Let’s listen and work together to improve health care

This morning, I attended the annual meeting of the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

Having worked as a communications consultant to many health care professionals and organizations over the past 12 years, I have always paid close attention to health care delivery in our community and our province. That experience gave me a useful perspective when I met with voters in Halifax Citadel-Sable Island during the recent election campaign, including countless doctors, nurses and other health care professionals.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) is only two years old and it has borne much of the criticism about the performance of our health care system in recent years. From time to time, I found this criticism to be somewhat unfair as the NSHA was created by Stephen McNeil’s government and ultimately we must hold our elected governments accountable for the decisions made by public bodies. You can judge for yourself by reading the 2016-2017 annual report issued by the NSHA at www.nshealth.ca

I was encouraged to hear volunteer board chair Steve Parker, a former business partner of mine, speak with passion about the need to listen and heed the calls from those who are seeking change. There is progress being made in improving health care, but we can’t ignore the fact that many Nova Scotians, and many health care professionals, believe our system is in crisis. They must be listened to and brought to the table to be part of the solution.

It was also great to see two health care professionals who are now MLAs ask clear questions of the NSHA, reflecting the reality they see in their respective communities. New Progressive Conservative Health critic Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, a registered nurse and small businessperson who is the MLA for Cumberland North, asked about the lack of a physician at the collaborative care centre in Pugwash in her small town and rural constituency. Meanwhile, physiotherapist turned PC MLA Barb Adams asked about the lack of any doctors in her growing, suburban constituency of Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage. She also asked about the difference between the NSHA’s data showing a significant drop in home care wait times and her own experience that indicates these waits persist.

This is the benefit of having new MLAs elected to speak out, ask the questions that need to be asked and hold those in positions of authority accountable.

Politics aside, we need our health care system to change for the better. And we need those on the front lines who know the system inside and out to have a much stronger voice in how decisions are made. As Michael Decter, a former Deputy Minister of Health and Chair of Patients Canada (www.patientscanada.ca) noted in a speech to the Halifax Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, we can either engage doctors and other health care professionals at the beginning of the process or we will end up hearing from them – and many others – in much larger gatherings as they express their dissatisfaction.

Let’s work together to get it right!

Thank You Cameron!

Earlier today, I went on a tour of the new Halifax Convention Centre. Scheduled to open at the end of this year, it will be hosting, not one, but two national political conventions in 2018. In my volunteer role as Nova Scotia’s representative on the National Council of the Conservative Party of Canada, I also serve as vice-chair of the 2018 convention committee.

August 23, 24 and 25, 2018, will mark the first time in Canadian history that Canada’s Conservatives will be holding their national convention in Halifax. Having attended every national Conservative convention since 1993, I have been privileged to see what a major positive impact these conventions have on cities like Ottawa/Gatineau (three times), Winnipeg (twice), Toronto (twice), Quebec City, Edmonton, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver. Make no mistake – dollars spent by convention goers in a local economy are dollars that would otherwise be spent in another city.

I can’t wait to showcase my city and my province to more than 3,000 fellow Conservatives and their families from across Canada (I’m sure my NDP friends felt the same time when the federal NDP came to Halifax and 2009 and my Liberal friends will feel likewise when the Liberal Party of Canada comes in the spring of 2018 for their national convention).

This was my third visit to the new convention centre site since the spring of 2016 and it’s great to see the building so close to completion. Halifax Convention Centre CEO Carrie Cussons and her team did their usual stellar job giving new Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and I a tour of the different sections of the new centre.

Joining us on the tour was perhaps the person most responsible for Canada’s Conservatives choosing Halifax for their 2018 national convention – my good friend Cameron MacKeen. Before I was elected to National Council last year, Cameron served in the role from 2009 through 2016, finishing his tenure as Vice President of the Conservative Party of Canada. From 2011 onwards, Cameron was a tireless champion of promoting Halifax as a destination for the party’s national convention. By 2013, I started to hear more and more from leading Conservatives across Canada: “we promised Cameron the next convention is coming to Halifax”.

In July 2016, I was proud to join my colleagues on National Council to ratify Halifax as the host city of the 2018 national convention, which was subsequently announced by Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose at the National Caucus meeting held in Halifax in September 2016. But it was Cameron MacKeen who laid the groundwork of ensuring there was support across Canada to make this happen.

Although he’s a former journalist who now practices law for a living, Cameron is not one who seeks the limelight. But I want to take this opportunity to say so publicly: Thank You Cameron for helping make political history by leading the charge for the National Convention of the Conservative Party of Canada to come to Halifax in 2018.

(Left to right) Cameron MacKeen, former VP & National Councillor, Conservative Party of Canada; Carrie Cussons, CEO, Halifax Convention Centre; Andrew Scheer, Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada; Rob Batherson, National Councillor, Conservative Party of Canada

Happy Canada Day! A good case for an Indigenous Governor General

I first met Roberta Jamieson in 2011 when I represented the Mount Saint Vincent University Board of Governors at a conference in Saskatoon. A distinguished lawyer, First Nations activist and Order of Canada member, Roberta was someone I had to seek out as the Mount’s representative, as she is someone who also holds an honorary doctorate from the Mount.

Our conversation was warm, but Roberta was very direct to me in our first (and to date only) conversation. The Mount needed to do a better job for our Indigenous peoples. I brought this advice back to the Mount’s board chair and our (then) new president Ramona Lumpkin. Thankfully, Ramona already had plans to take action on this matter and under her leadership, the Mount’s Aboriginal Student Centre (ASC) opened in 2013. The ASC was created to support students in an educational and culturally engaging space on the Mount campus.

Bottom line: when Roberta Jamieson offers up advice on putting reconciliation with our Indigenous peoples into action, we should listen up.

This article from John Ivison in the National Post suggests that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already made up his mind on who to recommend to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as Canada’s next Governor General. That recommendation apparently will not be an Indigenous person.

John Ivison: Indigenous candidates likely to be overlooked in choice of next governor-general

I hope Justin Trudeau proves John Ivison wrong – especially in light of the highly qualified Indigenous candidates listed in his column. The legal basis of our relationship with Canada’s Indigenous peoples involves Canada’s Crown and treaties signed in the name of our Monarch at the time. I think it would be a wonderful step forward for an Indigenous person to be named Canada’s next Governor-General.

On domestic violence, staying silent is not an option

Since The Coast published an article by Maggie Rahr in which Michelle Coffin told her story of being the victim of domestic violence, the aftermath of that experience and her election campaign encounter with Halifax Citadel-Sable Island MLA Labi Kousoulis https://www.thecoast.ca/halifax/michelle-coffin-is-reclaiming-her-story/Content?oid=7685707, a number of people have asked me for my thoughts.

Michelle Coffin has the right to tell her story about surviving domestic assault on her terms and in her way. I respect her courage in doing so and applaud Maggie Rahr and the Coast for giving Michelle a platform, not only to tell her story, but to suggest practical ways to support victims. Global’s Marieke Walsh, to her credit, also pursued many of the important questions Ms. Coffin raised in telling her story.

Because I ran in the recent election against Mr. Kousoulis, I felt the appropriate approach was to not offer any public comment, at least until Premier Stephen McNeil and Mr. Kousoulis provided their response. If you haven’t read The Coast article, Ms. Coffin stated Mr. Kousoulis told her that her attacker – Premier McNeil’s former communications director – had been rehired after the Premier consulted with organizations that worked in the field of domestic violence.

I had sincerely hoped we would learn more from Mr. McNeil and Mr. Kousoulis that would reassure citizens that they had acted appropriately and reasonably.

Mr. Kousoulis’s refusal to answer media questions at Province House https://twitter.com/larochecbc/status/875704551478890498
and Premier McNeil’s statements Thursday http://globalnews.ca/news/3548828/stephen-mcneil-stands-by-partys-handling-of-domestic-assault-against-former-staffer/
should compel constituents in Halifax Citadel-Sable Island and all Nova Scotians to speak out, be heard and demand answers.

Violence against women is unacceptable. It should be condemned in all its forms. We need strong policies in place to protect those who have been subjected to this horrible crime.

But we also need our leaders to lead by example, not in only public policy, but in how they manage their own offices and account for their decisions.

Having worked with elected officials at all levels, from all parties, I have always believed our elected officials have a responsibility to be accountable to the people for whom they are elected to serve, not just at election time, but all the time.
And working in support of our elected officials is a privilege – it is not just any other job. Someone convicted of domestic assault should certainly have an opportunity for rehabilitation, but not in such a sensitive role as working for our elected officials.

Ms. Coffin’s attacker should never have been hired to work for the Liberal Caucus after his conviction for domestic assault. Full stop. This was bad judgment by Premier Stephen McNeil as Leader of the Liberal Caucus. His comments to Global about this being a Liberal Party matter that should be addressed by the party president don’t make any sense. As a former president of a provincial political party, I know that such a volunteer leadership role provides no role in the hiring of caucus staff, who are paid out of taxpayer funds to work for MLAs.

The bad judgment in re-hiring Mr. Coffin’s attacker at taxpayer expense was compounded when he was given a senior role in the Liberal campaign in the last election.

In telling her story, Ms. Coffin stated that Mr. Kousoulis told her that Mr. McNeil consulted with organizations that support women who have been victims of violence before the decision was made to rehire her attacker in the Liberal Caucus.

As elected officials, Premier McNeil and Mr. Kousoulis owe Nova Scotians a clear explanation in response to Ms. Coffin’s account.

Violence against women is too important an issue for our elected officials to be anything but completely open and transparent.

I also have listened to women who say very clearly the onus to speak out about domestic violence seems to continually be on them. They have pointed to example after example, with Ms. Coffin’s story being the latest one, of how many barriers stand in the way of victims of sexual and domestic violence coming forward to seek justice. Much of the discussion following the article talked about the need to dismantle the “old boys club” – I don’t dispute this, and people who are in a position of authority and influence should do their part to bring down these barriers.

Of course, I recognize that some will seize upon this submission as “playing politics” or an unsuccessful candidate’s “sour grapes”. I hope people will see that I attempted to participate in this discussion in a responsible and respectful manner – especially to Michelle Coffin, someone I have known for the better part of the last two decades.

However people perceive my comments, what I wasn’t prepared to accept was a feeling that I stayed quiet when it was time to stand up for what is right.

More importantly, I hope other citizens – particularly those who won’t have cause to be dismissed like me as trying to inject partisanship into this important issue – take up the charge and ask for answers from Mr. McNeil and Mr. Kousoulis.

When it comes to domestic violence, staying silent is not an option.

Why must we wait for a new budget?

Last week, Premier Stephen McNeil named a new cabinet, our 51 MLAs elected on May 30 were sworn in and the legislature briefly met to elect a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker.

This is an exciting period for all concerned – especially for those who are elected for the first time. It’s great to see a record number of women elected to the legislature and a record number of women elected to the Progressive Conservative Caucus.

It’s also encouraging to see Progressive Conservatives elected from the Halifax Regional Municipality for the first time since 2006. Of note is that Tim Halman’s win in Dartmouth East marks the first time a Progressive Conservative represented Dartmouth East since Richard Weldon was the MLA from 1978 to 1984. Meanwhile, Barbara Adams’s victory in Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage is the first time a Progressive Conservative represented these communities since David Nantes was MLA from 1978 to 1993.

I also congratulate Halifax Citadel-Sable Island’s re-elected MLA Labi Kousoulis on being named Minister of Labour and Advanced Education. With this constituency being home to such leading universities – along with the students, faculty and staff who make these institutions such critical parts of our community and our province – it’s a positive sign that Premier McNeil has so much confidence in Mr. Kousoulis to entrust him with this important portfolio.

Amidst all the positive feelings of a new Legislative Assembly coming together is one glaring disappointment: Premier Stephen McNeil not planning to recall the legislature until mid-September 2017.

Nova Scotians – including voters in Halifax Citadel-Sable Island – gave Premier McNeil’s Liberals a majority government mandate to get to work. One of the major parts of a government’s “annual work plan” so to speak is to introduce a budget, subject it to scrutiny by our elected MLAs and put it to a vote in the legislature.

So why are we waiting three more months to see a budget presented again in the Nova Scotia legislature?

The last time a sitting Premier called an election after introducing a budget was Rodney MacDonald on May 13, 2006. MacDonald called an election for June 13, 2006. His government was re-elected with a reduced minority government mandate. Despite being in a weaker legislative position than Stephen McNeil is in today, MacDonald recalled the legislature for June 29, 2006, and tabled a budget.

Stephen McNeil has a majority government. He has one of his most senior ministers – new Deputy Premier Karen Casey – in the Finance and Treasury Board portfolio.
All the key players who were responsible for developing the 2017-2018 budget tabled in late April 2017 are still in place.

With all the important issues debated in this recent election, there doesn’t appear to be any logical reason why our MLAs won’t be examining a newly tabled provincial budget.

I know MLAs work when the legislature isn’t in session.

I also know that the late Arthur Fordham, Assistant Clerk of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly, in his 2006 publication, The Nova Scotia Legislature: An Overview of its Procedures and Practices, wrote the following:

“The Legislature is the controller of the purse strings of the province because, under the laws of the province, the government may not spend any public money without the authority of an act of the Legislature. Section 20 of the Provincial Finance Act reads as follows:
“No payment out of the Consolidated Fund shall be made except under the authority of an Act of the Legislature.””

If Rodney MacDonald’s PC minority government could get to work on its budget in late June 2006, there’s no reason why Stephen McNeil’s Liberal majority government can’t to work on its budget in late June 2017.

The Road Ahead – What’s Next?

More than a week has passed since the provincial election.

One of the questions an unsuccessful candidate gets asked in the aftermath of a campaign is: “will you run again?”

It’s not a terribly surprising question from your supporters who have invested a lot of time and effort in you.

It’s also something that comes to mind to those who have voted for you, share your disappointment in the outcome and still think you would be up to the job as their elected representative.

It has been so heartening and humbling to hear from so many Halifax Citadel-Sable Island residents after the election. Some I know. Others I don’t. I am deeply thankful for their words of support and encouragement.

I know I’m not alone among our party’s candidates across the province in continuing to hear from voters.

Indeed, some of my fellow PC candidates have already announced their intention to run again in their constituencies in the next general election.

That’s great for them, their supporters and their constituencies.

Every candidate’s journey is unique, however.

The questions I asked myself prior to running in this last election will be the questions I will ask myself before deciding to launch another campaign.

Will I make a positive difference for my community in this role?

Do I truly feel I am the best person to run?

Am I comfortable with the party leader, the direction they are taking and their vision and plan for the community, province and country?

Is my family able to be supportive of my candidacy and, if successful, of my being an elected office holder?

Is this fair for my business partners, co-workers and clients?

There will come a time when I will need to answer these questions. That time is several years down the road.

In the meantime, here’s what I will be doing.

I will be working hard on building our company’s public relations and creative social business, with a move to a new downtown Halifax location planned for the summer.

I will continue to find ways to contribute to our community through my volunteer board service for organizations based in Halifax Citadel-Sable Island, along with helping organize two charitable events for this fall in Halifax Citadel-Sable Island.

I will proudly continue my involvement in the Halifax Citadel-Sable Island Progressive Conservative Association as the candidate of record. This association and campaign team stood by me, worked with me and believed in me. Regardless of my future plans, I will be there to support the association in any way I can to build on the progress we achieved in this election campaign.

So don’t be surprised if you see me out and about in the community over the summer and into the fall.

I’ll also be making some changes to robbatherson.ca to remove some of the sections related to the 2017 election.

And if you want to say hello, offer advice, ask questions or pass along issues that you want raised by Nova Scotia’s Official Opposition, don’t hesitate to contact me anytime at rob@robbatherson.ca.

The election campaign is over. But that doesn’t mean we have to stop the community conversation that we started together. Let’s keep it going!


Gratitude, Reflection and Thanks

“Hey, I voted for you.”

The voice wasn’t an immediately familiar one as I was leaving a downtown establishment following lunch Friday with a longtime friend.

I turned around and the voice reintroduced himself. He was someone who worked at the establishment where I had enjoyed my patio lunch, we shook hands, I thanked him and he added: “and my girlfriend voted for you too.”

We laughed that the credit for their votes probably went to a much younger canvass partner who was more aggressive in pigeonholing votes for me in the last week of the election campaign than I could have ever imagined (perhaps there’s a lesson there!).

It has been a quite whirlwind of a week as I accept the verdict of voters to choose the incumbent as MLA for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island and return to my “old life” – starting with going back to work at my company Wednesday morning.

Reconnecting with co-workers and clients.

Returning phone calls and emails from Halifax Citadel-Sable Island supporters.

Working with my campaign team on wrapping up all the loose ends post-election.

Attending two community events I had been involved in held in the constituency (Nova Scotia Business Hall of Fame and A Celebration for retiring Mount Saint Vincent University President Ramona Lumpkin).

Re-engaging in some of my community work (Neptune Theatre and Halifax Stanfield International Airport).

Breakfast with my longtime friend Jamie Baillie.

Responding to a couple of media requests.

Working on a plan to thank the campaign team over the summer.

Through it all, the question that keeps coming up is: how are you?

There are plenty of answers I could give to that question.

Am I disappointed that I don’t have a mandate from enough Halifax Citadel-Sable Island voters to get to work on their priorities? Absolutely.

Do I feel like I have let my campaign team down, my supporters down, my party and my leader down for not being more successful in this election? Of course.

But the overarching feeling in my heart now is one of gratitude.

Gratitude for the people who did support me – through their votes, their time and other means.

Gratitude that support for the PC Party is up considerably in this constituency and we have reduced the gap to victory by 50%.

Gratitude for the people who didn’t support me, but respected me enough to tell me why.

Gratitude for a passionate, engaged and committed campaign team – with first time volunteers bringing new energy and skills, combined with those who brought with them the benefit of experience.

Gratitude that my Progressive Conservative Party has come out of this campaign with more support and more seats than at any time since the 2006 election, including seven new MLAs, five female MLAs and three MLAs in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Gratitude for the ongoing love and respect of my family. There’s something to be said about spending Saturday morning walking to the beach with your son, instead of starting another round of door knocking!

What does this all mean for the future?

I’ll have some thoughts on that in a future post.


Election Day is Here!

It’s finally election day in Nova Scotia. I’m sure for many of you hearing about the election on the news, through social media and over the family supper table has made this a long month!

Running a campaign is a huge undertaking, one that relies on the support from dedicated volunteers who pull long hours without much glitz or glamour.

I also want to recognize my family today, and the families of all candidates, who give up a great deal so that their loved one can go after their goals.

Lastly, I want to commend each candidate from every party who chose to put their name forward for public office. It’s a courageous decision and one that I know doesn’t come easy.

I’ll be out in Halifax Citadel – Sable Island today in the hopes of meeting more residents. Our office is open and full of energy today, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to any of our volunteers if you’re undecided on who you’d like to vote for and want to learn more about me, if you need information on how to vote, or if you need a drive to get to your poll.

1482 Queen St,
Halifax, NS
B3J 2H7

Contact Us:
e: info@robbatherson.ca
p: (902) 809-4ROB (4762)

We’re here for you.

Thanks for the honour of letting me meet so many of you the last 30 days. I ask for your support so that we can continue to work together for a better Halifax Citadel – Sable Island and a more prosperous Nova Scotia.

Tomorrow is Election Day

One more day to go before Election Day in Nova Scotia.

It’s been quite a month, listening to and learning from the people of Halifax Citadel-Sable Island.

It’s been a month of people sharing their fears, concerns, hopes and dreams with me.

It’s been a month of countless volunteers giving of their time, talent and resources to help me (help that will be kicking into overdrive today and tomorrow!)

Every conversation has brought me closer to the people of this constituency.

What an honour and a privilege it would be to have a mandate from the people to go to work on their behalf at Province House.

Regardless of tomorrow’s outcome, I will forever cherish the amazing experiences brought about through this campaign.

I will forever be thankful for the people from all our different political persuasions – PC, Liberal, NDP, Green and none of the above – who honour me with their confidence to be the voice for positive change and strong, respectful, visible representation.

If you haven’t voted yet, there is still time today at the Returning Office on the 3rd Floor, 5475 Spring Garden Road until 6 pm.

And on Tuesday, May 30, you can vote from 8 am to 8 pm. Check electionsnovascotia.ca for specific info.

Regardless of who you support in this election, please take the time to vote.

In the meantime, thank you Halifax Citadel-Sable Island!

The final stretch

Because being elected to represent a community is having the humility and strength of character to respect the voters.

There are two days left for me to share my vision with the people of Halifax Citadel–Sable Island. To show you why I am the person that you should choose to represent this wonderful constituency beginning on May 31. To give you the confidence that a vote for me is a vote for the change we need.

It’s no secret that I’ve been involved in politics for many years – I was Press Secretary and ultimately Director of Communications for Premier John Hamm, I’ve served as President of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party, and in recent years in addition to owning and leading a successful communications firm in downtown Halifax, I’ve worked on many campaigns at municipal, provincial and federal levels.

Political activity has only been one part of who I am. It’s one part of how I try to make a difference in our community. For the last decade, I have served on the board of Neptune Theatre, including three years as president. I spent eight years on the board of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, including a year as chair. I have supported community efforts to welcome refugees to Halifax.

None of this has been about holding an office or having a title, it’s been about working together with others to get things done.

With Neptune, I will remember the work we did behind the scenes to convince then Culture Minister Leonard Preyra to reinvest in Neptune after funding cuts earlier in the former NDP government’s mandate. I will remember working with our team to secure major legacy financial gifts from charitable Nova Scotians. I will remember working with Mayor Mike Savage and Councilor Waye Mason to put in place an arts and culture strategy for our city.

With the Halifax Chamber, I will remember reaching out to a Deputy Minister in the Stephen McNeil government to help a small business cut through some red tape so they could literally stay in business and not put people out of work.

Working with people to help others and do good for our community is what I enjoy the most.

For many, seeing my name on a ballot was a given. Trust me, it was never a given in my home.

While I’ve been an active participant in the democratic process, I knew that before I decided to run for office, I had to ask myself: would I hold true to the values and attributes I always felt necessary to hold public office?

Because being elected to represent a community is having the humility and strength of character to respect the voters.

I’ve said repeatedly throughout this campaign that I will be your voice, I will be visible and I will be responsive at all times – not just at an election time.

This means that if elected, I’ll be there to listen, to answer phone calls and emails, to speak up and to show up.

Not just in good times, but when there are inevitable roadblocks.

That’s showing leadership.

Voters need to decide whether during the last three and a half years, we have seen this from Stephen McNeil and his candidate in Halifax Citadel-Sable Island.

When doctors, nurses, other health care professionals, the Mayor of Halifax and senior municipal staff express opposition or concern about moving outpatient services off peninsula Halifax, shouldn’t we have an MLA who listens to them?

When our arts and culture professionals want a provincial government that will work them on issues like the film tax credit, shouldn’t we have an MLA who will hear their concerns and take action?

When our university students and their families are struggling with sky-high tuitions, shouldn’t we have an MLA who will stand with them to find solutions?

When local residents, Mayor Mike Savage and Regional Council ask for sensible amendments to the province’s Heritage Property Act, shouldn’t we have an MLA who will take up their cause?

When a constituent raises concerns, even if they are critical, isn’t the job of the MLA to listen, respond and be respectful?

Leadership is building trust, leading by example and requires humility.

Have we seen this from our current government and our MLA for the last three and a half years?

Representing your fellow citizens is an honour that should never be taken for granted.

It’s an exceptional privilege that comes with great responsibility. I know this. I accept this. And if chosen to be the MLA for Halifax Citadel – Sable Island, I will honour this.

On May 30, I ask for your support.