HALIFAX – In the first full weekend of campaigning, Nova Scotia’s New Democrats took aim at the Liberal government’s rocky track record with teachers.
NDP leader Gary Burrill pledged to revoke a controversial bill that imposed a contract on the province’s 9,300 public school teachers and reopen negotiations with the union.
“Bill 75 is such an anti-democratic piece of legislation that it’s not a bit of an exaggeration to say that it’s immoral,” he told reporters Saturday after a lively campaign rally at the NDP headquarters in Halifax. “People have to have the right to free and fair collective bargaining.”
Burrill, a United Church minister running in Halifax Chebucto, also promised to introduce class-size caps for all grades at a cost of $9.3 million a year if elected May 30.
In addition, he said an NDP government would hire more classroom support workers like psychologists and speech pathologists.
Burrill said the “small army of educational specialists” would cost $7 million a year.
The NDP campaign commitment on education comes after the province’s Liberals outlined plans this week to launch a pre-primary pilot program for about 750 four-year-olds across the province.
Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said the program would be rolled out this fall in 30 locations, mostly in existing schools, with 25 children and two early childhood educators per class.
While Burrill acknowledged the importance of early childhood education, he said it’s “darn funny” the Liberals came forward with a commitment to primary education at the end of their term.
Meanwhile, Nova Scotia’s Progressive Conservative leader pledged to double the province’s rural road maintenance budget to $32 million, up from $16 million.
Jamie Baillie said the budget was slashed under the former NDP government and only marginally improved under the Liberals.
“Since the Liberals formed government, they have nickel-and-dimed rural communities,” Baillie said in a statement before touring rural roads in Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley. “Failing to invest more in the (Rural Impact Mitigation) budget means more dangerous roads, more money spent on vehicle repairs and rural areas falling into disrepair.”
He called a new gravel road program proposed by the Liberals “too little too late.”
The Tory investment in rural and secondary roads would go towards shoulder and ditch upkeep, guardrail improvements, pavement patching, gravel patching and grading, brush cutting and ditch draining, Baillie said.
The Liberal party campaign started off at the Masstown Market on Saturday and made stops at campaign headquarters in Debert, Springhill, Amherst.
The Liberals promised to cut red tape for small business by reducing regulatory costs by $25 million by the end of 2018.
“Over the past several years, the difficult work we have taken on to reduce red tape has produced real dividends for small business – and the Nova Scotians who work in that sector,” McNeil said in a statement.
He also committed to hiking the income ceiling for small businesses to $500,000 from $350,000.
The Grits finished off the day with a tour of craft brewers and food truck operators in Truro.