taking life-saving steps to ensure better health care sooner reducing maximum student debt by 36 per cent getting fairer drug prices for seniors making it easier for people to work their way out of social assistance paying down the provincial debt Nova Scotians in all regions are receiving better health care, assistance to make ends meet, and a boost to break out of poverty thanks to steps the government took during the spring session of the legislature, which wrapped up today, May 19. The premier said the top five achievements this session that make life better for Nova Scotia families are: Amended legislation to make the goal of 40 per cent renewable electricity by 2020 a firm legal requirement. It also ensures hydro-electricity from Lower Churchill is considered an eligible source of clean energy Passed legislation to make energy-saving LED lights mandatory on all Nova Scotia roads and highways Added 250 new child care subsidies, to help more families access affordable child care Launched a comprehensive autism action plan that provides greater access to enhanced programs and services Launched Welcome Home Nova Scotia, the province’s most ambitious and focused immigration plan Lowered the small business tax for the second year in a row, the first government to take this step Invested $100,000 in a new, private-sector-led task force that will seek business opportunities for Southwest Nova Scotia Enacted the new Public Procurement Act to ensure all public sector entities work together to get taxpayers the best value for goods and services Lowered the threshold under the Workplace Innovation and Productivity Skills Incentive, allowing more companies to buy advanced capital equipment Established a $24-million provincial fund to ensure clean technology companies have access to capital Enacted new powers for municipalities to deal with unsightly and dangerous premises Passed Nova Scotia’s first new Elections Act in generations For a complete list of bills passed this session, go online to http://nslegislature.ca/index.php/proceedings/status-of-bills/ . “These important steps show that government is keeping its commitments to provide better health care, make life more affordable and ensure the province lives within its means.” Government also committed to making changes to several programs and processes in light of recommendations made in Auditor General Jacques Lapointe’s spring report. “The recent Auditor General’s report showed just how much work is required to clean up problems we inherited and replace out-dated approaches that no longer serve Nova Scotians very well,” said Premier Dexter. “That is why the province is taking steps like replacing the Industrial Expansion Fund.” Many families face significant challenges trying to make ends meet. The province is investing $18 million to help address those challenges — the largest investment in Nova Scotia families and children in more than a decade. This investment will fund important initiatives, including increases to the Nova Scotia Child Benefit and the Income Assistance personal allowance, that help low-income families regain their independence and pay for family priorities. Income Assistance recipients will also be allowed to keep more of the money they earn each month with changes announced in the 2011-12 provincial budget. This is on top of improvements the province made to the Employment Support and Income Assistance program earlier this year. Government is continuing to follow the steps laid out in Better Care Sooner, the province’s plan to provide better health care for Nova Scotia families. That includes introducing more advanced 911 services and working to establish collaborative emergency centres that will provide more efficient care by matching the level of services to the needs of a particular community. In April, the province announced that Parrsboro would be the site of the first of at least four centres to open in the province this year. New legislation will ensure fair drug prices for Nova Scotians covered by Pharmacare. “This is a balanced plan that will get the best deal for patients and all taxpayers, while ensuring Nova Scotians still have access to pharmacies in their communities,” said Premier Dexter. Government also took steps to make post-secondary education more affordable for all students. In April, government introduced Nova Scotia’s first cap on student debt. It will lower the maximum student debt by 36 per cent. The province is also investing an historic $42.5 million to improve student assistance, a move that will reduce tuition by $1,283 for Nova Scotia students studying in the province and $261 for those studying outside the province. Premier Dexter announced early in the session that for the second year in a row, the province’s spending came in below what was estimated at the beginning of the year. These savings resulted in a $447 million surplus at the end of 2010-11, which government chose to use to reduce the province’s substantial debt. “Unlike previous governments who spent surpluses before closing the province’s books at year-end, we took the view that a penny saved is a penny saved,” Premier Dexter said. This is only the seventh time in the past 50 years that Nova Scotia has reduced its net debt. Today, the province’s net debt is just over $13 billion, almost $1 billion less than expected. The premier said this most recent legislative session is further proof that government is working hard to improve the lives of Nova Scotians in all regions. “It’s very easy to sit back and criticize, but if we’ve learned anything from the recent events, it’s that across-the-board criticism without any suggestions on how to make things better gets you nowhere,” said Premier Dexter. “Government is making real progress in its commitment to make life better for Nova Scotia families, and we will continue to word hard toward that goal in the years to come.” Government introduced 28 bills and sat for 34 days during the third session of the 61st General Assembly. Other highlights from the session include:
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was forced to evacuate its three remaining international staff yesterday, after the situation descended into chaos over the weekend when deadly skirmishes between government forces and the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) reached the suburbs and refugee camps dotting the outskirts of Liberia’s besieged capital city. UNHCR said it is very concerned about its national staff and their families living in Monrovia, as well as the fate of some 15,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in the area.Other agencies are also struggling to cope with Monrovia’s influx of displaced persons. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), as of yesterday, the Government had registered some 5,000 internally displaced persons at the national stadium. Local staff of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are working to supply the people at the sports complex with high-protein biscuits, water and sanitation facilities, and shelter materials.Meanwhile, amid the panic sparked by the resurgence in fighting, the price of petrol and rice – where and when they are available – is reported to have more than doubled in Monrovia. The World Food Programme (WFP), which had been forced to suspend deliveries to perhaps 115,000 displaced persons in camps around the capital, has called on the warring parties to rapidly open humanitarian corridors so that aid could be delivered. The Liberian Red Cross has been distributing blankets, mats and jerry cans to displaced persons sheltering at schools in the city centre.For its part, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has warned that conflict in the region was worsening an already immense humanitarian crisis, with devastating health consequences for women and girls, in particular.”Health care is virtually non-existent,” said UNFPA’s representative in Liberia, Deji Popoola. “Even in the few places where public services are functioning, teachers, nurses and other public sector employees have not been paid for 15 months.”The health crisis is exacerbated by the inability of international humanitarian agencies to gain access to more than 80 per cent of Liberia’s territory. The agencies implored the international community, and other parties to take urgent action to address the mounting disaster.