"We are focused on fixing health care": PC Leader Tim Houston speaks to CTV anchor Steve Murphy about his party's platform
Nova Scotians choose a new government on Aug. 17. On Tuesday night, CTV Atlantic launched a series of interviews with the leaders of the three major parties. Tonight, anchor Steve Murphy spoke with PC leader Tim Houston. Here is an edited transcript of that interview.
This is Tim Houston’s first time running as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and he's running on a platform that promises to improve health care, provide universal mental health care and rebuild the economy, among other things.
SM: Every election comes down to being a referendum on change. Voters are given the chance to replace a government, hire or fire a premier. At this point, to be blunt, the Liberals are leading in all of the polls we’ve seen, so what is your case to the voters for getting rid of a government, which at this point anyway, many of them seem to like?
TH: This is an election about health care – health care, health care, health care – that’s what we’re hearing. It’s interesting that you mention the polls, because after the debate last night the Liberals immediately went out with two or three strong attack ads on me and that’s not really the sign of a campaign that feels like they are well in the lead. So we’re giving a message to Nova Scotians, I’m feeling it on the doorsteps every day, the message is resonating with Nova Scotians and I’m really happy with the way the campaign is going. So this will be probably, you’re right, a referendum, a referendum on health care and people know that there is big, big issues in healthcare, no question about that.
SM: You want it to be a referendum on health care, but it may be a referendum on the pandemic. Many Nova Scotians are giving the Liberals credit for their management of the pandemic and the numbers and so on. How much credit are you prepared to give an opponent party for the job they have done managing the pandemic?
TH: Nova Scotia did well in the pandemic for sure. We listened to public health, we did what we were asked and I give the government credit, I give Stephen McNeil credit for starting that ball rolling and listening to public health. But I have to tell you Steve… I’m not hearing that on the doorsteps. People are past COVID. They want to get past COVID and they want to know what’s next. Who can fix the health care system and who can rebuild the economy? Those are the discussions I’m having. I think that health care is the number one thing on the minds of Nova Scotians, 70,000 people don’t have a doctor, they are waiting for surgeries, they are waiting for long-term care beds, they want to know that there is hope on the way. Hope is on the way and it is in the form of the PC Party.
SM: Do you want to be past the pandemic? And, how do you feel about the pace in which the government is unwinding the restrictions?
TH: We’re following public health, we know the case numbers, the case numbers are down, but I think people are just, it’s been a long grind. It’s been hard mentally, it’s been hard financially and it’s time for people to start to look to what is next. I’m seeing that hopefulness in people and I feel it as well. There is a lot of opportunity for this province, we have incredible opportunities, we have our challenges, and what my message to Nova Scotians is, we have to be serious, we have to accept the challenges we have. We have to acknowledge the issues and we need to be honest about them. We’ve been very honest about what is possible, what’s necessary, and I’m excited about the future. That’s what I’m getting from Nova Scotians as well as we are travelling this province.
SM: One final question about the pandemic, if you were premier of Nova Scotia, would the state of emergency be over now?
TH: I’d follow public health, just like Stephen McNeil did, just like Iain did, I’d listen to public health and we’d go from there. I think that’s the job of the politicians to have the confidence to follow public health. That’s exactly what I would do and I’m sure Gary would do the same thing and that would be the prudent thing to do.
SM: I want to talk about your promises, your solutions, your campaign is promising $552.4 million for new spending in the document called Solutions For Nova Scotia, and I do want to talk about those, but I want to ask you this, what will be your solution to the problem of paying for all of this?
TH: I won’t be apologetic about being honest about the spending that’s required. We’re doing politics a little differently, a lot of times the government comes in and says “oh, we didn’t know it was that bad.” I’m telling Nova Scotians upfront, there’s big investments that are required in health care. Health care is a mess. So we have to make those investments, we can fix the health care system, but it is going to take time and it’s going to take money. Now we can’t rebuild the economy without having a healthy citizen base. We’ve put forth a very robust economic platform. In fact, two of the leading economists in the country have applauded the platform. They said that’s the type of innovative thinking that’s required. We’ll have to look out more than just one election cycle, I’m looking five, 10 years ahead and saying what will the economy look like.
SM: Mr. Houston, you are an accountant by training who is trying to make a virtue out of red ink. In recent years, your party has been preaching the need for moderate spending and a balance budget, you’re promising $550 million in new spending, a billion dollar deficit for as far as the eye can see, six years to balance the budget, that sounds to some people more like the NDP than the PCs as we know them. Why the change?
TH: It’s not a change. I am an accountant, I come from business, I take this stuff very seriously. You know what Steve, we have to be able to access health care in this province. You don’t have to go too far to find a really sad story about something, they are in the news every single day, what I want Nova Scotians to know is that they are worth it. It’s an obligation of government to provide health care and I am saying to them I will do it. We will rebuild the economy, we’ll get there, I’m focused on that. Economists are saying you have a great economic plan. I listen to those and I think Nova Scotians need to know, first and foremost, we are focused on fixing health care. They deserve to have access to health care, Nova Scotians are worth it. The problem is Steve, the bill is already on the table. This is a bill that’s there, I’m just saying to Nova Scotians I have the courage to pick it up and deal with it. Other politicians can look the other way. Look what happened at Northwood, politicians looked the other way and pretended the money wasn’t necessary. A tragic loss of life there. I won’t do that to the health care system in this province. We just have to be up front with Nova Scotians, money is required, an investment is required.
SM: At some point, the people pay for all of this, right? When do the people pay for it?
TH: We’ve been very honest, we’ve put out very detailed plans. We’ve laid it all out for people to look at. We’re going to run deficit Steve because we have to invest in people in this province. We have to invest in infrastructure. If we make the right investments, that means having the right government, those investments will pay off. We’re willing to invest in people and we know that we’re going to make the right investments and that they will pay off. I’m really excited about what’s possible. There are challenges, but the opportunities are tremendous for this province. We put the vision out there, we’ve been very clear, a fully costed platform of solutions for Nova Scotians. We understand the challenges and we’re going to get to work on them.
SM: You are promising to spend hundreds of millions more on health care, but I do have to point out that the health care budget in Nova Scotia has gone up by almost a billion dollars in the last three fiscal years, based on this current budget, if spending big money is the cure for what’s wrong with health care, why isn’t it fixed already?
TH: Spending is part of it, but it’s the whole culture. Look what happens in this province, we have a lot of health care professionals that are under a gag order… I spoke to a young anesthesiologist this weekend who said ‘I see lots of things we could do differently that don’t cost money.’ We have to change the culture and changing the culture means changing the government. That’s the choice that Nova Scotians have right now. If we get the right culture, coupled with the incredible quality of life we have in this province, people want to live here, doctors want to live here, nurses want to live here, so they need a government that respects them. They need a government that is willing to invest in health care, willing to invest in Nova Scotians. It’s not just money, there are lots of moving parts to this, but part of it is money and I want to be upfront with Nova Scotians. We are focused on fixing health care and it will cost money.
SM: Isn’t part of the respect equation telling people how you are going to pay for it and how much the people are going to pay for it?
TH: I think we have Steve, with all due respect. We’ve laid out a fully costed platform. We’ve put out economic plans that will raise the wage of working families of this province, we put out an economic plan that will really encourage buy local. These things are investments and when they start to get the economy going, then that’s how we pay for health care. We know Nova Scotians are struggling, we know working families are struggling, we want to raise their wages, but we have to jump start the economy. If we don’t jump start the economy of this province then we can’t pay for health care. All of this is in our platform.
SM: When you say it is costed though, you are paying for it with a deficient. Do I hear you saying that the budget balances itself ultimately?
TH: Absolutely now, absolutely not. What you hear me saying is that we put out an economic plan that will get people working, will raise the wages, will invest in Nova Scotians. Once we get that economy rolling, then you have more revenues to pay for things. Look, in year six, we’re going to be in a much better place, but it’s going to take time, it’s going to take money and I won’t apologize for saying to Nova Scotians that I am going to invest in fixing the health care system. Nova Scotians are worth it Steve, I’ll look them in the eye every single day and say they are worth it, we will make the investment and we are the only party that can rebuild the economy. That’s just not me saying that, leading economists in this country are saying “wow, that is an economic plan. That’s innovative, that’s bold.” We can’t do the same things we’ve been doing and expect a different result. We’re putting forward a plan for Nova Scotians, it’s resonating with them, I feel it on the doorsteps every single day.
SM: Can you promise every Nova Scotian a doctor? You criticised the Liberals for not delivering on that, can you promise that?
TH: The problem with the Liberals is that they made that promise eight years ago. They never had a plan to do it, they never intended to do it, they really didn’t even try to do it. I see politics a lot differently. I’m not a soundbite politician. What I’m saying tonight to Nova Scotians very clearly, is under a Tim Houston government you will be listened to, you will be respected, and you will have access to the health care you need when you need it. That is my commitment to Nova Scotians. I can’t speak for a promise that the Liberals made that they never intended to keep. I’m only in the business of saying what I can do, will do, and how it will impact Nova Scotians.