AMHERST, N.S. — Nova Scotia Liberal Leader Iain Rankin was confronted by a group of angry hecklers during an announcement in Amherst, N.S., Tuesday, where he said his party would remove some of the tolls on a section of the Trans-Canada Highway near the boundary between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Rankin's announcement repeated an earlier commitment by the Liberal government to remove the toll from a section of Highway 104, which was delayed last year to pay for road improvements. The toll has been in force since the highway was opened in 1997.
The Liberals say the change would take effect on Oct. 1 if they are re-elected.
Before and during his announcement, a group of about 15 Amherst residents expressed their frustration with public health orders that had restricted travel to New Brunswick during earlier stages of the pandemic. Thomas Everett said he wanted to let Rankin know he was far from well-liked in the riding, adding that the announcement would not go far in gaining the Liberal leader trust.
"We’re only just a vote. He's only going to try to save us four dollars to go on a highway to Halifax," Everett said in an interview. "It’s not going to fly."
Everett was among the protesters holding a sign in support of Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, the incumbent in the riding who is running as an Independent in the Aug. 17 election. Smith-McCrossin was dropped from the Progressive Conservative caucus last month after she posted a video on social media supporting a protest that blocked the highway between the two provinces.
Rankin is also promising that a Liberal government would build rest stations and maintenance facilities at the midpoint of the stretch of highway known as the Cobequid Pass. He said truckers and motorists with out-of-province licence plates will still pay tolls, with the revenue used for maintenance and the construction of the promised facilities.
"The Cobequid tolls have been a long-standing issue and an irritant for local residents, as you can see," he said, gesturing toward the crowd, "but I believe that issue was worsened by the pandemic, and I certainly feel for the residents of Cumberland County."
Rankin defended the "tough decisions" to impose restrictions on interprovincial travel during the pandemic, saying the government was "trying to look out for the safety of all Nova Scotians." He acknowledged that residents of the county bordering New Brunswick "had endured a heavy burden."
The June protest came after the Rankin government at the last minute reversed course on a planned reopening of Nova Scotia to travellers from New Brunswick, without restrictions.
The chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang said at the time that he and his New Brunswick counterpart had disagreed on what level of risk was acceptable. However, Rankin later announced visitors from New Brunswick would be able to travel without restrictions beginning June 30.
Rankin was joined Tuesday by veteran politician Bill Casey, the Liberal candidate for the Cumberland North riding. The Tories have not announced their candidate in the riding for the Aug. 17 election.
During a news conference earlier in the day, Progressive Conservative leader Tim Houston said his party would also get rid of the car tolls if elected. "The government should have taken them off a couple of years ago," Houston said.
He also announced that if his party forms government, it will create a "Nova Scotia Loyal" program providing rebates of 10 per cent on the price of local food products and three per cent on local non-food items. The Tory leader didn’t provide a precise cost for the program, saying it would be included in a full document outlining the party’s platform on Thursday.
The NDP announced on Tuesday a commitment to maintain rent controls imposed temporarily during the pandemic once the state of emergency ends. Leader Gary Burrill said rising rents are pricing people out of their homes, and they are not able to find affordable alternatives.
Both the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives have said they will end rent control measures at the conclusion of the pandemic.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 20, 2021.
— With files from Michael Tutton in Halifax
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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Danielle Edwards, The Canadian Press