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Nova Scotia Premier Rankin praises province's actions during pandemic

Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin makes a state of the province address to the Halifax Chamber of Commerce at the convention centre Wednesday.
Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin makes a state-of-the-province address to the Halifax Chamber of Commerce at the Halifax convention centre Wednesday. - ERIC WYNNE/CHRONICLE HERALD

Before Premier Iain Rankin had the opportunity to present his rosy provincial outlook Wednesday, the Liberal government had already been taken to task for its record.

“We ask the government to provide Nova Scotians with a concrete set of actions for the economic recovery that includes support for businesses, reimagining policy, community-based support and a plan for economic growth,” Gavin MacDonald, chairman of the board of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday as the host chamber kicked off the annual state-of-the-province address from the sitting premier. 

“We are now a year into the pandemic and we still don’t test at the airport,” MacDonald said. “This confuses our members since most of our cases in Nova Scotia are related to travel or close contact with people who travel.”

MacDonald described the province's tourism sector as a $2.5-billion industry that has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic and an industry that is crucial to the province's well-being. 

"Government should provide support for the tourism and hospitality operators for the next year to help them recover," MacDonald said, suggesting Tourism Nova Scotia’s budget should be increased by $10 million for media and advertising campaigns as the tourism season beckons.

Rankin conceded that the past 12 months “have been tough” for the province and that the economy took a significant hit, particularly the retail, restaurant and accommodation sectors.

The premier commended Nova Scotians for adhering to provincial health restrictions to help mitigate the effect of the pandemic and said by late June all Nova Scotians, a population that is tracking toward one million, will have had a chance to get their first dose of COVID vaccine.

Gavin MacDonald and Patrick Sullivan of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce talk about Premier Iain Rankin's state-of-the-province address at the Halifax convention centre Wednesday, April 7, 2021. - Francis Campbell
Gavin MacDonald and Patrick Sullivan of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce talk about Premier Iain Rankin's state-of-the-province address at the Halifax convention centre Wednesday, April 7, 2021. - Francis Campbell

Rankin touted “strong economic policy” that will lead the way back to a balanced budget in four years.

“We still have to manage through the crisis but we will not adopt policies that lead to large, structural deficits,” Rankin said in a nearly 17-minute speech delivered inside a spacious convention centre room with one of every three tables empty because of pandemic precaution.

“What this budget does contain are increases to modernized health care, increases to education to support inclusion and historic investments to help the most vulnerable in Nova Scotia,” Rankin said, adding that there were no tax or fee hikes in the budget introduced two weeks ago.

Rankin pointed to increased investments in income assistance rates, an aggressive capital plan, virtual health initiatives, an agriculture and wine strategy and digital technology.

The province spent $617 million in 2020 to fight the virus and the fight is still on, Rankin said.

Rankin said the province is running a half-billion-dollar deficit, “so we have to recognize that every dollar we’re spending is debt.”

The premier said the outlook for green GDP growth provides boundless opportunities for Nova Scotia businesses and residents to take advantage of trade jobs, turbines, and solar power infrastructure.

Rankin defended the province’s reluctance to test each incoming passenger for COVID at the airport, reiterating the advice of Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, that everyone in Nova Scotia can get testing if they want it.

“There is discussion right now about starting at the airport with employees and potentially looking at travellers,” Rankin said. “I will continue to be engaged in that discussion but we have to also recognize … that travellers coming in from other provinces have been tested once, maybe twice.

“It doesn’t provide immunity that you come off the plane to get tested to know that you don’t have COVID.”

Patrick Sullivan, president and chief executive officer of the Halifax chamber, said more money is needed for the tourism-hospitality sector, much of the relief already realized by that sector having come from the federal government.

“There is more that the province can do to support events, activities, to support restaurants in particular as we head into the bubble and ultimately in the fall as we open up to the rest of Canada,” Sullivan said. “I think there is more they can do to attract people and then to incentivize people to spend money in those locations.”
Sullivan reiterated that airport testing is important.

“The majority of the cases come from travel,” Sullivan said. “It’s like we sit every day wondering where the draft is coming in and we don’t try to close the window. The reality is we can test at the airport and we can then know if people have COVID-19 to a reasonable degree of certainty.”


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