Provincial budget falls flat on long-term care, forestry aid

The spin on this year’s budget from the McNeil Liberals appears to be “all is well in Nova Scotia.”

As a Nova Scotian, I disagree.

The corporate and small-business tax-rate cuts mean the province will lose $63 million in tax revenue each year. Also, this budget will run a $55-million surplus.

Put together, there’s more than $100 million that could have — and should have — been invested in desperately needed services like health care.

Let’s look at the province’s long-term-care system that has been in crisis mode for years, to the point that residents and their families, long-term-care workers and their unions (including Unifor), advocacy groups, and even facility owners have hounded McNeil and his various health ministers for solutions.

In 2018, finally, McNeil made a move toward addressing the chorus of warnings about painfully overworked staff and underfunded facilities by commissioning an Expert Advisory Panel on Long Term Care. The panel had 12 weeks to conduct stakeholder interviews and determine actions the government should take to resolve the most urgent issues. The tone of the recommendations from the expert panel made it very clear that lives are at stake, families are deeply worried, and workers are burned out.

Since early 2019, when the recommendations from the expert panel became public, Unifor members report minimal action on the government’s part and little effect from any actions undertaken.

This budget includes a $5.3-million funding increase for long-term care. This is an important investment, but the government is underfunding the situation yet again, as this represents less than a one per cent increase to current long-term-care funding.

To implement the findings of the expert panel, convert underutilized residential care facility beds, increase worker recruitment and retention, and support clients with increasingly complex and acute needs, it will take more than a one per cent bump.

If Premier McNeil is looking for a place to invest that $100 million, I urge him to look no further than our long-term- and acute-care systems across all of Nova Scotia, particularly in rural areas. The government can’t honestly promote that we have “extra money” until after it fulfils its responsibility to provide health-care services.

Another disappointment in this budget was the minor investment of $5 million over the next two years for a new Forestry Innovation Rebate Program. This falls far short of what the forestry sector needs to stabilize and rebuild following the closure of industry linchpin Northern Pulp.

Every budget comes with its costs, but what does this budget cost Nova Scotians?

In my opinion, the cost is far too great.

Linda MacNeil, Atlantic regional director, Unifor

March 5, 2020

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