NS Election: PC David Wightman battles ‘heavy guns’ in Cumberland North

PC candidate David Wightman in his Amherst backyard

The Progressive Conservative candidate in Cumberland North says his campaign got off to a slow start in the August 17 Nova Scotia election after his party expelled the sitting MLA, Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin.

“There was no Conservative candidate in Cumberland North for a few weeks while everybody was kind of going, ‘What are we going to do next? What are we going to do next?'” says David Wightman.

“I made a couple of phone calls and had a couple of interviews and to make a long story short, I ended up as the candidate.”

Wightman says he’s had strong support from provincial party headquarters in Halifax including plenty of signs, campaign pamphlets and communications advice, but he acknowledges that local support is not as strong as it could be because many PCs in the riding are working to re-elect Smith-McCrossin, who is running as an Independent.

“Locally, I’ve got a little support team in place here,” Wightman says. “It certainly isn’t what it was because of the incident that happened at the border.”

He was referring to Smith-McCrossin’s expulsion from the party after her apparent refusal to condemn those who blocked traffic at the Nova Scotia/New Brunswick border on June 23rd to protest against Premier Iain Rankin’s sudden decision to keep the border closed longer than planned.

Smith-McCrossin herself was in Halifax that day in a futile attempt to meet with Rankin after leading a highway blockade herself near the TransCanada highway toll booths the day before.

“I don’t think there’s any going back, it’s time to move on,” says Wightman who still hopes to retain the riding for the PCs by campaigning on issues such as the need for improvements in a local health care system beset by chronic shortages of nurses and doctors, crowded emergency rooms and too few long-term-care beds.

When asked about the need for health-care reform, Wightman refers to his own experience as a volunteer with the Amherst Fire Department.

“Being a first-responder with the fire department, we’re looking after patients on the side of  the road while we wait for the ambulance to show up,” he says, adding that ambulance paramedics are often busy elsewhere.

“They can’t unload the ambulance fast enough because the ERs are backed up with people and then the wards are backed up with people that perhaps should be long-term care patients and it’s just one domino after another.”

Wightman says a Conservative government would try to solve the shortage of medical staff  by increasing spending on training nurses and by recruiting more foreign doctors and then, expediting their entry into the Nova Scotia health-care system through university upgrading and certification programs.

“You hear about this doctor and that doctor, he’s driving a taxi, it’s just foolishness,” Wightman says.

Long-term care

He adds that the Conservatives have a plan to empty hospital beds occupied by elderly patients who should be in nursing homes.

Volunteer announcing in Amherst radio helped David Wightman’s recovery from a stroke

“The Conservative party under Mr. Houston has advocated that there will be 2,500 new or renovated long-term care beds in Nova Scotia within three years,” he explains.

Wightman says he has first-hand experience with the health-care system after suffering a stroke in 2009 that forced him to retire from his career as a corrections officer working with inmates in Springhill and at the women’s prison in Truro.

The stroke impaired his reading and speaking abilities, but he says his work as a volunteer announcer at CFTA, the community radio station in Amherst, helped him recover.

Fixing roads

Wightman is also campaigning on the PC plan to fix rural roads.

“I had one conversation with a gentleman in Wallace just a few days ago and he was a motorcycler, originally from Ontario, and he usually brings down 20 or 25 of his friends for motorcycle tours,” Wightman says.

“These people come down here and they actually love motorcycling around Nova Scotia, ‘Best province in Canada,’ they say, ‘for biking,'” he adds.

“They have the greatest time and they’ll drop four or five thousand dollars in 10 days, but  the one thing they hate is the quality of the roads, so if we want to keep that aspect of tourism coming in, and we better, we need some money to fix the roads.”

Wightman accuses Premier Rankin of playing politics by promising to remove the TransCanada highway tolls on passenger vehicles with Nova Scotia licence plates.

He says a PC government would remove the tolls on all vehicles, including trucks hauling blueberries and maple syrup, because consumers only end up paying more to cover the extra costs anyway.

Heavy artillery

As PC candidate, David Wightman is running against an NDP candidate with name recognition.

Lauren Skabar is the daughter of Brian Skabar who served as MLA for Cumberland North when the NDP was in power from 2009 to 2013.

But Wightman clearly sees Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin and veteran MP Bill Casey as his two main opponents.

He acknowledges that Smith-McCrossin is popular in the riding and a force to be reckoned  with.

Wightman says he was shocked when he heard that Casey was running as a Liberal.

“I just said, ‘Mr. Rankin has brought in a heavy gun to deal with a heavy gun,” he adds.

“You know, they’re bringing out the heavy artillery here to see who’s going to walk away with this seat, and I’m certainly not a heavy gun in this election,” Wightman concludes with a chuckle.

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