N.B. vote: Liberals promise health spending, vow to keep rural hospitals open
FREDERICTON -- Health care was the dominant issue Friday as New Brunswick's political parties fought for the public's attention heading into the first weekend of the campaign for the Sept. 24 provincial election.
Premier Brian Gallant used the Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital in Fredericton as a backdrop to announce a big-ticket plank in his election platform.
Gallant said a re-elected Liberal government would spend $100 million per year for four years on equipment purchases and upgrades to hospitals.
"These investments in our hospital infrastructure will create good construction jobs, will help our health-care professionals provide the best care possible and will demonstrate to New Brunswickers that we understand how important their health-care system is to their quality of life," Gallant said, flanked by his Fredericton area candidates.
Gallant detailed a list of projects made possible by $336 million in spending by his government over the last four years.
"When a family member is sick or injured there's really nothing else that matters than making sure they get the health care they need and in a timely fashion," Gallant said.
Later, during a campaign stop in Grand Falls, Gallant said a re-elected Liberal government would prevent the closure of any hospitals in New Brunswick and would set up a dedicated fund of $50 million over 10 years to invest in modernizing the infrastructure and technology of the province's rural hospitals.
"As long as I'm your premier and we're your government, no rural hospital in New Brunswick will be closed," Gallant said.
Gallant has been repeating that no-closure pledge for the last two years.
He said his government would also add additional services to rural hospitals where there is under-used space to help reduce crowding and wait times elsewhere in the health system.
Meanwhile, Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs said there's more to health care than just investing in bricks and mortar.
"It's a change in focus from creating an economic development model -- which the government seems to think works through tax dollars and simply building more -- versus taking the money and putting it into people so that we can do more," he said.
Higgs said, if elected, his government would reshape aging care.
Speaking in Moncton, he said a Tory government would consult with seniors about how they want to live, and provide supports so they can remain in their own homes longer.
"We need to encourage a home-care model where people can come to homes and provide that service as opposed to when they don't need to be in a special care home or a nursing home," Higgs said.
Higgs says he would protect seniors' assets and pay home-care workers a fair wage but didn't offer specifics.
Gallant is quick to defend his record in seniors care, saying his government has a plan to add 1,000 nursing home and memory care beds, and make over $100 million in renovations to existing nursing homes over the next five years.
"We have secured an investment of $75 million over three years by the federal government to create an aging pilot program in our province designed to improve the quality of care for seniors in our province," Gallant said.
The other party leaders spent Friday campaigning in their ridings.
The People's Alliance officially launches its campaign Saturday, while the Green Party plans a platform release on Monday.