Provincial Issues--January-February 2015

Municipal Affairs Announces ED Appointments - Municipal Affairs recently announced the appointment of three Executive Directors.  Mark Peck is the ED of Policy, Planning, and Operations Advisory Services, which covers land use and planning, municipal taxation, financial accountability, advisory services and governance.  Anne Partridge is the ED for Grants, Programs, and Operations, including the Fire Marshal.  Andy Latham is the ED for the Emergency Management Office. Gordon Smith is the new Director of Planning.

Municipal Affairs Releases Data on Financial Condition Indicators - Information on the financial health of Nova Scotia municipalities, including revenue, budget and capital assets, was released on February 17.

The Financial Condition Indexes for each municipality for the past two fiscal years have been added to the Department of Municipal Affairs website.

The index examines how each municipality gets revenue, and budgets for municipal priorities. There are 15 indicators with a municipality's score, the average for its class (rural municipality and town) and the threshold, or achievement benchmark.

Each municipality has reviewed and approved its data and may provided information to explain indicators, unique circumstances and trends. The index is available at http://novascotia.ca/dma/finance/indicator/fci.asp

The index was recommended by the Towns Task Force and developed by Municipal Affairs, the UNSM and the Association of Municipal Administrators.

Abolishing Sunday Hunting Ban  - The Province is considering lifting the ban on Sunday hunting in Nova Scotia. Amendments to the regulations under the Wildlife Act would be required in order to allow Sunday hunting. NS Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is facilitating an online consultation on Sunday hunting. The online consultation will take place over 60 days from February 13th to April 10th 2015 via the DNR website: http://novascotia.ca/natr/hunt/sunday/  If the Province decided to pursue lifting the ban on Sunday hunting, regulatory amendments could be sought for implementation in the Fall 2015 hunting season. DNR is seeking municipal feedback on this issue. More background information will be available on-line when the consultation commences.

Program to Keep New Doctors in Province - A tuition relief program will help keep new family doctors and specialists in Nova Scotia and place them in communities that need them.

The program will be available to 25 medical graduates or doctors from out of province over the next four years. In exchange for a five-year commitment to practice medicine in an underserved community, the province will repay the cost of medical school tuition, up to $120,000.

The program was the main recommendation of the Physician Recruitment and Retention Action Team, an expert panel created to help recruit and retain doctors.

The program will be available to medical students in residency, or doctors within their first seven years of practice outside Nova Scotia.

An additional $30,000 payment is available to family doctors willing to practice in a community without a regional hospital and specialists who are willing to practice outside the current Capital District Health Authority.

Priority will be given to Nova Scotian applicants.Medical residents and physicians interested in learning more about the incentive program should visit http://physicians.novascotia.ca/.  The Action Team report is available at novascotia.ca/dhw/publications/Physician-Recruitment-Retention-Action-Team-Report.pdf.

Government Partners with 211 to Enhance Services for Seniors - Starting January 15, seniors will only need to dial three digits to get information they need as the provincewide 211 service will handle inquiries about senior abuse and provincial programs.

211 Nova Scotia is a confidential information and referral service for community, non-profit and government services. It has information about thousands of services, is available 24 hours a day and has interpretation services for more than 100 languages.

The non-profit 211 service was launched in February 2013, with financial support from the Government of Nova Scotia and the United Way. More than 120,000 Nova Scotians have called or used 211's online database to find services.

In its 2013 annual report, 211 reported about one-third of inquiries are about services for seniors. Requests ranged from preventing or responding to senior abuse, to information on programs and services that help people stay in their homes. Department of Seniors staff respond to 2,200 to 3,000 calls per year.

The two Department of Seniors information and referral lines that have been providing these services will be automatically re-directed to 211 until the transition is complete.

Staff at 211 recently had specialized training from the department to ensure it understands the types of challenges seniors face, especially with senior abuse. The department will continue to act as a resource to 211, to meet the needs of seniors.

Calls to 211 are toll-free from any phone in Nova Scotia, and 211 also offers an easy-to-navigate online database at www.ns.211.ca.

Minimum Wage Increasing April 1 - Nova Scotia's minimum wage is increasing to keep pace with the cost of living. Government accepted the Minimum Wage Review Committee's recommendation to increase the minimum wage by 20 cents, to $10.60 an hour on April 1.

The minimum wage for someone who has less than three months' experience will also increase by 20 cents an hour, to $10.10. Minimum wage rates are adjusted annually, and are based on the previous year's national consumer price index. Nova Scotia has the fifth highest minimum wage in the country, behind Nunavut, Yukon, Manitoba and Ontario. The Minimum Wage Review Committee, which includes employee and employer representatives, filed its report with Labour and Advanced Education Minister Kelly Regan on Jan. 12. The report is online at novascotia.ca/lae/pubs/#minwage