HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's Liberals and Progressive Conservatives both promised millions for highways and rural roads on the first full day of the provincial election campaign Monday, while the NDP promised millions more to improve access to health care.
Liberal Premier Stephen McNeil announced an extra $240 million over four years in infrastructure spending, while Tory Leader Jamie Baillie promised a $2-billion Rebuild Nova Scotia Fund, which relies on half the money coming from Ottawa.
Baillie said a Tory government would not go into deficit to come up with its $1-billion share of the fund.
He said the fund would be used to twin "Nova Scotia's most dangerous highways," build a new Victoria General hospital and bring high-speed Internet to rural areas.
"It is my expectation that it will create 10,000 jobs over the 10-year period that we renew our infrastructure," he said, flanked by workers at an insulation manufacturing plant in Dartmouth.
Baillie said his plan would twin more highway kilometres than the Liberal proposal, and includes other safety measures on untwinned sections of the highways.
The money would also go toward creating an environmental reclamation and community enhancement fund.
Baillie also suggested the newly amalgamated Nova Scotia Health Authority may come under scrutiny to make it operate more efficiently and save money, saying he would provide more details when the party releases its platform.
"There's no Nova Scotian out there that is telling that this new Nova Scotia Health Authority is delivering services either more efficiently or better," he said. "We've actually created more layers of administration, not less."
McNeil said the Liberals would spend $50 million a year on new schools and improvements to main streets, and an extra $10 million a year to improve the province's gravel roads. The gravel road commitment would add to the $10 million a year already pledged earlier this spring.
The work for gravel roads is much needed and long overdue, he said.
"There's no question there has been a level of neglect," said McNeil. "With the lack of ditching, water is unable to move away ... and then we've had traffic than has run over top of them, which has rutted them up and worn them down. It will take a complete rebuild."
McNeil also re-announced a Liberal pledge last week to spend $390 million to twin three sections of 100 series highways and to build a new four-lane connector between Bedford and Burnside. The money would also be used for safety improvements to highways across the province.
McNeil said the infrastructure spending would also create thousands of jobs, although a specific figure wasn't provided.
The new funding is over and above what was included in the province's capital plan and the projections were part of last Thursday's budget, although it wasn't highlighted at the time by the government.
"We see now that they are promising something that was not immediately apparent in the numbers they put forward," said NDP Leader Gary Burrill. "That's the trouble you get when you present as they have a non-budget, budget."
Meanwhile, the NDP made a major pledge of its own, saying $120 million would be committed over four years to build new primary care clinics and to hire more doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners.
Burrill said an NDP government would work collaboratively with family doctors to determine what resources are needed in various communities.
Although he pointed to Statistics Canada figures that indicate about 100,000 people are without a family doctor, Burrill wouldn't make promises about how much his party's pledge would reduce current shortages.
"On the basis of the numbers we have been able to access, it seems to us that $30 million a year would take us a serious way down the road to significantly grappling with this problem," he said.
Nova Scotians will go the polls May 30.
Keith Doucette and Alison Auld, The Canadian Press