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Speech from the throne in Nova Scotia: What’s in and what’s next?

Speech from the throne in Nova Scotia: What’s in and what’s next?

On October 12, the Nova Scotia Legislature sat face-to-face—well, mask-to-mask in the new 55-member House of Assembly for the first time since March 2020.

It was a historic day, with more seats, new ministers, and a first speech from the throne for this Progressive Conservative government.

For those unversed in political speak, let’s peel away the pomp and circumstance and speak plainly: what is a throne speech?

First, it’s a presentation of the government’s goals and priorities and how it plans to accomplish them. A throne speech is used in Houses of Assembly and Parliaments throughout the Commonwealth to mark the beginning of the session. From there, government will pass laws, build budgets, and defend their record.

As expected, health held a place of prominence throughout the speech, further demonstrating the new government’s determination to stay true to their election promise to improve the healthcare system.

Since this is a new government with an election platform and ministerial mandate letters still hot off the presses, there was a good sense of the direction the Progressive Conservative government under Premier Tim Houston was going to take.

So, what made the cut for this throne speech?

What’s in?

Health

In a speech that was 9 pages long, taking approximately 36 minutes to read, the word “health” was uttered no less than 58 times, an unsurprising amount for a government elected on their commitment to improve healthcare. They acknowledged the challenge ahead and made clear their government’s dedication to addressing strains on the system by prioritizing improving working conditions for health professionals, removing barriers to access, and streamlining a health system fraught with lengthy wait times and waiting lists.

Specific mentions included:

  • Giving health providers a voice and showing them respect;
  • Incentivizing health professionals to practice in rural communities;
  • Listening to local communities and allowing them to have a say in recruitment;
  • Helping foreign-trained doctors obtain accreditation;
  • Expanding access to care through telehealth;
  • Developing a pension plan for doctors;
  • Changing the patient transfer system to free up ambulances;
  • Extending the hours during which surgeries are conducted until the current waitlist has lessened;
  • Creating the Office of Health Care Professionals Recruitment to allow for a more focused effort on the recruitment of healthcare providers;
  • Making the Continuing Care profession more attractive by offering on-site childcare.

COVID-19

The speech noted the ongoing challenges associated with COVID-19, with special acknowledgement of former Premier Stephen McNeil, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang and his team at Public Health for their hard work and commitment to the safety of Nova Scotians.

The speech also recognized the efforts of Nova Scotians to follow Public Health advice and to get vaccinated, remarking that our province was on the world stage for its positive pandemic response. There was also a clear call to action for remaining unvaccinated Nova Scotians to get their two shots.

Mental health

The speech recognized the rising number of Nova Scotians with mental health challenges, underling that access to services is a right, not a privilege. This piece of the speech is pulled directly from the PC’s “Universal Mental Health” plan, though it did not explicitly commit to opening mental health services to Nova Scotians without private health insurance.

Specific mentions included:

  • Building the most progressive mental health supports in Canada;
  • Separating the Minister for Mental Health and Addictions, which has already been achieved with a minister presiding over the Office of Mental Health and Addictions);
  • Working to reduce wait times and attract mental health professionals;
  • Reducing the stigma for those needing help;
  • Developing a model that every province will strive to achieve.

Seniors

The speech highlighted the need to give aging Nova Scotians the confidence that they will age with dignity. This is another piece of the PC platform “Dignity for Seniors” which commits to investing in more beds, hiring more staff, and increasing minimum standards of care in long-term care facilities.

Specific mentions included:

  • Building new single long-term care rooms;
  • Increasing minimum standards of care for long-term care facilities;
  • Providing additional support for household services for seniors who wish to remain at home.

Economy

The speech noted that our province has enviable qualities that we need to leverage, by using made-in Nova Scotia solutions and boosting the confidence to invest in Nova Scotians.

Specific mentions included:

  • Putting more money in employees’ pockets, a reference to the Better Pay Cheque Guarantee that will allow employers to hold back corporate tax if they use it to pay their employees;
  • Retaining young people in skilled trades through a “no tax on the first $50K” initiative.

Environment

The speech suggested that it was the previous PC government that enacted the last aggressive plan to tackle climate change and that the same environmental leadership is needed to move forward.

Specific mentions included:

  • Reaching a rate of 80 per cent of energy supplied by renewables by 2030.

Accountability

Government should be accountable to the people and should welcome all opportunities for questions and scrutiny. It is a key commitment of this government to increase transparency and accountability.

Specific mentions included:

  • Returning the public accounts committee to its original meeting times and formatting;
  • Bringing in legislation to enact fixed elections dates;
  • Strengthening the freedom of information law.

What’s next?

We know the government will be moving fast to introduce legislation in the coming weeks. It is likely that legislation on government accountability and the anticipated environment and climate change legislation will be introduced in the coming weeks.

There’s also the matter of what was missing from the speech. Immediate response from Opposition and critics noted the absence of affordable housing in the speech. The speech also omitted any mention of equity and reconciliation, topics that are undoubtedly top of mind for Nova Scotians and their elected officials. Premier Houston and the PCs will also need to show gains in these areas before Opposition and voters take notice and come calling.

Come what may, in the next weeks of provincial government and politics, the NATIONAL Public Affairs team is watching and analyzing the developments on Nova Scotia’s political stage to better guide our clients towards their goals.