Nova Scotia Tories promise to boost long-term care staffing levels if elected

As Nova Scotia's election campaign moved into its third week, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston continued to push his party's plan to improve a health system he says is overstressed.

It's been a recurring theme for Houston, who on Monday talked about increasing support for those working in long-term care.

"If government is going to truly commit to fixing health care, we must ensure that the people who work in health care are supported," Houston told reporters in Halifax. "It means hiring enough staff to get the job done."

Houston said health professionals such as nurses and continuing-care assistants are hindered by staff shortages, and he again promised to hire an additional 600 nurses and 1,400 continuing-care assistants if his party is elected Aug. 17. That's the level of staffing needed, he said, in order to provide 4.1 hours of care per day for each long-term care resident as recommended by the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union.

Houston said that to assist with staff recruitment, the Tories would also reinstate a continuing-care assistant training grant that was discontinued by the Liberals in 2013. At a cost of $4.5 million, the grant would fund 50 per cent of tuition costs in exchange for a two-year commitment from trainees to stay and work in the province.

The Tories released their election platform during the first week of the month-long campaign, budgeting $430 million in new spending for the health-care sector, including a pension plan for doctors, the extension of operating room hours and 2,500 more long-term care beds.

That plan has been criticized by Liberal Leader Iain Rankin, who accused the Tories of promising to overspend at a time when the province is trying to emerge economically from the COVID-19 pandemic. Houston, however, said his spending strategy will help with recruiting efforts during a time when most jurisdictions in Canada are experiencing a high demand for trained health professionals.

"We know these investments are necessary and we know that sending a signal to health-care professionals that we are serious about it will move the needle right away on recruiting," he said.

Rankin and NDP Leader Gary Burrill hit the hustings in the southwestern part of the province on Monday. Both leaders scheduled stops in the Yarmouth riding, while Rankin was also to tour the newly created Acadian ridings of Argyle and Clare. After a stop in Shelburne, N.S., Burrill was to move up the South Shore with visits to the ridings of Queens and Chester-St. Margaret's.

Over the weekend, the Liberals released a skills-training platform, the bulk of which is estimated to cost nearly $78 million over four years and would assist the Nova Scotia Community College train people for jobs in the construction trades, the environmental sector and in health care.

The NDP meanwhile, highlighted its pledge to legislate 10 paid sick days for Nova Scotia workers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 2, 2021.