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 NDP leader Claudia Chender is on an Affordability Tour, traveling the province to hear from Nova Scotians who are finding it hard to make ends meet.


Photo: The Third

She was at the Polish Hall in Whitney Pier on Tuesday night (Feb 20) outlining the party’s ideas and hearing from both party and non-party members.


A recurring theme of the evening was blaming the Houston government of making it harder for Cape Breton families to make ends meet.


For example, the party claims that in the last two years life has become more unaffordable on the island.

·        Cape Breton's child poverty rate is 27.6 percent, well above the provincial average of 20.5 percent. 

·        The cost of groceries increased over 6 percent last year, and 13 percent the year before.

·        Nine of the top 10 communities with high rates of energy poverty are in Cape Breton.

·        Power rates have increased 14 percent in two years.


“In Cape Breton, more people are struggling with the cost of keeping the lights on and heating their homes,” remarked the NDP leader on Tuesday night.


Chender says the government has the money to help struggling people in the province, including those in Cape Breton, but won’t do what’s needed.


She points to the government’s December budget update that shows that the Houston government collected $160 million more in HST revenue than during the last fiscal year, that revenue is almost $500 million more than projected, and that the province collected $229 million more in income tax revenue than expected as evidence it has the money to spend.


“The Houston government will table a budget in a little over a week. It should return the Heating Assistance Rebate Program (HARP) to the level it was last year, and set it to be indexed going forward,” said Chender. “The Houston government has had massive increases in revenues, yet they aren’t helping more people get by with the money they have.” 


In addition to changes to the HARP, the province’s NDP want to help Nova Scotians by reining in Nova Scotia Power to help you heat your home, getting rid of unnecessary vehicle inspections and licence fees, and providing free meals to kids at school via a universal lunch program.


Local Issues raised at gathering


About 35 people showed up to hear what the NDP leader had to say and about 10 of those took to the microphone to ask questions, make points, and share ideas for the future.


Unlike Chender’s tight theme of blaming Houston because nothing is affordable, the crowd had diverse interests but ones that were mostly grounded in growing the economy or growing people.


Everything from farming, changing weather, the Workers’ Compensation Board, the railway, teacher shortage, and NSP’s monopoly were discussed during the two-and-a-half-hour meeting.


But the most interesting questions came from the youngest members of the audience (excluding NDP MLA Kendra Coombes’ two children).


Fifteen-year-old Quinn Losier attends Glace Bay High and although he is grateful that the school has a lunch program, he is upset about the rising cost of food at the cafeteria. He told the crowd that a small fries and a chocolate milk is about $8. He thinks this is an unreasonable fee for a small snack that doesn’t even fill you.

He wants to see his school’s lunch program funded; something Chender and the NDP have calling on the government to announce.


Losier also wants to see cities designed for people, not cars. He calls himself an urbanist and says the future needs a reliable transportation system that doesn’t look like the one we have today.


Kail Dutt is only 12, but his babysitting experience has taught him the value of a living wage. He gets minimum wage when sitting, but he knows that there is a difference between minimum wage and a living wage.


“We should all get a living wage otherwise we don’t have what we need,” he explained to Chender.


Another issue Chender addressed during the night.


“There is a serious issue with affordability on the Island,” said Chender. “I’ve heard so many stories across Cape Breton of families feeling abandoned by the Houston government as life becomes less affordable. There are things we could do right now to make sure they get the break they deserve.

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