HALIFAX - All three of Nova Scotia's major party leaders made announcements Sunday in the seat-rich Halifax area as the campaign for the Oct. 8 election approached its final stretch.
NDP Premier Darrell Dexter focused on providing services to children with special needs at the Progress Centre for Early Intervention in Halifax's north end.
Dexter promised a three-year, $6-million plan to cut waiting times for early intervention programs, as well as increasing salaries for those working in the programs to help with staff recruitment.
"This funding means that... hopefully parents won't feel alone any more when their child first gets a diagnosis," said Dexter in a playground area as children swirled about. "There's going to be someone there who's going to be able to help them."
The centre, which has the largest program in the province, said about 90 families are currently on its waiting list, with 90 more waiting to be screened. The average wait time is more than a year, the centre's acting executive director Patricia Monaghan said. The province has 17 programs in total.
Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said his party would form a council to look at ways of boosting immigration to Nova Scotia. He said the council would develop a plan to bring to Ottawa to increase immigrations numbers.
McNeil said the council would be formed early in the party's mandate as it looks for ways to reverse a drop in the province's population.
"The council would be represented by representatives from the business community, government and immigration-related stakeholders," said McNeil at the Dartmouth Sportsplex. "The council will provide direction and steer our province toward a more open approach to immigration programs."
Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said he would expand the use of ankle bracelets for offenders and people accused of dangerous crimes.
Baillie said too many people do not follow court-ordered conditions and the bracelets would give authorities a tool to track those on release.
He said statistics from the Justice Department show that 30 per cent of offenders breached their conditions in 2011.
“Nova Scotians deserve to feel safe and secure in their own homes and communities,” Baillie said in a statement. “Electronic monitoring of dangerous offenders acts as a crime prevention tool that will make would-be re-offenders think twice and save families the pain that comes with being a victim of crime."
The Tories say they would spend $3.6 million over four years to increase the number of ankle bracelets to as many as 500 of the devices.
The party said government statistics from last September indicate 70 people were wearing ankle bracelets.
Dexter's promise builds on steps the NDP says it has already taken to help children with special needs.
The premier said the NDP would appoint staff at the IWK Health Centre to act as the main point of contact for families using early intervention services. These so-called family navigators would work directly with families to develop care plans, co-ordinate care providers and enlist the help of specialists and therapists.
"This is about families and providing the supports that they are going to need in order to address the challenges that exist," said Dexter.
In addition to the immigration council, McNeil said he would establish a program to connect with alumni of Nova Scotia universities to develop international business relationships.
He said he would also change the provincial nominee program to attract more immigrants who want to start businesses in the province, accusing the NDP of not doing enough to increase the number of immigrants.
"There are many people in countries around the globe that want to come to Nova Scotia and grow a business and raise families, but in many cases, we either do a poor job of attracting them to our province, or misguided government barriers prevent people from immigrating," said McNeil.
Statistics Canada data shows that Nova Scotia's population dropped by 900 from April 1 until July 1 of this year, leaving the province with 940,800 people. That is the largest population drop for that time period since 1972.
The three main party leaders will have a televised debate on Monday.
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