Matt Stickland has travelled several career paths – he’s been an officer in the Royal Canadian Navy serving on the HMCS Charlottetown in Libya and in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific with HMCS Victoria, a freelance journalist for The Coast and Dalhousie Gazette, and a budding politician whose first bid for office was in the 2019 federal election.
Now, he’s running as the NDP candidate for the provincial seat in the Guysborough-Tracadie riding.
All these experiences have given Stickland first-hand knowledge of some of the most pressing issues in politics.
He told The Journal, “There’s a lot of expertise that I have picked up over the past five years, figuring out the sausage making part of politics.”
Given recent history and the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no issue more important to most voters in this election cycle than healthcare. Stickland believes the system in the province is good but needs to change to fit the changing population distribution.
“The way we’ve organized it [healthcare] hasn’t really changed since the rural areas were more populated and could sustain the healthcare model that we currently have … What governments have historically tried to do, and I think that it’s everyone who has governed provincially, has been patchwork fixes [for] issues as they come up and it is starting to show. Maybe we need a major overhaul,” he said.
For the time being, Stickland said there are things we can do to help alleviate problems in the model that exists. He points to his time on submarines where they had one person aboard, a physician assistant, who could take care of all the expected medical issues on the vessels. “He could write prescriptions, he could do emergency medicine, he could tell you what was wrong. He was a GP and emergency medicine all in one.
“We have PAs, LPNs, RNs, we have all of these people who are capable of doing the jobs that doctors do 90 per cent of the time in rural communities … Which means you could have more people providing healthcare in rural areas that aren’t necessarily MDs … and if they are in over their head, they have people they can call. It’s not like they’re in the wilderness or in a submarine,” Stickland said, adding, “It’s a doctor shortage because we’re asking doctors to provide all the care, but it really is a care shortage … because there are other people that can do those jobs.”
Part and parcel of the healthcare conundrum is the Emergency Health Services provision of ambulance service. Stickland said that this was an issue he’s heard at the door time and time again. There’s a lot of concern about cost. The NDP platform states that ambulance service should be free, just like hospital visits.
“People are worried that people might take advantage of a free ambulance service and that would cost the province and taxpayers money.”
But Stickland said, the province is already paying for the cost of the user-pay ambulance service model, when people don’t seek medical help due to the cost of the ambulance and develop a more serious, more costly, condition that puts a burden on the health system.
Stickland admits that some people may take advantage of a free ambulance service “but the trade-off is people won’t die unnecessary deaths because they can’t get the healthcare they need.”
The backlog resulting in long wait times for ambulance service, Stickland said is due to “chronically underfunding our healthcare system and that shows up in all kinds of ways … there’s a who slew of issues that lead up to a seven-hour wait time [referencing an ambulance transfer time cited in the media]. We need to spend money on the things we value and if we value our healthcare, if we value our lives, then we need to spend the money.”
Keeping a roof over your head can be difficult, especially in areas with low housing stock such as Guysborough County. Since the pandemic hit and Nova Scotia became an oasis of calm in the rough seas of COVID-19, the housing shortage has increased due to an unprecedented real estate boom.
“In 2019, I knocked on however many thousands of doors and there were 10 people who brought up housing issues,” said Stickland, “Now, I am getting three a day … we need to start crafting policies that put people before the money of real estate investment. What’s happening right now is that landlords are selling their properties to cash in on the housing boom and new people don’t necessarily want to become landlords. Or they want Airbnb’s. And the people that don’t own the homes are out.
“You need to craft policies that protect people from losing their homes … We need rent control and the landlord registry … We need to start prioritizing the people who live in the houses, as opposed to the amount of interest a property can generate for the person who owns it. Because right now we are crafting policies based on that,” Stickland said.
One election issue that is unique to the Guysborough-Tracadie riding is library service. Since April, hours at Eastern Counties Regional Library (ECRL) branches in Guysborough, Canso and Sherbrooke have been greatly reduced. At issue is funding; the ECRL board has asked for a significant increase from the municipal units impacted – Municipality of the District of Guysborough and the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s – and those councils have refused to increase the funding this year for numerous reasons.
When asked for his stance on the library situation, Stickland said, “It’s a pittance as far as the provincial budget is concerned,” and he proposes that the provincial minister in charge of funding should supply the funds to maintain the hours at these three branches in the riding.
On the stump
On the campaign trail, Stickland said he’s mainly heard concerns about healthcare and housing affordability from voters. But beyond policies and beyond the issues affecting people’s lives directly, people are talking about trust.
“They say, ‘Why should I believe you?’ And I don’t have a good answer for that because for at least the past 20 years politicians have been coming to doors, promising the moon and then once in office, being constrained by political realities. But in the meantime, life has gotten harder for everyone. Life is more expensive; wages aren’t going up to match.
“So, one of the biggest issues that I am facing is that people don’t believe me and there’s no reason in a 30-second conversation that they should. They shouldn’t believe in any one of us. They haven’t been given an opportunity to,” said Stickland.
X marks the spot
Given the lack of faith in politicians that Stickland said he’s encountered, he wants voters to know, “I deployed with the Charlottetown in 2019, and I got shot at there for the people of this country. I was in a submarine that flooded underwater, and I almost died trying to keep the people of this country safe. If Gary Burrill is upset with me because I am standing up for people, I will not let that stop me; he is less scary than short range missiles in Libya.
“I want to express to people that I am just as fed up; I am suffering just as much as everyone else. But I am not afraid of the political realities … [I will] try and do anything, anything, that can help people,” Stickland said, concluding, “If I do get elected, I’ll give you a reason to trust me.”
Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal