow Bridge near Amherst, will be built no matter who holds Cumberland South after the vote.
“I would never use the power of this office when it comes to infrastructure like that. When I came into power the River Hebert school project was underfunded and we funded it. It wasn’t one of ours, but we put money into that and we will continue to do that,” McNeils said. “However, having a member on the government side means he gets to sit with the minister of transportation when we’re having a discussion on roads, or with the minister of education when we’re looking at the pre-primary program and they can really influence public policy in a way that impacts this riding in a positive light.”
The premier understands tolls on the Cobequid Pass will be an issue ink the byelection and he recommitted his government’s promise to remove the tolls as soon as the highway is paid for – likely by the end of 2019 or early 2020.
“It’s hard to tell exactly when it will be, but as soon as the bonds are paid off the tolls will be removed,” the premier said. “We believe it will be the fourth quarter of 2019.”
However, he added, the province is still considering maintaining tolls on commercial and out-of-province vehicles with the toll money being dedicated to improving infrastructure around Nova Scotia.
The premier said his government is also committed to addressing health care issues in Cumberland South, just as it is across the province.
“We want to make that when people need it they will have access to primary health care,” McNeil said. “We’ll continue to make that a priority and that’s why it will be important for the people of Cumberland south to have a committed voice from their community.”
It has been 10 years since the Liberals have had an MLA from Cumberland South. Following Guy Brown’s retirement after the 1997 election, voters elected Progressive Conservative Murray Scott, who served the riding until his retirement after the 2009 election.
From 2010 until earlier this year, the riding was represented by former PC leader Jamie Baillie.
The premier said a byelection is different than a general election in that the people are not electing a government, but a person to sit either in government or opposition. He’d prefer to see someone from the riding sitting on his side of the legislature.