Nova Scotia’s new premier, Tim Houston, is wasting no time in cleaning house. In fact, many fear the Progressive Conservative (PC) leader may be dismantling the entire structure.
Less than one day after being sworn in as the province’s 30th premier, Houston swung the axe. He fired Dr. Brendan Carr, CEO of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, and dismissed the organization’s entire 14-member board of directors. In the board’s place is a “leadership team” of four people. Karen Oldfield, who is leading that team as interim CEO, has significant experience — in transportation, as former CEO of the Halifax Port Authority.
The premier’s swift decapitation of the health authority is not surprising. Houston, strategically and with savvy, ran on a platform that hammered home the need for immediate health-care reform. That message resonated with Nova Scotians. They didn’t even balk at the $430-million price tag needed for the first year alone. Rather, they embraced the promise that health care in the province could be fixed with initiatives such as 2,500 new single long-term care beds, improved mental health services and more doctors on the ground. Those doctors are going to get their own pension plan.
Houston’s almost single-minded focus on health care gave him a slow and steady march to victory. Before former premier Iain Rankin, who had held the leadership reins for only six months, called an election on July 20, early polls indicated Rankin’s Liberal party would return to power. As the five weeks of the campaign unfolded, however, the gap in the polls narrowed. On Aug. 17, Houston and his PC party won 31 of the legislature’s 55 seats.
Uproar followed the upheaval. Many would have liked the new premier to get the lay of the land first. The 51-year-old former accountant plans to have his team do so this month as they travel across Nova Scotia to hear firsthand from health-care workers.
Houston’s drive to throw out the old and welcome the new landed him smack in the middle of another controversy. The Nova Scotia Health Authority’s board of directors had included two new and important positions: a Black member and an Indigenous member. Now, the authority’s leadership is entirely white.
This lack of diversity also is reflected in the appointment of MLA Pat Dunn as Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs. Dunn, like all the PCs elected, is white. In response to criticism, Houston put the onus back on Nova Scotians. “I formed my cabinet from the caucus that Nova Scotia sent to me. And I respect the wishes of Nova Scotians,” he told reporters.
That respect did not extend to Dr. Késa Munroe-Anderson, who was removed from her position as deputy minister of communities, culture and heritage, which includes African-Nova Scotian Affairs. Seven other deputy ministers also were axed, but Munroe-Anderson, a Black woman and former manager of race relations, equity and inclusion with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, brought much needed insight and experience from the Black community.
It is insight and experience Nova Scotia’s new premier apparently does not want.