On the eve of Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston's first state-of-the-province speech to the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, a new poll suggests there may be sizeable scepticism about his government's ability to "fix" health care.
PC Party candidates rode that promise from opposition into government during last summer's election.
A poll released Monday by an Ontario-based research firm suggested only four in 10 Nova Scotians were generally pleased with how the Houston government is running the province, while the other 60 percent was either displeased or unsure the direction Nova Scotia is headed under the government.
Despite that lukewarm support, the survey suggested Houston, who will give the annual state-of-the-province speech Tuesday, enjoyed a commanding lead over his political rivals in positive image, and that the PCs continued to be popular enough to win another majority.
"They haven't made any critical errors that have lost support of people who voted for the PCs, feeling they haven't delivered, but it does show that there [are] choppy waters ahead," said David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data, the polling firm that conducted the online survey.
Those rough seas have to do with the PC's main election promise — "fixing health care" — and how respondents felt about that.
In the survey, three times as many people felt the PCs were making no progress or less-than-expected progress on improving health care than those who saw improvement.
Perhaps just as worrisome was the feeling by many of those surveyed that the Houston government would not live up to its promise to "fix" the health-care system.
Just 10 percent said it could "definitely happen," while 43 percent said it "probably could." The remaining 46 percent said it either could not or "definitely" could not.
That sentiment could explain why, on the day his government released its blueprint to improve health care, Houston used different words to describe the end goal.
"Fix is a very subjective word," Houston said on April 22. "It's in the eye of the beholder. I've used it before. We're going to make significant improvements to health care. And to many people, in their specific situations, it will be a fix."
Coletto said the shift seemed to be an attempt by Houston to manage the expectations of Nova Scotians.
"When people believe and vote for you because of a single promise and now you're starting to walk that back a little, that could become a challenging place for a government," he said. "And this is a tough issue.
"There's no doubt that fixing the health-care system is not an easy solution. But people are expecting action on it.
"I think this government will likely live or die or thrive or be challenged by the perception of whether it's being able to improve the system."
Abacus Data conducted the online poll over a week starting April 14, with 500 Nova Scotians aged 18 or over invited to take the survey. Participants were selected to reflect the geographic and demographic makeup of the province. The margin of error for this kind of poll with this size sample is plus or minus 4.4, 19 times out of 20.
The poll was paid for by Abacus Data and Summa Strategies, a public relations and lobbying firm based out of Ottawa.
Rising cost of living
The aim of the poll was to try to gauge how respondents felt about the Houston government's first eight months in power, and the challenges facing the province.
Health care was the top issue and it also came first on the list of what should be the government's main priorities. Other key issues for the government included the rising cost of living, housing affordability, dealing with COVID-19 and the price of electricity.
In the last election, and again during the spring sitting, the NDP championed those struggling with the high cost of housing.
The Houston government has since made it one of its priorities and taken steps to try to increase the number of new homes, particularly in the Halifax region.
During the sitting, New Democrat and Liberal MLAs also implored the government to do more to help those struggling with increasing food and fuel costs.
Liberal leadership contender Zach Churchill has also made affordability a key issue in his campaign to replace Iain Rankin as party leader.
Those are all indications the opposition parties may have been hearing what pollsters captured in this survey — that there are growing concerns among Nova Scotians about rising everyday costs.
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