Nova Scotians rate Tim Houston one year after his big election win | Opinion | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST
Tim Houston a year ago, casting a vote for his future—and Nova Scotia's—in the Pictou East riding.

Nova Scotians rate Tim Houston one year after his big election win

"The premier has had both pluses and minuses. I'd rate him at about 52.5%."

The election that brought Tim Houston to power as premier of Nova Scotia was a year ago—August 17, 2021. To mark the occasion, we asked readers of The Coast Daily email newsletter to share their thoughts on Houston’s performance. And readers obliged, sending in dozens and dozens of emails. Three main themes emerged from this sample of public opinion: People like Houston; people don’t like Houston; and fixing the health system, as Houston and his colleagues in the Progressive Conservative Party promised, has definitely not happened yet.

We're going to quote from reader responses on these themes below. These quotes have been lightly edited for spelling, clarity and length. We promised the authors anonymity in order to encourage candor. Although there are too many responses to cite every one, we thank all the readers who wrote in, and our aim with the selected quotes is to accurately reflect the tone of the group.

As it happens, Tim Houston issued a statement on the anniversary that deals with some of our readers’ concerns, so we are also publishing that in its entirety below. But first, public opinions about why Tim Houston is a bad premier, what makes him a good premier and how the province’s health-care system is still broken.

Things I hate about Hou

"I would give him an A+ for being a good liar. He has lied about the following things: 1. That he would improve the health-care system. 2. That he would work to maintain or even increase environmental protection of NS. 3. Saying he did not see an issue with hiring his buddies to head task forces around housing. Houston has shown that his agenda is to do whatever he wants to do without regard for the impact on Nova Scotia and Nova Scotians. I would therefore give him an F- as a premier."

“Plenty of thoughts on Tim Houston’s government, particularly his lifting of all COVID restrictions. Such a failure of duty to protect the public—and such a burden for an already struggling health-care system, where the effects really come home to roost. A year ago in June, I literally could not move to the province, despite having signed a lease and having a job here, because the government had closed the borders. Now, there’s as many (or more) cases than ever, more people dying and more transmissible variants—and not a restriction to be found. Madness.”

“He should resign. I emailed him twice and didn't get any response.”

“My feelings about Tim Houston and his party were mixed, but as time has passed, the cautious optimism I felt at the start of his reign has changed to sadness and angry resignation about how things never change. I was pleasantly surprised by how he seemed to take COVID seriously at the start, but it became clear that the desire to open up businesses and return to life as usual won out and they threw us all out on our own to navigate our survival with inadequate information and resources, totally ignoring the warnings of solid science on the consequences of following that course. They have been eating away at public oversight, involvement and accountability in the decision-making process that affect our lives directly, such as health care, land use planning, resource stewardship and economic development. The biggest disappointment for me has been watching them go from protecting Owl's Head (for now) to the imminent destruction of far more of our essential natural resources with the short-sighted approvals for housing developments in inappropriate and unsustainable places, ignoring the environmental impacts of open pit mining for a mineral that we have no need to extract from the earth, and re-opening the possibility of an LNG plant that is a backwards step in moving us towards a safe, healthy, sustainable and just energy future. Overall, Tim Houston and his party seem to be sacrificing the public good to support private greed and sending us down the path of an earlier destruction.”

“I usually don’t respond publicly to requests for opinions on political leaders, and I don’t belong to any political party, as I cherish the thought that whoever is elected will do what they say pre-election, with future positive actions—not pompous words which escape into the wild blue yonder once the election is over. However, I feel compelled to provide my two cents' worth, as I never imagined how dreadfully the lives of Nova Scotians would be impacted by the appalling ‘leadership’ of the current premier. On health care, education, the environment, community services and property concerns, including affordable housing for all Nova Scotians, Houston fails. And this snapshot is not all-inclusive, by any means, but it does reflect my major disappointment and displeasure.”

“Measuring Houston against his predecessors, particularly the recent ones like Stephen McNeil and Darrell Dexter, may not be a calibration that is useful during pandemics (including anti-Black racism), ecocide and ongoing exploitation of the natural wonders this stolen land bestows on us. Who are his 'guides' and who has he abandoned? Pat Dunn, a white man as minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs, is an outrageous decision in the ongoing crises of anti-Black racism in a post George Floyd world. That is enough for a failing grade.”

“I don't personally vote Conservative, but I've been even more unimpressed by Houston than I've been by other Conservatives. Not only is he more or less ignoring the health of his people—treating COVID like a joke at worst and entirely ignoring it at best—but he is ignoring our financial well-being, through low minimum wages, skyrocketing cost of living, an unsustainable housing market and increasing homelessness (and poor treatment of those who are without a home) as a result of the aforementioned issues. He's doing a great job of driving young Nova Scotians away, though, if that's his goal. The way Houston is running this province has me and my husband questioning if we want to stay here—we certainly can't afford to buy a place to live!

“Appalling handling of houselessness
In deep with mining execs
In deep with pulp companies
In deeper than former so-called leaders—more like ground feeders!
Took over COVID decisions knowing nothing
Hypocrisy in creating Dr. Strang award
High cringe factor
Smarmy scamster
All about pleasing the big boys and giving friends positions of power
And with all that likely sleeps well at night”

Tim for the win

"I’m not inclined to vote Conservative but have been impressed by this man. He seems to have somehow missed Political Speak 101, and instead speaks directly and honestly. A rare virtue. His biggest hit? For me, backtracking on the stupid property tax on non-residents. Very few politicians have stood up and said ‘We were wrong.’ Good on him for that!"

“Premier Houston’s accounting heart must have nearly stroked when he accessed the province’s ‘books’ on the heels of Liberal premier Stephen McNeil. Fortunately for Nova Scotians, Tim Houston has the integrity and intelligence to deal with the many issues he inherited. Save for the blip on overtaxing out-of-province property owners, which was retracted, we are very pleased with premier Houston’s efforts to date, especially in the area of health care with its many facets—he seems to be dismantling and putting the pieces together in a logical, efficient and cost effective, sustainable manner going forward to meet the known and forecasted needs of Nova Scotians.”

“For now I trust his demeanour. Houston seems to genuinely care for the province, and is able to say no to the Big Bucks Developers (cancelling the sale of Owls Head Provincial Park was a good move in that direction). I just hope he realizes that growing the population seems good until you get into it too quickly and without enough planning and consideration for what we value here. Things are somewhat ripe to ‘go to hell in a hand basket’ if there isn’t due diligence along with bold action.”

“I think he's doing alright. He is trying to boost health care, but like everyone else he's fighting a losing battle here and fixing some other things. He is no better than McNeil and no worse. Despite the moans and groans of the entitled keyboard warriors who want it all and want it now, the new premier is doing his best.”

“Big improvement over the latest Liberals. Mixed assessment in comparing him to Darrell Dexter. (I’m a lifelong NDP supporter, but Dexter’s outfit disappointed me.) The early months of Houston impressed me, especially the whiffs of progressive orientations and signs of flexibility in revising decisions. I became thoroughly disillusioned by the collapse of COVID precautions. Approaching age 75, I feel betrayed, left to flounder as one of the DISPENSIBLES.”

“Tim Houston and his Progressive Conservative Party are doing okay. Nothing fancy but no disasters. His big miss is refusing to address our natural gas. We should be harvesting the gas in Colchester and Cumberland Counties and using it to replace coal in four power plants. We would help save the environment while growing the economy. Replacing coal with natural gas would reduce our CO2 emissions by more than if we took every car and light truck off the roads of NS. We could also support the LNG facility in Goldboro and export LNG to Europe.”

“I am a lifelong Liberal. I feel a disclosure is in order. I was not particularly pleased with said previous governments. Having put that forth as benchmark, I will give premier Tim a ranking of four out of five! I am impressed with his passion, and his ability to say ‘I messed up’ and will now do it right. Actually he might be more liberal than the previous Liberal administration. He definitely deserves a passing grade.”

“Big improvement over the Liberals, and Liberals trying to say health-care issues are Houston’s fault is laughable. Zach Churchill didn’t even care about health problems when he was health minister.”

“I’m pleasantly surprised by the PCs this year, but the bar set by the Libs was practically on the ground. Keeping the rent cap was really important to me, and turning Owls Head into a park was a good move. But they’ve missed on health care, housing and education. We’re spending lots on health care but mental health supports are still abysmal. The median earner in NS can only afford a tiny fraction of homes on the market here. Our teachers are burning out and students are being stuffed into 30-student classrooms. Overall some little wins, but the PCs will have to take much more radical action to live up to their hype.”

About that promise to fix health care…

“I do have thoughts on the health-care system after one year with this government in power. I worked with the province under two of the three parties and recall back in the early 2000s when the federal government advanced millions of dollars for long-term care beds and mental health. A year later they discovered the hospitals had used most of this money to offset their budget deficits. Fast track to today and we are in the same boat. No amount of money is going to address the fundamental flaws of Nova Scotia's health care. We are simply too small to bring about the changes needed.”

“I am a recently retired registered nurse, and I wish I could say I am shocked by the lack of results from premier Houston with regard to the health-care system. His election rhetoric clearly demonstrated that he didn’t know what he didn’t know about health care, and his arrogant assertions that he could fix it all were disrespectful to all those who have worked hard to maintain and improve health care for many years before he arrived on the scene. Dexter, MacNeil and Rankin were not perfect, but each of them made significantly more positive impacts during their time in office. I am absolutely appalled by Houston’s approach to the pandemic and I really can’t say that he has done anything worth celebrating to date.”

“Tim Houston seems like a logical and reasonable guy. However, he floated to power on the magic carpet of a dramatic fix of Nova Scotia's health care issues. Desperate for better disease care, Nova Scotians blew a unified kiss to that carpet and voila! Tim Houston was anointed with premier power. One year later, even more Nova Scotians do not have physicians, and nurses and paramedics are burning out. Small stories are emerging about the fast-tracking of foreign trained medical professionals, but is this a mirage? Will the new training system substantially improve health care, and will the newly qualified foreigners remain here? After all, very few medical residents who complete their training at Dalhousie University to become family medicine doctors actually remain here.“

“Just a couple of thoughts on premier Houston's first year in the role. It’s certainly not all been bad and there are no quick fixes, so I'll give him a bit of a break there. He talked a good talk, and as a health-care worker I was initially very impressed and hopeful. I've never voted PC in my life (and didn't this time), but I didn't regret his successful bid to be premier. The fact that he actually visited health-care facilities to hear what people had to say was mind-boggling. Now... I'm not quite as hopeful. Or maybe I should say, just more realistic. I feel that he has pandered to the pressures from the business community and ignored the impacts that COVID continues to have on our communities, especially our vulnerable population. I suspect financially we couldn't maintain the same level of caution and ‘learning to live with it’ is a nice way to say ‘if we keep this up, the province will go broke.’ I am not impressed with the lack of information and reduced frequency of COVID updates from the province. Just because we don't talk about it, doesn't mean it isn't still happening.”

“The health-care system remains a mess. There's a lack of staff—not just with physicians and nurses, but other staff such as environmental services. Hospitals are constantly full. Emergency Health Services delays still exist. There are significant waits for EHS, for consults with specialists, for home care, for nursing home beds, for surgeries and on and on. Everyone in the system is trying to keep the wheels turning on the bus, but the wheels are coming off 'er. I suggest Tim Houston step up the pace a bit.”

“I voted for the guy based on the promise of improving health-care services. I am 68 years of age, active and in relatively very good health. I have worked hard my entire life and have never been a drain on unemployment and other such government programs. Now that I am retired, my basic presumption—similar to the intended health-care values of the Canadian medical system’s father, Tommy Douglas—is that in my aging years, my wife and I should have a doctor. We do not. Ours retired. I realize there are no easy fixes, but a re-think in how we provide medical and other health care services seems in order. Perhaps a system of tiered access to doctors based upon age and need. Not convinced that a healthy 25-year-old should have a doctor and elderly pensioners should be left alone without a doctor.”

“Despite an increase in pay for Continuing Care Assistants—CCAs—which seemed promising, our emergency rooms are at an all-time crisis level. Staffing shortages are rampant, especially in nursing. Nothing has changed in recruiting new family doctors (in fact it's worsening), and nothing has changed with the problematic funding model that pays them. Home supports for seniors only address the tip of the iceberg and are still adversely affected by staffing issues. We are still reacting to health problems instead of proactively promoting wellness by addressing the underlying social determinants of health. Private clinics are springing up to fill the void—a dangerous precedent of things to come. Intake for community mental health is same-day, but appointments for actual treatment are still taking months, if not years. The private system is no better. You can easily wait 9 months to see a child psychologist. At the pace children develop, that's negligent.”

“Houston made a promise he cannot keep. The medical situation cannot be solved by an expanded budget. We the peoples of Nova Scotia need to take on living out a healthier lifestyle. Quit smoking. Walk more. Quit junk food. Make healthier food more affordable. Get a good night’s sleep. Tim Houston cannot implement the above."

Houston's full anniversary message

Today marks one year since voters in Nova Scotia elected a new government. Let me begin by saying it is the honour of a lifetime to serve as Premier of Nova Scotia.

Although it has only been one year, the government hit the ground running.

In August of 2021, we made a commitment to deliver solutions for the province, and since then, we have delivered over 80 real solutions.

Our number one priority is healthcare. That's why our government started by talking to the experts—our healthcare workers—and designing a plan to improve the system. Our Action for Health plan is already being implemented. The changes needed to improve our healthcare system are very significant and they will take time, but we will start seeing results more quickly in the months and years to come.

Our doctor recruitment efforts led to a record number of doctors coming to Nova Scotia over the past year. We increased wages for continuing care assistants to attract more employees into the system. Our government made it clear we want medical professionals who graduate here to stay here, which is why we've offered jobs to every nurse graduating in Nova Scotia while adding 200 nursing seats for students across the province.

We've listened to paramedics and created new temporary licences so graduating paramedics can start working in their field sooner, instead of waiting for the licensing exam. We've hired 180 transport operators for routine transportation needs, freeing up paramedics for emergencies. And there is so much more to come.

We know the rising cost of living is putting pressure on Nova Scotians, as inflation impacts those across Canada and around the world. We continue to look for opportunities to responsibly and sustainably help Nova Scotians, like the Seniors Care Grant, which provides support for seniors across the province. The grant was recently expanded to include more services and additional funding to help seniors heat their homes this winter.

And we're expanding child care across the province, including in many areas that have never had access to it before. Child-care fees have already been reduced by 25 per cent and by the end of March 2026, an average of $10-a-day daycare will be accessible and available to families that need it.

We're investing in a growing economy. This year, Nova Scotia passed a major milestone by reaching one million people. More and more, the world is realizing Nova Scotia's potential, and the result is record immigration and population growth. We worked with the federal government to expand our immigration targets and include occupations that will help our businesses address labour shortages.

To prepare for this growth, we are moving as fast as possible to build affordable and attainable housing across the province. We need skilled trades workers to do this, so we are also investing in our young people who are under the age of 30 working in a trade. The More Opportunity for Skilled Trades (MOST) program will return their provincial income tax paid on the first $50,000 of income earned.

We're supporting our film industry with a soundstage that will help the industry grow sustainably and generate economic activity year-round.

We also launched the prototyping phase for Nova Scotia Loyal, which will be a buy local program like no other and aims to increase demand for local products. Our products are the best in the world, and Nova Scotia Loyal will help showcase them to Nova Scotia and the world.

As I reflect on the past year, I am forever humbled that Nova Scotians put their trust in me and our government. I've said it before, but it's worth repeating—this is one of the best places to raise a family, work, thrive and enjoy.

We are more energized than ever before to keep going. There's a lot more to do, and we look forward to delivering for you.

Kyle Shaw

Kyle is the editor of The Coast. He was a founding member of the newspaper in 1993 and was the paper’s first publisher. Kyle occasionally teaches creative nonfiction writing (think magazine-style #longreads) and copy editing at the University of King’s College School of Journalism.
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