LINDA MacNEIL • Guest Review
Linda MacNeil is Atlantic Regional Director at Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union
In 2014, then-Premier Stephen McNeil’s Speech from the Throne set the tone for what was to be his eight-year term as provincial leader – and the tone was decidedly aggressive, anti-working class and specifically anti-union.
The Liberal leader was no friend of public sector unions, dealt a fatal blow to the province’s film sector and eliminated the graduate retention rebate, making it harder for young workers to stay in Province.
Now, after two years of the pandemic and seeing the effects of cutting our public services and neglecting workers in great detail, it seems safe to say that Premier Tim Houston wants to set a very different tone for his young Progressive Conservative government.
With Tuesday’s provincial budget, I was pleased to see the government follow through on important promises, including desperately needed investments in health care.
One of the major highlights was the announcement of $66.3 million in wage increases for continuing care aides (CCAs) in long-term care and home care. The increase was announced earlier this year, but seeing the money in the budget gives added confidence that the increases are permanent and the government will follow through. Our union and many other organizations and advocates have grown hoarse after years of repeating the need to raise ACC salaries to address pressing recruiting and retention issues on the ground.
We hope this will mark a real turnaround in the way long-term care is treated in this province and that further investments and improvements will be made.
Another bright spot in the budget is the additional funding of $25 million to establish 4.1 hours of direct care for residents in long-term care facilities, which is a step in the right direction. This investment will significantly improve resident care and the quality of work of caregivers who will have more time to provide the quality care they are so capable of providing.
It is certainly a huge step in the right direction to see the Houston government recognize that the current hours of care in long-term care facilities were not enough.
It’s important to celebrate when you win. Thousands of people have spent years advocating for these improvements. It is wonderful to finally have a government in power that has listened and made changes.
At the same time, there are a number of items in this budget that are missing.
For example, the budget for the Department of Environment and Climate Change has been cut by 15%. In the budget documents, the environment is listed as one of the top priorities, but such a large reduction indicates otherwise.
Items the document highlights include federal money for infrastructure programs, money for electric charging stations and an expenditure to conduct energy audits on provincially owned buildings.
Each of these steps is important for the government to take, but together they encompass the bare minimum of what is required, not a full environmental plan.
Our forestry sector members are calling for clear and defined environmental standards in the industry. It remains to be seen whether this budget cut will hurt the department’s ability to provide the necessary frameworks for industry and maintain the confidence of Nova Scotians in moving towards a greener economy.
All in all, it’s a budget for history books. Efforts to improve the quality of jobs and care for Nova Scotians are long overdue and we will all benefit.
I will be watching closely to see how Premier Houston keeps his promises. Nova Scotians’ approval is his to lose.