NEW WATERFORD, N.S. — Three-year-old Lauren Strang didn’t know it, but the passion expressed at a town hall meeting about the future of local health care was all about her.
The Lingan girl was probably the youngest of the 150 people, most of whom were seniors, crowded into the New Waterford legion on Sunday to take part in a New Democrat Party-organized gathering held to discuss public concerns about the direction of health care in the province.
Strang’s mother, Linda MacCormick, acknowledged public opposition to the Nova Scotia government’s plans to eventually close the New Waterford Consolidated and Northside General hospitals and replace them with collaborative-care centres. She said she’s worried about health-care services both now and in the future.
“I’m tired of the government going ahead with things and not listening to us — if we don’t do something, we’re going to lose what we have in our communities,” said MacCormick.
Sunday’s town hall meeting was hosted by Cape Breton Centre New Democrat MLA Tammy Martin, who immediately took to the attack as she criticized Stephen McNeil’s Liberal government and its plans for the health-care system.
“Health care for a lot of people ends at the causeway and that is not right —we’re losing New Waterford and Northside general hospitals without any consultation,” she said, reminding those gathered that both she and Northside-Westmount Conservative MLA Eddie Orrell were both recently tossed from the Nova Scotia legislature for pressing and heckling Health Minister Randy Delorey on the issue.
Martin was joined by provincial NDP leader Gary Burrill, who focused his attack on the government’s plan of centralization,
“We now see the centralizing of hospital-based health-care services out of the Northside General, out of New Waterford Consolidated and into Glace Bay and Sydney,” noted Burrill.
“In a general way, this overall idea that things work better, operate more smoothly and have better outcomes if you run them out of bigger places is exactly the wrong idea for us to be pursuing in Nova Scotia.”
North Sydney pain specialist Dr. Harry Pollett said the province’s health-care system is a mess and agreed with the other speakers who suggested the government is out of touch with Cape Breton.
“People in Halifax really don’t understand what’s going on here, they really don’t understand what all the fuss is about in Cape Breton,” said Pollett.
“I just can’t see why, when we have perfectly good buildings that were built and paid for by the local people, that they want to tear them down and replace them with some vague promise in the future — apart from insulting, it just doesn’t make any sense because it’s going to cost money and it’s going to make health care worse.”
Pollett’s comments drew applause as did local CBRM councillor Kendra Coombe’s attack on Premier McNeil for referring to Cape Breton opposition to the health care changes as “noise.” Sydney Mines councillor Clarence Prince also spoke, while North Sydney councillor Earlene MacMullin was absent for personal reasons.
But it was Northside community activist Gordie MacDonald who brought the crowd to its feet when he spoke of plans in the works to organize a walk across the Canso Causeway to protest the government’s health-care decisions.
“We plan to hire buses and take people to the causeway with the message if Health Minister Delorey doesn’t want to come to Cape Breton, where he’s been invited to two rallies now, then Cape Breton will go to him,” said MacDonald, who added that tentative plans call for the buses to pick the marchers up on the other side of the Causeway and drive to Delorey’s office in Antigonish.
“And we’re not so far removed from taking over his office for the day.”
A date for the march and sit-in has yet to be decided. MacDonald said the travel date will be announced when a fundraising (to charter the buses) campaign is completed. The group organizing the trip is called Capers4HealthCare and can be found on Facebook.
While Delorey’s absence was noted by organizers, so too was that of local cabinet ministers Geoff MacLellan and Derek Mombourquette. CBRM mayor and PC leadership candidate Cecil Clarke was in attendance as were Cape Breton Tory MLAs Alfie MacLeod, Orrell and Keith Bain.