KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – During the last provincial election only two Liberal ministers went down in defeat. One of those two was Joanne Bernard, the minister of Community Services, who lost by 325 votes to NDP candidate Susan Leblanc. Leblanc won a 39.4% share of the overall vote, compared to 34.7% for Bernard.
Dartmouth North consists of many communities, all with their own distinct character. That said, many residents in Dartmouth North struggle to make ends meet, more so than most HRM electoral districts. In 2005 residents of Dartmouth North on average earned 76% less than the HRM average. Forty percent of Dartmouth North households earned less than $30,000 in 2005 compared to HRM at 26%.
The NDP party platform Leblanc ran on included a $15 minimum wage, free community college, $15/day child care and a substantial raise in welfare rates.
We asked Leblanc about her experiences while knocking doors during the campaign, in particular in those areas where a lot of people depend on welfare and were directly affected by the decisions made by Bernard as the minister in charge of Community Services.
Leblanc: The riding is very diverse, but hands down across the riding the unifying issue was health care, and that includes the low income areas. But income assistance definitely came up almost immediately in neighborhoods where incomes traditionally are lower. If people were on assistance they would tell me right away how they can’t make ends meet.
People would complain about the shelter allowance, which is ridiculously low. People would tell me how difficult it was, and almost always people would be forced to use their food money to pay their rent.
Many people mentioned the lack of bus passes, that was lifeline to connecting with the community and now they don’t have that anymore. The other issue was the need to raise the rates. In certain areas that was all people talked about.
What we talked about that really resonated with people was an increased income assistance, but also the $15 minimum wage, and also the childcare policy. One woman I talked to said, hold on for a second, you mean it would be possible for me to go back to school, have my kid looked after and have a little bit of money left over at the end of the month?
We met people who said they had never voted before, but after we talked about the $15 minimum wage, about community college, things like that, they said, this time I might actually vote, and then there were people I know for sure who did.
It’s great that we won the seat, but now we have get the word out that if you start organizing and mobilizing things can change, as we have seen across the world.
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