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Premier tells party at AGM fixing health care in N.S. an ‘urgent’ priority

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Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston addressed attendees at the Progressive Conservative AGM on Saturday, saying he feels urgency to get things done.

“Nova Scotians elected us to get things done… I hope you’re proud of the effort, because I hope you see that we’re rolling up our sleeves and we are going to work on the big issues.”

Much of his speech focused on the health-care crisis in the province, acknowledging there’s a lot of work to do.

“None of this happened overnight and it will not be fixed overnight. But, I want you to mark my words. I may have inherited a broken system, but I will do everything in my power to fix it.”

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This speech comes after a month of scrutiny following the recent deaths of two women in emergency rooms.

Allison Holthoff, 37, died after a seven-hour wait at the Cumberland Regional Health Centre emergency department in Amherst on Dec. 31, 2022. Just a day prior, 67-year-old Charlene Snow waited for seven hours at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital emergency department before giving up and going home, where she died shortly after.

In his State of the Province Address in Sydney last week, Houston said officials are committed to ensuring those stories aren’t repeated again.

In that speech, Houston also confirmed the province will be getting its second medical school, in partnership with Cape Breton University.

At Saturday’s AGM, held at the Halifax Marriot Harbourfront Hotel, Houston echoed the health-care system was not built for present population growth in the province.

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He also acknowledged that progress in fixing health-care needs to be faster and that the stakes are high.

“As for the cost, whatever it takes,” Houston said Saturday. “We have to invest in our health-care system. Healthy people drive healthy economies. We have to make those investments.”

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Houston is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the other premiers to discuss health-care funding on Tuesday.

‘Forced to accept’ N.S. Power rate increase: Houston

The premier did not mention the recent decision by the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board to allow Nova Scotia Power to raise its rated by 14 per cent over the next two years.

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Houston said last November that his government opposed the increase of 6.9 per cent in both 2023 and 2024, which had been agreed to by Nova Scotia Power and most customer representative groups.

However, NSUARB said Thursday it will stick with most parts of the agreement, meaning the average residential customer is going to see their next monthly power bill rise about $12, and there will be further rate hikes in January 2024.

In a media scrum after Saturday’s AGM, Houston said he was surprised the utility regulator thumbed their nose at Nova Scotians the way it did.

“We made our position very clear, we were pretty vocal on what we thought would be appropriate and fair,” Houston said.

“But, you know, they made a different decision. We respect their authority to make that decision and we’re forced to accept it.”

— With files from The Canadian Press.