“Save our hospital. Vote Liberal.” “Elect Megan Mitton. WE already did!”
In the final days of the provincial election campaign, the Liberal and Green candidates have launched a sign war near the TransCanada Highway over the future of the Sackville Memorial Hospital.
The red Liberal sign echoes a message that leader Kevin Vickers brought to town earlier in the campaign when he warned voters that re-electing Green candidate Megan Mitton would threaten the hospital’s future.
“I’m telling you, if you vote Green, you are indirectly voting for the Conservative government and you’re voting to lose your hospital,” Vickers said.
During a campaign stop today in Sackville, Green leader David Coon pointed to his party’s success in getting Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs to cancel cuts to hospital services in six rural communities.
“Thanks to the good work of the communities involved and working with their MLAs like Megan Mitton in Memramcook-Tantramar here, they got Higgs to push pause,” Coon said, adding that in discussions about the provincial budget, Green MLAs persuaded the premier to cancel the cuts permanently.
“He came and spoke directly to Megan Mitton and Kevin Arseneau and said ‘you have my word,'” Coon said, “and then he turned around and went into the the legislative assembly and publicly gave his commitment that they would not be bringing back those proposed changes to rural hospitals.”
Don’t take hospital for granted
However, during a telephone interview today, local Liberal candidate Maxime Bourgeois. expressed skepticism about Higgs’s promise.
“I don’t think that we can take the fact that we still have the hospitals for granted,” he said.
“I think the reforms were postponed, but we are still at risk especially if Higgs gets back into office,” Bourgeois said, adding that the only way to remove the premier would be to elect a Liberal government.
Bourgeois used an additional argument on the hospital issue during the candidates’ debate Wednesday night at Sackville Town Hall.
He said that Green leader David Coon accused Higgs of having a hidden agenda on health reform during a leaders debate on Rogers TV, but then was quoted in a recent article in the Irving-owned Telegraph-Journal as saying that in their 2018 election platforms, the Greens and Conservatives shared much common ground on health care.
“With the Conservatives there was considerable common ground, quite a wide scope among our platforms around restructuring and reforming health care,” the newspaper quoted Coon as saying.
However, the article went to say that Coon did not support cuts to rural hospitals — a point that Coon repeated today in Sackville as he made it clear once again that Greens had vigorously opposed the hospital cuts.
Bourgeois suggested during the candidates debate, however, that the Green leader’s conflicting statements showed he couldn’t be trusted to defend health care.
“I think it’s fairly scary to see that David Coon is actually considering working with the Conservative government,” he said. “I truly believe that I am the best choice just because, well, one of the reasons is that we don’t want Higgs to cut our health care.”
Meantime, Green organizers are complaining that the Liberals conveyed a similar message in campaign phone calls to at least three Green supporters including Linda Pearse, a music professor at Mt. A. who voted Green for the first time in 2018.
Pearse says a man who identified himself as working for the Bourgeois campaign phoned her Wednesday evening. When she said she planned to vote Green, he referred to the newspaper article and said Coon was aligning himself with Higgs and would support closing hospitals.
“He said he had voted Green himself, but was now voting Liberal,” Pearse said, adding that the caller told her that Megan Mitton was so taken aback by Coon’s comments that she hadn’t responded to them publicly.
“I was surprised at that,” Pearse said, adding she didn’t believe the caller and still plans to vote Green.
“Megan is good at standing up,” she said. “It’s a real shame to see this kind of thing here; it’s something I would expect to see in the States.”
Dylan Wooley-Berry, who is in charge of voter contact and outreach for the Bourgeois campaign, says volunteers were not told to refer to the article in the Telegraph-Journal.
“To be clear, no volunteers have ever been instructed to bring up that article,” he said during a telephone interview.
“All our volunteers are given a call script; they are told that they can change the script to make themselves more comfortable on the phone, so they can speak in their own voice to voters because it sounds more authentic,” Wooley-Berry said.
“So, if it is true that a volunteer did in fact, bring up the article, it was not by direction of the campaign,” he added.
“When I heard that people within our community were alleging we had some sort of organized effort to lie about what David Coon had said in any article, I felt sick,” he said.
“That’s not the type of campaign we’re running.”