2017 a Year of Firsts for Nova Scotia

NOTE: The following is an op-ed piece from Premier Stephen McNeil.

This has been a year of impressive records and firsts in Nova Scotia.

We learned last week that our population has reached more than 957,000, an all-time high. Our tourism business is booming again, with numbers tracking toward another record year.

We finally reached gender parity on the provincial and family court bench. As well, the first Mi’kmaw woman was appointed to the bench.

The province’s first Accessibility Act was proclaimed, legislation that reflects a true commitment to an inclusive province.

Government was also very proud to implement the first phase of what will be a provincewide, pre-primary program for four-year-olds.

Early childhood education experts have called the program a game changer. We want to give our children the best chance for success. This program will ensure our children, regardless of socio-economic background, have a solid foundation when they enter the school system.

As we reflect on the past year, there are many more positives. More young people are coming to Nova Scotia than leaving. We have strong immigration numbers, robust exports (especially seafood), thriving local wine and beer industries, and a vibrant start-up ecosystem.

But we know there are also challenges that remain. Government is addressing them head on.

The top priority of Nova Scotians is timely access to primary health care. That makes it the top priority of government.

It is a challenge that is faced by citizens and governments across our country. In Nova Scotia, there is much work underway in the Department of Health and Wellness, the Nova Scotia Health Authority, and at the IWK Health Centre to improve access.

Since April, there have been more than 100 doctors – family doctors and specialists – recruited. The addition of 22 family practice nurses and nurse practitioners enhanced 14 family practices this year. But we know there is much more work to do.

We hope to expand our approach to doctor recruitment in the new year, building on the work of Nova Scotia immigration staff who, for the first time, joined Nova Scotia Health Authority staff at an international job fair for doctors in the United Kingdom.

We are working with the federal government to create an immigration stream for doctors. We are optimistic this will lead to more physicians coming to Nova Scotia and seeing patients here more quickly.

It’s one of many initiatives we’re looking forward to in 2018 as we build a stronger Nova Scotia.

In the new year the biggest tax cut in our province’s recent history will take effect as the basic personal exemption increases for half-a-million taxpayers. The increase means 60,000 people will no longer pay provincial income tax.

We will also build on our plan to address poverty. The Building Vibrant Communities Grant Program, announced earlier this month, is the first initiative of government’s poverty reduction blueprint. Over the next four years, government has committed $20 million to support efforts to reduce poverty in Nova Scotia.

There are also exciting opportunities and milestones ahead as we support innovation, work to attract and retain young people, and foster an environment for job creation.

The Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship in Dartmouth will open its doors to tenants, building on our world-class ocean research and technology capabilities. Volta Labs, the nationally recognized tech hub in Halifax, will move into its new space, three times the size of its current location.

New and improved workforce attachment programs will provide young people and disadvantaged groups with more opportunities. Apprentices will benefit from no longer having to pay tuition for their technical training. Nova Scotia has also supported its young apprentices by leading an effort recently to ensure their hours worked and training would be recognized across Canada.

There will also be support for businesses who want to grow their exports and those who want to start exporting. We are increasing the size of the Export Growth Program and creating the Export Accelerator Program so more of our world-class products can be sold abroad, which will lead to jobs being created here at home.

Pursuing trade and investment opportunities outside our province will continue to be an important part of the strategy for economic growth. At times, I will be directly involved since part of a premier’s role is promoting and selling his or her province, and I am always proud to tell investors about the many reasons they should look at this province.

I was pleased to meet with Michelin executives at the company’s headquarters in France this fall to reinforce Nova Scotia’s strengths and I heard first-hand their confidence in our province. Our work in China is showing results as exports continue to grow, and we are making progress in attracting a direct passenger flight between Halifax and China. I was encouraged to hear support for that initiative from China’s ambassador to Canada during his special visit to Nova Scotia, and it will be a key part of my agenda the next time I travel there.

There’s much more ahead. The Commission on Inclusive Education will provide its final report, and help guide an issue that went unaddressed for too long. An independent review of forestry practices will be completed, helping us find the balance between economic and environmental sustainability. In Sydney, we’ll see a plan take shape to move the Nova Scotia Community College’s Marconi campus downtown.

We are committed to inclusive economic growth, quality education, a healthy population, and safe and connected communities. Being on solid financial footing means we can invest in all of those areas. We have a second consecutive balanced budget, thanks to Nova Scotians working with us to get the province’s finances in order. We look forward to continuing to work with you so this province can reach its full potential.

May you have a safe and happy 2018.