Linda MacNeil, Unifor Atlantic Regional Director
Last week’s budget made some important, headline-making investments, but when you consider the details, these broad announcements still do not cover the gaps that Nova Scotia’s workers need filled.
The budget announced that funding for continuing care, including long-term care and home care would increase by 13% over the 2020 budget plan, topping the $1 billion mark for the first time.
This is good news, and I am pleased to see the government finally taking the crisis in long-term care seriously. But I also wonder if it is enough. The long-term care budget was cut substantially in 2015. This budget may restore the funding that was cut then, but it is not enough to fix the sector.
Even if this funding is enough to implement the 22 recommendations to improve quality in long term care homes from the governments own expert panel – and I’m not sure it will be - this funding won’t be enough to address the staffing shortages and low pay that became overwhelmingly evident during the pandemic.
It is imperative the government recognize its role in creating the conditions of care by improving the conditions of work for the thousands of people working in Nova Scotia’s long term care system.
Our members have been vocal. They need decent wages, higher staffing levels and the stability of full-time work.
Unifor members are watching this government’s actions on child care, and it’s troubling. This year’s budget cut child care funding by nearly $10 million. This may be justified as savings from the shift to the full implementation of the pre-primary program, but those savings should have been reallocated into developing a universal, affordable child care plan for Nova Scotia’s families.
One item in this budget that deserves some applause is the Office of Equity and Anti-Racism. For now, the office has a budget of $2 million dollars and will be staffed by 6 full-time public servants.
The commitment to a whole of government approach to anti-racism and equity is extremely important. Just as important is a commitment from Government to take action. Eliminating racism and increasing equity will not happen in an office of six people, it will happen when government implements anti-racism behaviours into the entire system. It is my hope the government will put the right staff in place and act on the recommendations provided. As a start, government must begin to collect race-based data on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Overall though, this budget disappoints. The government should be focusing on building back better after the pandemic. Our province needs to correct the inequities and crises that existed prior to the pandemic including income inequality, precarious work and climate change.
Before the pandemic Nova Scotia’s poverty rate was 12.1% - the second highest in the country. Thousands of workers were in precarious positions and a full-time minimum wage job left a worker earning barely above the poverty line. This is unacceptable.
Government should be focused on building the quality infrastructure Nova Scotians rely on to get to work, get to school and build a high quality of life. It should be focused on ensuring long-term care workers thrive, a high quality, universal child care system exists and universal pharmacare is implemented.
Nova Scotia’s workers deserve a $15 minimum wage and paid sick days. We all deserve a government that builds something better for everyone, to make our province an even better place to live.
Instead, the government is focused on returning the budget to balance in 4 years. This may give the illusion of prudence, but it is not.
The prudent choice would be to build a province that provides the programs and services Nova Scotia’s people need and create the type of jobs on which workers can afford a high quality of life.