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People protest as Nova Scotia Liberal Party Leader Iain Rankin speaks during an election campaign event in Halifax on Aug. 8, 2021. Liberal Leader Iain Rankin says his party's $4-billion plan to upgrade health-care facilities will transform the way services are delivered in Nova Scotia, but critics say not enough is being done to support people with disabilities.Brett Bundale/The Canadian Press

Housing for people with disabilities emerged as the central issue during a campaign stop by Nova Scotia Liberal Leader Iain Rankin on Sunday as advocates called for more supports for people with physical and intellectual disabilities.

A small group of people holding placards surrounded Rankin as he highlighted his party’s $4-billion plan to upgrade health-care facilities in Nova Scotia.

He said new hospitals, emergency care centres and community health clinics are being built across the province.

“It’s affordable, costed, realistic and already underway,” he said at a Halifax park overlooking the aging Centennial Building, part of the Victoria General site of the QEII Health Sciences Centre slated to be replaced.

“These investments will help keep doctors here … and there will be better patient safety by improving infection protection and control.”

Yet disability rights advocates say more needs to be done to improve housing and community care supports for people with disabilities.

They called on Rankin to phase out institutional facilities and replace them with small options homes – a key recommendation in a landmark 2013 report referred to as “The Roadmap.”

Although Rankin discussed the issue with an advocate upon arrival at the campaign stop, he left after making a statement without taking questions.

Milt Isaacs took the opportunity to speak out about his family’s experience.

Isaacs said his 31-year-old son, who has global developmental delays, has been on a waiting list for residential care for 13 years.

He said the Liberal government has made no effort to improve the long delays for community supports for people living with disabilities.

Isaacs said his concern is about what will happen when he’s no longer able to advocate on his son’s behalf.

“When I’m no longer here, when my wife is no longer here, he’s left to the demise of what you’re seeing here and this government,” he told reporters following the campaign event.

“I see the investment, they’re talking health care, what I don’t see is that same road map for people with disabilities and (housing),” Isaacs said.

Disability rights advocate Judy Haiven said people with physical disabilities in Nova Scotia have no other option except long-term institutional care.

She called this “warehousing” – storing people with different care needs in one place to save money.

“This is an actual human rights issue,” disability rights advocate Claire McNeil added. “There are people with disabilities from this province who are being ignored. Shut away.”

Victoria Levack said she often feels locked away, a feeling made worse during the pandemic.

The 30-year-old, who has cerebral palsy, lives in a nursing home where most residents are more than twice her age.

“I have one friend in the entire facility,” she said. “There’s no medical reason for me to be in a nursing home. The only reason I’m there is because I require help with all my (activities of daily living).”

Rankin, who spoke with Levack upon arriving at the park, later issued a statement thanking her for raising the issue of access to housing for people with disabilities.

He said he is committed to supporting Nova Scotians who face challenges and that work is underway to meet the targets in “The Roadmap” report.

Last October, he said the government announced the first closure of a large facility for persons with disabilities and budgeted $7.4 million to create 50 new community placements with plans to expand over the next several years.

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