by Jamie Baillie
Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Leader
Since my last update to you, the Legislature has been in session and I want to talk a little about that today.
As you know, your PC Caucus has been focused on mental health issues and, specifically, finding ways to help families get the help they need. We all have stories of people impacted by mental illness and I want to acknowledge two of the people who have inspired me to act. One is my Dad. Some of you who attend our PC conventions will know that my Dad used to be a regular feature there. He was never political himself, but he started coming when I was elected. He has always been there for me, which I appreciate even more now.
Sadly, for the past few years he has become ill with vascular dementia. Watching him decline, and my Mom working so hard to care for him, has been very difficult. It has made me appreciate the challenges mental illness presents to so many people like my Dad, and the caregivers who struggle to look after them. One of the most meaningful events I attended this past year was the Caregivers Nova Scotia reception in Springhill. I was amazed at the number of people who were there. I realized there are lots of people with the same struggles as my Mom and Dad. They need our support.
I also met another incredible Nova Scotian this summer. Fran Morrison and I met in Baddeck and instantly connected. Originally from Cape Breton, Fran has had quite a career working in advertising on Madison Ave., New York, in the 1960s and 70s. Fran is a strong woman and I tease her that they must have based the character Peggy Olsen from the TV show Mad Men on her.
Fran’s life has also been forever changed. Tragically, Fran lost her son Eric to suicide a few years ago and she has become a fierce advocate for mental health and suicide prevention. This really drove home the need to focus on adolescent mental health in our province. Too many young people go undiagnosed, untreated and fall through the cracks of the broken system, sometimes with tragic results. We just can’t let that happen. Since your PC MLAs began working on this, we have been meeting with experts like Dr. Stan Kutcher to develop real program ideas to ensure families like Fran’s get the timely help they need in the future.
In the Legislature, PC MLAs have been focused on the need for strengthened mental health services. We introduced the Mental Health System Public Inquiry (2015) Act, and called it for debate on November 18th. We have also raised mental health in Question Period more than 20 times, bringing the stories of individual Nova Scotia families to the Legislature and pressing the government to take action. This past Friday, we found out that the mental health short-term stay unit at the Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow has been converted to administrative offices. This is sadly symbolic of the Liberal government’s approach to health care: still too much administration and not enough care. They say the move is only temporary, but we know people who need the help of that mental health unit now.
PC MLAs are also very concerned about the increase in food bank use in Nova Scotia and are aware that access to fresh, healthy food is necessary. Last week, the PC MLAs introduced and debated the Fighting Hunger With Local Food Act. This Bill provides a tax credit to local farmers who donate perishable food to our local food banks. It is a great idea and a win-win. Our food banks identify access to local, perishable foods as a big issue. Our farmers get a tax credit and a chance at greater stability and sustainability. To move this idea forward, I took the extra step of writing to every MLA, from every Party, asking them to support this Bill so we can pass it before Christmas. I remain hopeful.
I was very moved by my visit to Feed Nova Scotia in Bedford recently. They have a great staff and hundreds of volunteers working together to collect food and distribute it to the province’s food banks in the lead up to Christmas. What struck me most was the upbeat, cheery workplace environment there. It is a great lesson in what really motivates people: working together to help others.
Before the House was recalled, we decided to add to the work of the OneNS Coalition with a Supplementary Report, entitled Driving Momentum. Many of you have since written to me to say thanks for pushing the Ivany Report goals and not giving in to the status quo. I appreciated that. The volunteer Coalition members did some great work. It’s up to the current government and future governments to make sure it happens, but it is clear the Liberals are not going to make much progress on the Ivany goals. After all, it has been almost two years since the Ivany Report was released. Our Supplementary Report included some steps to give the Ivany goals teeth. Last week we brought these ideas forward again by introducing legislation and calling it for debate. An Act to Ensure Economic Growth in Nova Scotia would put measures from the Supplementary Report into law in order to make sure the government is held accountable for making progress on Ivany goals.
PC MLAs continue to push our agenda, based on the values we all share, as I hope you can see. I am grateful for this opportunity to update you on a part of that work, and talk about why we do what we do. I know there has been a lot of media attention on the trials and tribulations of the Premier’s Office, its former Chief of Staff Kirby McVicar, Andrew Younger, and even Premier McNeil. We have done our job as the Official Opposition to hold the Premier and his office accountable for the way they conducted themselves in this matter. It was a mess, but we are focused on improving the lives of Nova Scotians first and foremost.
By the way, the more I watch Premier McNeil and his Chief of Staff try to explain away the things they did, the prouder I am to have been part of the John Hamm PC government. Under his leadership, we ran a lean, clean, ethical, progressive conservative government. His government delivered balanced budgets while also investing in important priorities like health and education. Premier Hamm was a great example of a strong leader and I am very thankful to have worked closely with him.
Thanks for taking the time to catch up on the action and thanks for your ongoing support. Merry Christmas to all of you and a happy, prosperous New Year!