Since the 55th sitting of the legislature began Tuesday, premier Tim Houston’s government has set a fixed summer election date and the premier was tested in his first question period since forming government. Houston’s vision was laid out in a throne speech that focused on health, but said little about housing. And history was made with Nova Scotia’s first Black and non-binary deputy House Speakers taking the chair.
The PC government was hammered with questions on affordable housing during question period (QP). Former Liberal premier Iain Rankin used his first QP question in opposition to ask Houston what he’ll do to immediately address the housing crisis. The premier said a plan is coming. For NDP MLA Suzy Hansen’s first ever QP question, she asked housing minister John Lohr why the government’s platform failed to include new money for affordable housing.
“Zero dollars. Mr. Speaker, will the minister please explain how the government plans to address the single largest crisis since World War Two with no new investment in affordable housing?” Hansen asked, referring to a statement Lorh made following cabinet last week.
The minister clarified that he believes this is the biggest crisis in housing since the second world war, and promised that work will be done to address the situation, though he didn’t say when Nova Scotians can expect to see those efforts.
“We have a number of plans we’re working on, we’re not ready to… I look forward to announcing them in the coming days… it will be addressed,” Lohr said Wednesday.
The NDP proposed an emergency debate on housing on Oct 14, which was dismissed by House Speaker Keith Bain because the topic was set to be substantially debated anyways, Bain said. Six private members' bills that day addressed housing.
“The housing crisis is not just likely to be debated within a reasonable time, but rather it certainly to be debated later, including at the very time the emergency debate would have been held,” Bain said.
Health promises in the works
New health minister Michelle Thompson and the premier faced questioning on improving staffing levels in the provincial health care system. The PC’s platform promised 2,000 new health care worker hires. Houston, responding to a question from Rankin, said there was more work to be done on recruiting physicians than the Liberal government led the province to believe, but that new medical professionals will be hired as soon as possible.
Former health minister Zach Churchill asked Thompson when 24-hour operating rooms, another PC promise, will be up and running and how many hires need to be made. The minister said that’s still in the works, and it’s not yet clear how many staff are needed to make that happen.
Brian Comer, the minister responsible for the office of mental health and addictions, said that consultations with medical experts are being arranged by his department for the next few months to learn about what’s needed to establish universal mental health care. “Universal mental health is the focal point of my mandate,” Comer said.
Fixed summer election
Quickly following through on a campaign promise, Houston set the date for the next provincial election: July 15 2025. Houston said the summertime election date makes sense to the party, while both the NDP and Liberals say they oppose the timing because it could lead to lower voter turnout. Nova Scotia, home to 10 universities and a strong network of Nova Scotia Community College campuses, may be missing a large chunk of student voters when a vote is held in the summer. The PCs didn’t consult with either party before presenting this legislation.
Rankin, who called an August 20 election this year, said in a statement “there’s no question—a summertime election isn’t ideal. It never has been. And this bill… does very little, if anything, to address the ongoing issue of voter apathy.”
African Nova Scotian Affairs hires Dwayne Provo
Dwayne Provo, the two-time PC candidate in Preston and former pro-football player has been appointed associate deputy minister of the ANSA (African Nova Scotian Affairs) department. The premier has been criticized for appointing two white men to the top two roles in the African Nova Scotian Affairs office.
Provo, the Saskatchewan Roughriders player turned school administrator, said in an interview he’s looking forward to working with senior levels of government to ensure the concerns of African Nova Scotian communities are brought forward.
“I’ve been doing this sort of work for a couple of decades, working provincially and connecting with Nova Scotian communities. I want to make sure those voices are all brought to the table,” he said.
The department minister Pat Dunn renewed his promise to engage Black leaders and community members during question period this week. Former African Nova Scotian affairs minister and Liberal MLA Tony Ince asked current minister Pat Dunn why he said he’d consulted with his Black MLA colleagues when it wasn’t the case. Dunn told The Coast, in response to a question about seeking advice and guidance from his Black colleagues, that he’d spoken with Ince and MLA Angela Simmonds.
“Sometimes something is said in the media, something that’s written in the media, the words get contorted,” Dunn said during question period. The transcript from that portion of The Coast interview looks like this:
Question: I’m wondering if you’ve reached out to your MLA colleagues in the Liberal and NDP party who are Black, have you reached out to them for any support or advice?
“Yes. There’s no one from the Black community in our caucus. We did have three members as candidates and unfortunately they were unsuccessful. We were hoping all would be with us at the table. But as far as reaching out to the other Black candidates in the NDP and Liberal caucus, I have. I've talked to former minister Tony Ince, I had a short conversation with the Liberal MLA Simmonds from Preston,” minister Dunn said.