09/19/2013 09:59 EDT | Updated 11/19/2013 05:12 EST

Nova Scotia Liberal leader vows to help sex violence victim support groups

HALIFAX - A promise to bring in a plan aimed at preventing sexual violence in Nova Scotia by giving victim support groups predictable funding was the focus of the Liberal party's election campaign Thursday, which also saw the NDP give more details on replacing long-term care beds and the Progressive Conservatives commit to changing the tax system to end what's known as bracket creep.

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil reiterated his commitment to spend $6 million over three years on a strategy to prevent sexual assault and provide stable, multi-year funding to support the work of frontline groups if his party wins the Oct. 8 election.

"We want to be their partner," said McNeil, who didn't reveal how much funding victim support groups would get.

"They've been under-resourced and we want to make sure they have the resources they need to deliver the services."

Irene Smith, executive director of the Halifax-based Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, said the commitment was a good start.

"I'm particularly encouraged with the fact that they are talking about core, stable funding, which is something we have been struggling with for years," said Smith.

She said her organization is receiving $650,000 in provincial funding this year to support programs and hire staff. But she said that falls short of what's needed across the province.

Premier Darrell Dexter said the NDP is also committed to developing a comprehensive sexual assault strategy that will contain consistent multi-year funding.

"We've already said that it is part of our plan to have a fully funded sexual assault strategy," said Dexter.

He added several initiatives have also been undertaken by his government through a cross-departmental committee. The government struck the committee in response to the death of Rehtaeh Parsons.

The 17-year-old took her own life in April. Her family says she endured months of bullying at school following the circulation of a digital photo of her allegedly being sexually assaulted.

The government's committee released a report at the end of August recommending 13 actions to deal with sexual violence and bullying including a social marketing campaign to influence related behaviours and the development of safety protocols with school boards and police.

Earlier this year, the NDP government announced $100,000 in additional funding for the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre in response to a surge in demand for its services as well as $900,000 over two years to help develop services for victims and for grants to organizations that deal with sexual violence.

The government also announced the creation of a $100,000 emergency fund to help support organizations dealing with sexual assault.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said his party would focus on education and other prevention measures, but he also thinks community organizations, such as the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, need to be freed from constantly applying for grants to survive.

"Our plan is to place important community volunteer groups on a multi-year funding platform," said Baillie.

Meanwhile, Dexter announced Thursday that he would set aside $16 million beginning in next year's budget for more than 700 replacement beds in long-term care homes. He said the promise, which expands on one he made before the election, would better serve the province's aging population.

"This is an expansion recognizing the reality of the demographics of our province," said Dexter.

Baillie also highlighted his campaign promise to index provincial income tax rates to inflation.

It's a change that Baillie said would make for a more equitable tax system because it would ensure tax brackets move up with cost-of-living pay increases. Over time, the Tories argue, buying power has been eroded by so-called bracket creep.

"Many are still learning that there's a hidden tax increase every year that they have to pay without being asked, and that's wrong," said Baillie, who estimated the measure would save taxpayers about $6.5 million in its first year.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the government's $900,000 in funding was for one organization.