HALIFAX — Liberal Premier Stephen McNeil fended off multiple attacks on his record Thursday as Nova Scotia’s major-party leaders clashed over health care, education and the economy during a leaders debate.
During a 90-minute televised debate, Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie and NDP Leader Gary Burrill targeted McNeil’s broken promises on doctors and the film tax credit.
But McNeil brushed off the barrage with confidence, a generally calm demeanour and an ability to hold the floor. He pointed to his achievements while in office.
“Let’s not turn back now,” he said, looking into the cameras during his closing remarks. “We are in a time where we can make strategic investments and continue to build what we’ve accomplished.”
Still, his opponents pointed to what they painted as his penny-pinching, top-down style with teachers and other public-sector union while in government.
Both Baillie and Burrill wove into the debate their disapproval over McNeil’s handling of issues while in power, especially related to health care.
Baillie questioned McNeil’s 2013 promise that every Nova Scotian would have access to a family doctor.
“You promised them a doctor,” Baillie told McNeil, who cited a number of other promises he’d been able to keep.
Baillie said one of the hardest calls he’d had to make was to Kim D’Arcy, whose husband, Jack Webb, died Feb. 1 after he had languished for six hours in a chilly emergency-room hallway and was bumped from his room by another dying patient during five days of struggles in Halifax’s largest hospital.
“We need more doctors. We need them urgently,” Baillie said.
Burrill asked McNeil if he would admit the province has a health care crisis.
“Do I believe there’s a crisis? No,” McNeil said. “Are there challenges? Of course there are.”
McNeil defended his record, saying the province’s health system has improved during his term, and his government has taken measures to train and bring more doctors to Nova Scotia.
His government reduced administrative costs by merging health authorities, he said.
McNeil said a re-elected Liberal government would invest in collaborative care teams to ensure all Nova Scotians have access to primary care.
McNeil also defended attacks on his labour relations record, arguing he has to represent all taxpayers at the negotiating table.
Burrill said teacher morale “is at an all time low,” and promised to reopen negotiations with the provinces teachers, cap class sizes and hire more specialists.
“Let’s give teachers the real discipline and attendance policies they deserve and let’s get mental health into classrooms,” he said.
Baillie criticized Burrill’s promise to make community college tuition free.
“Making education free means we’re going to train people to go somewhere else,” he said.
Nova Scotians go to the polls May 30.