Gallant’s Uninspiring Throne Speech

Commentary in the Telegraph-Journal by Jennifer McKenzie, Leader of the New Brunswick NDP

The Liberal Government delivered a singularly uninspired and unfocused Speech from the Throne last week at the first sitting of the Legislature, in the final session of their mandate. The lack of applause from anyone but the Liberals themselves was deafening.

Liberals cite three priorities for the coming year as being the economy, health care and education, which they say are the three main priorities of New Brunswickers. Even if so, their record in all three areas is nothing to crow about.

Tens of millions of dollars have been given in the name of creating dubious short term or non-existent jobs at corporations like Sears and TD Bank, the latter of whom recorded a $2.4 billion profit in the first quarter of this year. Any growth – which they like to give as a compound rate over three years to make it seem inflated – is as a result of factors well outside of their control, like federal infrastructure spending (and why are there so many Nova Scotia and Quebec work crews on our roads?) or a strong U.S. economy and U.S. tourists fleeing to Canada from Trump.

On health care, they fare far worse. Gallant capitulated into a deal with his federal counterparts that does not account for the fact that we are the oldest and fastest-aging province in Canada. This means that our health care costs will rise faster than anyone else’s, without a corresponding increase in our health care transfer funding line. Each year the province will be squeezed tighter and tighter on the largest line item in the province’s budget. No wonder they want to hide behind handing over the management of home nursing to Medavie, a private company. Things are going to get progressively worse in coming years and Gallant’s Liberals wish to have their backsides well-covered.

In education, high illiteracy rates continue to dominate the headlines and post secondary enrolment rates continue to decline.

Now let’s get to the unmet promises that got them elected. In the last election, Gallant promised that every New Brunswicker would have a family doctor by 2018. Where are we on that file? There are two months left until 2018 and we get vague promises of working with the Medical Society to get more family doctors in place?

Gallant also promised to get the property tax system sorted out. Well, that went well didn’t it? Cities like Saint John are left holding the bag and being forced into austerity-style cuts. Who gets hurt by austerity? The poor, the vulnerable, the aged.

It is indeed ironic that anti-poverty initiatives are underway in Saint John while the Liberal government has so badly mismanaged, and continues to mismanage, the property tax file. As Mayor Don Darling and his council so clearly pointed out in their motion, the tax system is broken. Just the taxes alone missed on the Canaport LNG property – where the province hired an American pro-industry firm to do the property value assessment – could have wiped out food bank use in Saint John and beyond every year from now on.

Two measures in the throne speech deserve support: amendments to labour laws to permit binding arbitration to settle a first contract and the intention to bring in amendments to occupational health and safety laws, which make violence in the workplace an occupational hazard. These are both long-overdue changes. They are but the tip of the iceberg in terms of changes needed to protect workers in this province, issues that will be addressed head-on by the NDP in the coming election.

It is extremely difficult to watch a government pretend that it has progressive intentions at the very last minute – when its actions to date clearly show that it does not. The tragedy is that progressive policies are indeed the ones that can save this province, attract and keep youth here, and lead us into prosperity. But they have to be part of a comprehensive and cohesive plan not a scattergun, last-minute plan to get re-elected.

Today there is an obvious need for a real alternative to the two-party system in New Brunswick and to put an end to the complacency and entitlement we see in our elected officials. To break the destructive pattern, New Brunswick must turn to a party that believes in good government and a strong public sector, and that doesn’t look to the private sector to run government. I intend to present the NDP as that alternative as a ready-to-govern option in every part of the province.

This election must be about what kind of future we want for our youth. We must create an economy and a society that our youth believe in and want to stay for. It’s time for change.

Jennifer McKenzie is leader of the New Brunswick New Democratic Party.