Nova Scotia bill to suspend MLA pay raises passes second reading

HALIFAX, N.S. — Tim Houston’s PC government finally got to second reading of its bill reversing a recommended pay raise for MLAs during an extended special sitting of the Nova Scotia Legislative Assembly on Wednesday, but the debate on the affordability crisis again delayed consideration of the issue of wages until late in the afternoon.

Justice Minister John Lohr rose in the House to present the bill for second reading, saying the Conservative caucus “firmly believes” that the current base rate of $89,234 for MPs should not not be increased now.

The bill would postpone salary changes, including extra pay for the premier, president, provincial ministers and party leaders who take on more office, until after the next provincial election.

The session was called by the Houston government in response to a recommendation from an independent panel that deputies get a 12.6% pay raise.

“Although the Independent Review Panel concluded that the Prime Minister’s compensation is fair and reasonable and should not be adjusted, the Prime Minister has chosen to voluntarily reduce his salary by more than $11,000,” said said Lohr.

Nova Scotians face high inflation, like the rest of the world, and now is not the time to raise MPs’ salaries, the justice minister said.

Calendar of opposition questions

The first opposition MP to speak on the bill on Wednesday was Liberal Braedon Clark (Bedford South), who said the party supports the bill and will vote for it.

Even so, Clark said, everyone knows this measure is “theatre” with an issue that is not a real emergency and could have been taken care of during any session of the legislature that had already taken place.

“We’re talking about an issue that’s about 75 cents per Nova Scotian,” Clark said. “We are talking about a file that represents approximately 0.005% of the provincial budget, which means that, according to the logic of the government, it is an emergency, but 100,000 people without a family doctor, 9.3% inflation, people who live without anywhere. living, people not being able to pay rent, people not being able to pay (for) groceries is not an emergency.

“So I think that fundamental distinction needs to be emphasized again and again.”

He called the motion a “petty” grandstanding and said he was embarrassed that he had to come to the House in a special session for it.

NDP House Leader Susan Leblanc (Dartmouth North) agreed with most of what Clark had to say, but did not share her disappointment at being in the legislative session, as it gave opposition parties the opportunity to ask tough questions of the government.

“That’s the job we’re here to do,” she said. “I am frankly puzzled as to why we have been called back to this legislature, because it gives us the opportunity, frankly, to bring this government to the cleaners on a number of issues on which it is collapsing.”

The NDP caucus also agreed that now is not the time for MPs to get a raise, Leblanc added.

NDP MP Gary Burrill shows the actions of a partridge while debating a bill to stop Nova Scotia MPs’ salaries from being raised in this screenshot from the legislative news feed of the government.

The NDP also caused a stir when former party leader Gary Burrill (Halifax-Chebucto) made a vigorous display of the actions a partridge would do in the woods trying to distract itself from its perch during its chance to speak.

“Here, Mr. President is the government’s losing diversion,” Burrill said. “Six weeks ago, June 2, in the midst of what the Prime Minister accurately describes as 40-year high inflation, during which hard-working Nova Scotians struggle to make ends meet, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance have announced… that contrary to what they had indicated a few weeks earlier, Nova Scotia will not be joining the many provinces that are taking real action to directly provide relief to people due to the sudden and dramatic increase in the cost of living.

Other issues for discussion

The unusual summer session began on Tuesday with the intention of dealing with the issue of pay rises, but continued on Wednesday after opposition parties introduced a number of bills on Tuesday, sparking a debate on the inflation crisis.

Leblanc previously proposed an emergency debate on the state of the health care system as more people join the Need a Family Doctor list, emergency rooms continue to be overcrowded and d waits for surgeries remain long.

The motion is carried and the debate is added to the end of the list of business of the day. After second reading of the government’s wages bill, the House turned to the NDP’s emergency debate on health care.

NDP Leader Claudia Chender stood up to explain why we’ve come to this in Nova Scotia.

“It’s a systemic problem,” Chender said. “It’s out of the question. And I think we can say it’s a systemic problem without immediately shifting blame. But unlike any other election campaign I’ve seen in my political life, this government has conducted a campaign on one issue, one problem, and that’s to fix health care.

“They were clear, they were decisive, they were repetitive and they won a majority government. And they’ve been given a mandate to fix health care. And here we are a year later, and health care is worse. As we’ve talked about, it’s worse in every way.

Chender added that things are happening in the healthcare system, but things are bad enough that steps are being taken to alleviate the “deep fear” people feel. She said people are starting to think about accessing private health care.

“Careful,” she said. “I hope I don’t have to take back the words I’m saying right now, but we’re at a dangerous crossroads in our health care system. People are losing confidence in their ability to find health care.

Chender said some measures taken by the government were good, such as hiring more nurses, but there is global competition for healthcare talent.

A new model is needed, said the leader of the NDP.

Health Minister Michelle Thompson acknowledged that things are difficult on the ground, but added that the strain the pandemic has placed on the system and on worker morale has been enormous.

That said, she stressed that the government was working on solutions, including volunteers returning to a number of emergency rooms, graduate nurses working alongside registered nurses while waiting to take their exams in a mentorship model. in emergencies, communication systems on waiting times and rapid assessment. area.

“I am very proud that this government has offered CCAs a significant salary to recognize and honor the work they do and to elevate a predominantly female workforce in terms of compensation, and I think that is important.” said Thompson.

A model command center emergency room is also being developed. There are also a number of ongoing trials, such as virtual triage in an emergency room and virtual care access in libraries.

Question period

Opposition members questioned the premier and the government on health care throughout Question Period, repeatedly asking if Houston would acknowledge that instead of fulfilling its campaign promise to fix health care , the system got worse under his leadership.

Unsurprisingly, the Premier did not, responding instead that the government is dealing with the shortcomings left by the former Liberal provincial government.

On other issues, Houston deferred to Health Minister Michelle Thompson, who repeatedly said leaders knew there were a host of problems but were working on them.

When it came time for opposition business, the Liberals introduced three bills for second reading. Bill 187, a bill to stop NSP from raising rates and Bill 189, a bill to cut the provincial gas tax by 50% until December 2023, all two supposed to help Nova Scotians save money during a cost of living crisis. Bill 186 calls for transparency on the impact of the pandemic.

The NDP introduced a bill that would give $500 to every household earning $70,000 or less.

Gas tax debate

Speaking of the gas tax bill, Liberal MP Fred Tilly (Northside-Westmount) said “mad” that the government needs the money.

But John A. MacDonald (Hants East) replied that it would take $120 million out of Public Works and that there are a lot of potholes and other infrastructure that needs repairs.

On COVID transparency, new Liberal leader Zach Churchill, a former health minister under the provincial Liberal government, said talking about COVID is not popular right now, but the information needs to be made public. .

He added that when he was health minister the province delivered daily COVID updates whereas now the PC government has moved to monthly statements.

“We’ve gone from the safest place in the country to the deadliest, literally,” Churchill said.

“The situation continues to obviously worsen with every metric you look at.”

Churchill said public opinion is driving the current pandemic response instead of medical professionals on the ground.

Leblanc said during her chat time that she always finds herself surprised to agree with the Liberals, but in this case, she does.

“Information is essential”

“This kind of information is essential and I think we need it,” she said. “Especially as we enter a seventh wave – or whatever wave it is, I’ve lost count.

“With information, we have more tools to manage any health crisis, but especially a pandemic.”

PC MP Chris Palmer said Nova Scotians showed what they thought of the Liberals’ record on health care when they elected the Houston government last summer.

“I don’t believe this bill is necessary. I believe in transparency.

He added that it is not true that there was any secrecy.

“We are not out of touch with COVID, we are in touch with Nova Scotians to find out how they feel about COVID in 2022.”

He pointed out that an online data dashboard provides a wealth of information from across the province. Bill 186 asks for something that is already provided online, Palmer said.

“We’ve only been transparent,” he said, adding that the province doesn’t need another law to do what it already is.

The special summer session will resume Thursday at 2 p.m.

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