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Judy Haiven: Call me old-fashioned, reflections on a Liberal photo-op

Vicky Levack asking Premier Iain Rankin about his inaction around de-institutionalization. Photo Twitter

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Call me old-fashioned, but when a politician, after a stump speech, tells the assembled crowd “no questions”, don’t you think the media should push in front of him to ask questions anyway? Isn’t that the journalists’ right and –as informed electors — our due?

When Premier Rankin went with his entourage to Victoria Park in downtown Halifax on Sunday at noon, I thought the media – and almost every media outlet was present—would insist on confronting him with questions. The election is nine days away. 

Rankin had just given a long-winded and meandering speech about how his Liberal government, if returned to power, would put $4 billion more into health care mainly to build or upgrade new hospitals and facilities. However in response to the fact that 69,000 Nova Scotians (7.1% of the population) have no family doctor, Rankin said we need group practices with nurse practitioners and medical helpers so not every Nova Scotian will have a personal doctor. He was flanked by his Finance Minister, Labi Kousoulis who is seeking a third term in the riding of Halifax Citadel-Sable Island. Kousoulis was clearly in an alternate universe when he  said every Nova Scotian deserved a primary care physician and his government would make that happen.  

See also: Waiting for a robocall –Life without a family doctor in Nova Scotia

Somehow the mainstream media didn’t catch that. The fact that the Premier and his chief cabinet minister have two different takes on the necessity of family doctors for all Nova Scotians is – well it’s serious.  One of them was not on message.

If that was glossed over, the fact that Rankin’s stump speech was all but disrupted was clear.  Though Rankin had about 12 people in his camp, including his manager, a campaign team and a van with several men who set up a lectern, microphones and put up a big red sign, there were also two women in wheelchairs and about a 15 people holding homemade signs demanding action on housing for people with disabilities. Some stood patiently on the sidelines-– but a few did not.   

Crowding one side of Rankin’s lectern was Vicky Levack in her wheelchair, who is a well-known disability rights activist. Behind her was Claire McNeil a Halifax lawyer who had represented the Disability Rights Coalition in the Emerald Hall case before a Nova Scotia Human Rights Tribunal.  

The Liberal “team” had also put up a tripod with a big map of Nova Scotia, which the Premier used to illustrate what the Liberal government has done for health care in every nook and cranny of Nova Scotia.  However, I decided to stand in front of the map.  I blocked the map with two placards which said, “Hey Rankin- No More Warehousing.” 

Warehousing means older adult, but often younger ones with disabilities, are housed in institutions such as hospitals, institutions for people with developmental disabilities, or nursing homes. Built on the hospital model, nursing home residents often live in rooms –sometimes two or more to a room. There is little to do all day but watch TV and eat meals together. This is how adults with disabilities – many younger than 30 – live in Nova Scotia. Rankin said not a word about housing or improved living conditions and care for people with disabilities. 

After Rankin and Kousoulis, the Liberal candidate for Halifax-Chebucto, Dr Jackie Kinley, said a few words. Her presentation reeked of privilege. Kinley, a middle-aged psychiatrist, told the assembled crowd that not only did her physician grandfather practice in the VG hospital, but her father, her brother and even her niece were doctors. After living in the US, Kinley said that now she lives and works within a kilometer of the VG. At one point her microphone cut out, and disability rights activist Vicky Levack shouted, ”What about us?”  Dr Kinley cast a fleeting look at Levack, and said in a patronizing tone, “I’ll get to you.” 

Levack, 30, was born with cerebral palsy. She is from Berwick, Nova Scotia where she had no problem finishing grade XII. But when she came to Halifax to attend Dalhousie University, she found it was very hard to live in an apartment without many supports. In winter, she had difficulty navigating her way in her wheelchair to campus. She had two options: either return home and oblige her parents to care for her, or move into a nursing home in Halifax. At the nursing home, she is younger than other residents by more than 30 years. She has one friend among more than a hundred residents. Though Levack is friendly with the staff, their workload is heavy which does not leave them much extra time for her. During the Covid lockdown, she was not allowed to leave the home, nor could she have regular visitors. The isolation was profoundly depressing for her.

Candidate Kinley never did speak to Vicky Levack or any other activist. In the crowd was award-winning author and community activist Jen Powley.  Powley, who uses a wheelchair due to severe disability from multiple sclerosis, lives in her own apartment with a rota of caregivers, whom she, with family help, must pay. For years Powley has been demanding the Nova Scotia government build small option homes for people with severe physical disabilities, in addition to more homes for people labelled with intellectual disabilities.  By Disability Support program rules, only people with intellectual disabilities have access to small options homes. There are more than 1,698 Nova Scotians on the wait-list for those homes today. 

See also: Government abandoned earlier commitments to community living supports, new report charges

Suddenly the public rally was over. Premier Rankin’s handler announced there would be no questions. At that instant, Milt Isaacs, father of a 31-year-old living with disabilities, called out that as a life-long Liberal, Isaacs would not vote for them this election. The media rushed to interview him. Isaacs explained his son’s predicament.  He lives with intellectual disabilities, and the parents care for him at home, because he has been on a waitlist for a small options placement for 13 years.

Isaacs asked, who would look after his son when he and his wife passed on? “We aren’t getting any younger,” Isaacs said wryly.

The Disability Rights Coalition and the Community Homes Action Group are inviting you to rally at the Legislature on Friday August 13 in support of all Nova Scotians’ right to a home in the community.

Check out our new community calendar!

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