The three men vying for the job of Liberal leader and premier are calling on their former cabinet colleague Chuck Porter to impose a moratorium on evictions when he releases his plan to deal with what some are calling a housing crisis in Nova Scotia.
Premier Stephen McNeil said last week that Porter would have more to say about the housing situation this week, but it appears that announcement has been delayed.
Randy Delorey, Labi Kousoulis and Iain Rankin all staked out their positions on housing during their first face-to-face debate, which was arranged by the Halifax Chamber of Commerce.
"The current situation cannot continue," Kousoulis said in response to moderator Pat Sullivan's question about his views on rent control.
"Our seniors on fixed incomes say they can't even afford five or 10 per cent increases, let alone 80 or 90 [per cent]," he said.
"Obviously, the affordability of housing is critical to all Nova Scotians," Delorey said in response. "It's impacting people, not just low-income but middle-income Nova Scotians as well."
"Nobody should be worried about paying rent in the next month and worrying about a place to live," said Rankin. "It's unimaginable during a global pandemic that we have evictions occurring and seeing rent increases of 20, 50 and close to 100 per cent."
Speaking to reporters after the question-and-answer session, all three agreed on the need to place an immediate halt to evictions, but Delorey was the odd man out when it came to controlling rent increases.
He said he needed more time to consult before taking a position.
Kousoulis has proposed a cap of four per cent on rent increases over the next four years.
Rankin is also proposing a four per cent cap but only on units less than 15 years old. There would be a 10 per cent cap on units more than 15 years old. Those caps would last for the duration of the pandemic.
All three skated around questions about the McNeil government's "top down" style, transparency and the premier's decision to prorogue the House when it next sits on Dec 18.
Kousoulis and Rankin have laid out specific policy ideas. But Delorey has not, suggesting Thursday he wants to hear from rank-and-file Liberals before laying out his leadership platform.
"The idea of listening is fundamental to my campaign," he told the audience in his opening address. "It's why I'm not pushing policy out the door.
"I'm engaging members, listening to their ideas and building on their ideas to develop policy details to meet the priorities I've highlighted."
Kousoulis offered a jab of his own in response when asked about Delorey's approach.
"In my view it's a time to talk and listen," he said. "But we need action."
Speaking to reporters following the debate, Chamber president Pat Sullivan said comments made by McNeil this week sent a chill through the business community.
During a COVID-19 update Tuesday, the premier said he wouldn't "think twice about shutting down the economy again" if there was a surge in community spread.
Sullivan said the comment was not helpful to businesses looking for clarity on what would trigger another forced closure.
"So when we hear the premier in a news conference announce that he's willing to shut down the economy, what does that really mean to businesses who need to plan?" said Sullivan.
Businesses "that may have inventory in their refrigerators, who may have appointments booked" need to know what may be coming so they can plan, he said.
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