Jamie Baillie and Gary Burrill didn’t hesitate to dig into Stephen McNeil during the first debate between the three main political party leaders.
“Mr. McNeil, I hate to interrupt this litany of wonders,” Burrill chimed in as McNeil listed off “strategic investments” such as a trade deal with Europe. “Do you acknowledge as a fact that food bank usage in Nova Scotia has risen faster in the last year than any other province in our country?”
CBC Nova Scotia hosted the debate earlier Thursday evening, putting the spotlight on topics such as healthcare, labour and education. Outcry from the public on the need for family doctors and recent labour disputes with the province coloured the conversation.
A question from the audience honed in on an issue the leaders had yet to discuss: Policy on legalization of recreational marijuana.
“We think we have a lot of the skills to conduct this regulation in the right way in the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission,” said Burrill. “We’ve got over a year until this needs to be worked out and there is ample opportunity for us to have a full consultation.”
Baillie’s first instinct was “protect our kids. Eighteen is way too low” an age to buy weed. He also took a jab at the federal government for “imposing” the legislation “in a very short timeline.”
“That is a shame, because this is a major change in the health and safety, particularly of young Nova Scotians.”
McNeil pointed out that the Justice minister and attorney general “has been working with her counterparts across the country” on the issue.
“One of the things that was missed when the national government made their commitment was, what happens to edibles?” he said. “That was never part of the conversation, which I believe will be a big part of this.”
Burrill and McNeil found common ground on environmental issues, who both agree Nova Scotia should continue its fracking ban. Baillie, on the other hand, opposes this.
“I do believe communities should have that choice.”
Baillie only threw shade at the NDP once or twice, appearing to be more concerned with McNeil. Likewise, Burrill focused his criticisms on the Liberal government.
As a result, McNeil spent the majority of the time defending himself.
Both the PC and NDP leaders were quick to bring up the Nova Scotians who’ve been unhappy with McNeil–namely teachers, who were forced back to work without reaching an agreement at the bargaining table during the strike last winter.
McNeil countered that collective agreements have “to be the capacity we can afford.”
“Previous government prior to me to gave a seven and-a-half percent pay raise, took $65 million out of classrooms,” he added. “I, in all good conscience, couldn’t do it.”
Asked by Burrill if he stands by his decision to lock students out of school in December, McNeil said yes.
“I reached out—our government reached out to Nova Scotia Teachers Union executives and said: ‘Can you guarantee the safety of those kids?’ They would not.”
The film tax credit was also a hot topic, during which McNeil was grilled about breaking his promise to extend the film tax credit. Baillie and Burrill have both pledged to revive the tax credit if elected.
Baillie referenced the film Maudie, which has recently become a go to example of the province’s film industry troubles. Although the story is set in Nova Scotia, the movie ended up being filmed in Newfoundland.
“I think people see if we want to get those jobs back, we are going to need to change the government to get them,” he said.