By David Coon My first real memory of politics was Pierre Trudeau’s advocacy for a just society. As an eleven year old, this vision for our county inspired me. If politics was capable of bringing about social change, it was something I wanted to know more about. This was also the era of Louis Robichaud’s program of social equality, continued by Richard Hatfield, which ultimately lifted so many out of poverty, and laid the groundwork for the Acadian and francophone minorities to become full participants in New Brunswick society. Indigenous peoples figured nowhere in the social change of that time. Reconciliation, the recognition of the treaties, and the resolution of land title must be today’s political priority. As Greens we embrace this, and as MLAs we will act on it. There are corrosive forces at work in New Brunswick that seek to undermine the progress made to ensure the language and culture of Acadians and other francophones are safeguarded. This threatens to turn us against each other. New Brunswickers have had the right to be served by their government in either English or French for almost half a century now. It’s been 37 years since the Legislative Assembly recognized the equality of the anglophone and francophone communities in New Brunswick. And it has been a quarter century since these rights were entrenched in our Constitution.So what is going on? Fear seems to be at the root of it. Many are fearful about the economy and the future of our public services. This is being used by some to argue that we cannot afford social equality. Repeat this enough, conjure up scary stories about going over an economic cliff, and fair-minded people can become fearful. Just look at the crisis in recruitment and retention of paramedics. The deteriorating ambulance service in rural New Brunswick is a result of poor management.Medavie has allowed staffing levels to fall far below what is required to keep our ambulances on the road. Blaming it on decades-old requirements to provide public services in English and French is to miss the actual problem altogether. There are also more than a hundred paramedics who are off work because of work-related health problems. Paramedics are burning out, they are suffering from PTSD. Improving ambulance service in New Brunswick should be a cause that unites us. What about the stories making the rounds aboutunfair hiring practices in the public service. This should have been put to rest a long time ago by government. Open and transparent governance should mean open and transparent hiring practices. Yet we have witnessed a string of governments who seem to believe that their work is their business, not the business of the people of the province. If there is nepotism in hiring practices, let’s root it out. If a bureaucratic one size fits all approach to second language proficiency requirements is being taken, no matter the job, let’s bring some good sense to bear. Which brings me to second language training. It is not available for most adults, whether English or French. Second language training must be readily available, accessible and affordable. If second language training in the school system is not producing the results we want, then we need to heed the advice of educators on how to improve those outcomes for both English-speaking and French-speaking students. If we are to successfully navigate the future, we must do so as people united with a common purpose. This is only possible if we all feel secure and respected.This requires good leadership, and an unwavering commitment to engaging New Brunswickers in pursuit of a just society. David Coon is the Leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick and the MLA for Fredericton-South
My grandfather graduated from grade six, and he was one of the smartest men I have ever known. In our family, getting Papa, as we called him, to complete grade six was always talked about as a success – something to celebrate. My grandparents ran a small successful farm, and they were immersed in their community, like many of us are today. I learned from them that a vibrant resilient community is fundamental to our quality of life – and that you have to treat the land with care and respect, just like you treat your neighbours, if you expect to live an abundant life.In the Greens, I found a political party that understands these things. We must manage our society and our economy in the same way, so that prosperity is shared and lasting.Being Green means believing in the power of community to create change for the better. It means unleashing local wisdom and ingenuity to tackle the challenges we face. To make this possible, the good of the community must always be put ahead of corporate interests. Practically speaking, it means localizing decision-making about health-care, education, development and resource management. To do so, means harnessing local creativity and engagement, and requires effective community-based organizations. And it means a provincial government must stand with our communities to provide them with support and resources they need to thrive.The old-line parties have been dragging us in the opposite direction with the one size fits all centralization of health care and education, and the corporatization of community-based nursing homes and health care in the home.Local decision-making about resource management means tying local resources to local economies, like the forest resources on Crown land. Can you imagine if lobsters were caught by a corporation and shipped away for processing? It would be the end of our fishing communities, but this is precisely what we have been doing in forestry which has undermined forest communities. Local communities must have a say in the management of local forest resources, to create meaningful work for local people. And this must be done in a way that engages with and respects local indigenous communities.To be able to focus on the local means two things. The provincial government has to see itself as a collaborator with us, not the boss of us. And it has to have our back if we fall on hard times for health or financial reasons. We have neither.Liberals and Tories have been captured by the interests of the few, whether corporate or political, for so long that they find it almost impossible to act in the interests of the many. It is why governments have gradually damaged the quality of our essential services, be it health care or our roads. It is why we are so often left with the question: for whose benefit have they been running the province.We are a small province, and we need to become the very best at being small. After all, small is beautiful, as long as we make a place for everyone in our communities, and we keep our sights fixed firmly on long-term – living within our financial and ecological means. But it starts here, at home. The idea that New Brunswick’s deliverance will come from away needs to be put aside. We are the people we have been waiting for.Any farmer will tell you after they run into a rough patch, that things will be better the next year. But they don’t wait for it, they work for it. Papa taught me that. And his life proved it. That’s why I’m a Green. David Coon is the Leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick and the MLA for Fredericton-South.
It doesn’t get more fundamental than food. As the old saying goes, you are what you eat. But most of us don’t know what’s in our food, or where it came from. If more of the food we eat was produced in New Brunswick, we would have a better idea. There is something fundamentally wrong when you can’t even find something like New Brunswick potatoes in the grocery story, though we grow far more than what we consume here. And if you are looking for potatoes organically grown in New Brunswick, you’ll most likely find them in farmers markets, not supermarkets. Things are not much better for poultry and meat, despite the fact that the scale of our agriculture lends itself to raising grass-fed cattle and free-range chickens. The challenge here is that the rules governing the production of poultry and meat are designed for big industrial operations, not ecologically appropriate mixed farms. For me, the problem is that our starting point is not how best to feed New Brunswickers with healthy food produced through ecologically sound methods. The starting point is what commodities does the global food market demand, and how can they be produced in large volumes at low cost. The local food movement provides a counterbalance to this. And it is the local food movement that has attracted growing numbers of young people to take up farming. My family buys its poultry from a young man who moved away to the big city where he worked as bicycle courier, but returned to raise small livestock on a corner of his parent’s farm. Both of the Green Party’s candidates from Kent County, Kevin Arseneau and Allain Rouselle are young farmers, who together with their young families, are producing food for New Brunswickers using organic practices. Our candidate for Albert, Moranda Van Geest, ran a dairy farm with her husband to supply milk to New Brunswick families. Now they raise sheep, pigs and chickens in their retirement. The potential to expand local food production in New Brunswick is considerable, and to do so in a manner that is ecologically sound. This requires government to adopt self-reliance as a policy goal, one of the key guiding principles of the Green Party. It means thinking about community development as the intersection between economic and social development that is rooted in a particular place. It means thinking about development occurring in an ecological context. And it requires a commitment to policies that would encourage food import replacement with local production, as well as a commitment to support the development of small enterprises all along the supply chain from field to table. Imagine for a minute if government stopped supporting extraordinarily profitable enterprises with millions of dollars in forgivable loans and payroll rebates, such the $21 million it has committed to the TD Bank over the past decade. Imagine instead that it refocussed its efforts to provide small business loan guarantees to help grow the enterprises we need to ensure we can feed ourselves with healthy, locally produced food. On a recent visit to Saint John, I had a delicious lunch in a wonderful café run by a social enterprise called Stone Soup on the ground floor of that city’s Social Enterprise Hub. When I was last in Bouctouche at dinner time, I had an enjoyable meal in the café of the La Société Culturelle de Kent-Sud. In Moncton, Dolma Food can always be counted on to serve up a superb lunch. What links these enterprises is a strong commitment to community and the desire to offer healthy meals based on local food. It is our communities which are moving New Brunswick forward. Greens believe it is the role of a provincial government to foster and facilitate local development so families can flourish in thriving communities. David Coon is the Leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick and the MLA for Fredericton-South.
I am hearing from more and more people that care seems to be a dwindling resource in our health care system compared to a decade ago. Despite the $1.3 billion that we spend on the delivery of hospital services every year our city hospitals are stretched to the limit, operating at full capacity with inadequate levels of staffing. Staff are feeling disrespected by the administration. Burn out is a real concern. Those who chose the caring professions are frustrated with a system that gets in the way of good care. Patients suffer. It doesn’t add up. We have a nursing shortage, but newly minted nursing graduates cannot get permanent full-time work, so they leave the province. Emergency departments are operating at 100 percent capacity without a single ambulance delivering a patient in urgent need of emergency care. Wait times are putting patient safety at risk, but ER’s are not being adequately staffed. Nurse practitioners can’t get sufficient work to keep their licenses, so they are leaving the province. Surgeries get cancelled for lack of beds. Patients are in hallways for lack of beds. And if you need treatment for a mental illness in Fredericton, psychiatrists are a scarce resource, limited by an inadequate number of billing numbers. Physicians and nurses are venting their frustration in the media, and in letters circulated to MLAs. Patients and family members of patients are doing the same. What could account for this deplorable state of affairs? The past decade has seen government after government obsessed with what euphemistically is called efficiencies. We have had a fiscally-driven health care system, rather than a patient-centred system of care. As a result, our front-line health care services lack the money they need to meet the demand. On the flip-side of this, nowhere near enough has been done to reduce the demand for health care in the way of health promotion and prevention, an approach that is central to the Green Party’s agenda for health care reform. The other big change to health care in the past decade was centralization. In 2008, Shawn Graham’s government collapsed four health authorities into one called Horizon. Four others were folded into Vitalité. The objective was to save money and improve the health of New Brunswickers. Ten years out, the verdict is in. It didn’t work. Centralization has become the problem, not the solution. Nurses are now even scheduled centrally, out of Saint John. A nurse calls in sick in Miramichi, and a decision is taken in Saint John about who to replace them with. It’s time to move back in the other direction, creating smaller health districts with local advisory councils. Interestingly, Vitalité never fully consolidated the four health regions it encompasses, leaving some local decision-making authority in each. A more decentralized system would be better equipped to deliver health promotion and disease prevention, responding to local priorities rather than a one-size fits all approach from a central authority. The New Brunswick Health Council has carried out community health assessments across the province, but the health care system is too centrally organized to make effective use of their findings. Greens believe that decisions should be made as close to the people who will be affected by them, as is practical, whether it is patients, health professionals or communities. This means those at the centre of government must be prepared to relinquish some of the power and authority that has been handed them in the rush towards the centralization of decision-making. Whether it is health care, economic development, or forest management, it is time for a provincial government that is committed to empower our communities and regions to be able to shape their futures. This is an essential part of the Green vision for New Brunswick. David Coon is the Leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick and the MLA for Fredericton-South.
“There’s no money.”- I hear this over and over again. It is a common refrain when people hear new ideas that would make life better for New Brunswickers. But I can’t understand why anyone would expect that spending money in the same way year after year is going to produce different results. On Tuesday, government brought down its budget, which is largely a repeat of last year’s. We spend more than $9B each year to serve New Brunswickers and our communities. The biggest ticket item by far is health care at nearly $2.8 billion. You would think there would be a huge emphasis on prevention and health promotion in the budget to reduce the incidence of illness. There is not. This money is primarily going to treat people when the fall ill. Liberals and Tories argue over whether or not to close hospitals, but closing hospitals doesn’t reduce the number of sick people. We have to look upstream to do that. The conditions into which people are born, grow, live, work and age, largely determine whether someone falls ill or develops chronic diseases. Even the vast majority of cancers are caused by these conditions. A decent income, financial security, secure housing, sufficient and healthy food, a sense of belonging, mental wellness, an education, a healthy environment in the workplace and at home, and clean air and water are what keep us healthy, and therefore, avoid health care costs. Let’s look at just one determinant of health – poverty. The budget fails to tackle poverty head on – it in fact, perpetuates it. The level of income assistance is inadequate to meet even the most basic of needs. A single person receives $537 a month, which is not enough to pay for food, shelter and other necessities of life. Once on social assistance, single mothers are not allowed to keep their child support, the disabled cannot keep disability pensions, and indigenous people living off-reserve lose any meager income from their band. If you are on income assistance and try to make you money go further by sharing accommodations, you are immediately cut-off and lose your health card so you can’t fill your prescriptions. The failure to address the social determinants of health has driven up health costs, as has the way we deliver health care. Our health system was designed to address acute health problems, but a huge portion of our health care dollars is spent on treating chronic conditions and minor ailments. Greens believe we can improve access to health care, at a lower cost, by moving more health care into the community and incorporating a wider array of health professionals. Pharmacists can treat many minor ailments and issue prescriptions, but unlike most other provinces, Medicare will not cover those costs. Instead of being treated by the local pharmacist for common infections, people are forced to use the expensive machinery of the emergency departments in our hospitals, waiting hours for a doctor to write a prescription, when this could have been done in the local pharmacy in a matter of minutes. Nurse practitioners could become the primary care provider for many without family doctors, but this government will not permit them to establish private practices and be reimbursed by Medicare. Midwives can provide pre- and post-natal care, and deliver babies at a lower cost than obstetricians, freeing up the specialists to concentrate on high risk pregnancies. Yet there are only three midwives funded to practice in the entire province – all in Fredericton. We have to do better. Greens embrace community-based and preventative health care. This will mean better chronic and acute care for people in our communities, better employment opportunities for the trained medical professionals living here now, and savings that can be diverted to addressing other determinants of health, including poverty. We have what we need to change the face of health care, right here, right now. There is enough money. It’s a question of how we spend it. David Coon is the Leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick and the MLA for Fredericton-South.
"In the early 20th century, New Brunswick was a very big deal. . . . But over the decades, New Brunswick slipped back into relative obscurity." This how the largest travel book guide publisher in the world, Lonely Planet, begins its introduction to our province, noting most travellers simply drive-through the province. The problem is for most Canadians - never mind those from outside our - borders - New Brunswick is the dark matter on the map of the country. Dark matter makes up much of the universe, but it cannot be directly observed as it emits no light or energy. Canadians know were here, but they just can't see us, even as they traverse the four lanes that whisk them from Quebec and Maine to the Confederation Bridge or the welcome centre at the Nova Scotia border. It's no wonder. Our newest welcome centre, just off the four lane, bringing travellers into New Brunswick at St. Stephen, is astonishingly non-descript. If you can see past the signage for the American fast food restaurants, the Irving station and convenience store, you'll spot a big question mark - no New Brunswick logo or sign - just a giant question mark, subtitled Visitor Information. I kid you not.This is how we are branding New Brunswick at our newest government visitor information center. At a recent community meeting in my riding, constituents gave voice to a concern shared by many about our lack-lustre efforts to promote New Brunswick and give our visitors a memorable experience. I could dine out on the money I'd make if I had a loonie for every time someone has asked why we can't have TV commercials like those produced by the government of Newfoundland and Labrador. To be fair, the good folks at the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture have created an excellent tourism website and have devoted much attention to create an on-line presence for New Brunswick. When you google New Brunswick, their site comes up on the first page, but so does the Lonely Planet reference and a CBC story about New Brunswick being the only province with a shrinking population. Every last one of us knows the potential for tourism in our province is huge, but mostly untapped. The provincial government has included tourism in its growth strategy, but we have to generate some heat and light for it succeed. We need to effectively brand New Brunswick to shine through the dark matter that obscures us from view for most Canadians. And we need to create tourism infrastructure and services that actually encourage tourism. Both of these requirements go beyond the capacity of the Department of Tourism to deliver by itself, and require a long view. The St. John River Valley scenic drive, for example, is wonderfully scenic, but feels like the land that time forgot as the four-lane propels visitors through region. The pavement has been neglected, there are few services along the road, no scenic turnouts, no tourist infrastructure besides King's Landing, and no promotion of Woodstock, Fredericton or Gagetown as destinations. In a word, the drive would be bleak if it weren't for the majestic views. Our cultures, our food, our craft beer and ciders, our artists, and our history are all things that visitors speak glowingly about when they come across them, but too often we fail to make it easy, or attractive for such encounters to occur. The new performing arts centre planned for Fredericton provides a unique opportunity to provide a tourism anchor for the region if we created a summer festival of musical theatre along the lines of the Charlottetown Festival. Audiences could experience our cultures, our music, and our history from theatrical productions based on iconic New Brunswick stories. This would create opportunities for our playwrights, our composers, musicians and actors. Visitors could build their vacations around the summer festival. Opportunities abound across the province to significantly increase tourism, but it requires that government make this a priority, invest in infrastructure and services, and work with our regions to achieve this goal. New Brunswick is one of the best kept secrets in the country, but to let our fellow Canadians in on the secret requires creativity, collaboration and some pluck. Fundamentally, we need to believe in ourselves to make this work. Those were the ingredients that led to our decision to unite with Nova Scotia and the Province of Canada to create a country 150 years ago. That's what went into Louis Robichaud's social equality program 50 years ago. Compared to those revolutionary changes, with the right leadership, turning New Brunswick into a tourist destination should be a cakewalk. David Coon is the Leader of the Green Party and the MLA for Fredericton South.
It’s Environment Week, but what does that mean beyond community and school clean-ups? We are continually told by the powers that be that we must balance the environment and the economy. Which I have come to understand means accepting widespread collateral damage to our climate, to our soils, to our oceans, to our forests, and to freshwater and air in order to grow the economy. The problem is we are fully embedded in and dependent on the environment. Undermining the environment to grow the economy is a fool’s errand, but we continue to tolerate this. Consider plants. They definitely are part of the environment. Plants soak up energy from the sun and turn it into food. It’s really quite astounding when you think about it. Sunshine is converted into food by plants. I think it was Johnathon Swift who said pickles are really just bottled sunshine. But there’s more. Plants scrub carbon dioxide out of the air and give us oxygen. Some plants even provide us with wood to build our homes. Many plants lift our spirits, whether it’s the beauty of blooming flowers or the majesty of towering trees. Plants are indispensable to life, and with the right growing conditions they bear food to eat, air to breathe, wood for shelter, and balm for the soul. And if that’s not enough, they also support our entire food chain. Given the indispensable role of plants, you would think that our societies would be mindful of their growing conditions. Good soil, plenty of bees for those plants which need their assistance to reproduce, and a climate conducive to growth. In other words, we need to protect their environment, which we have failed to do. The increasing production and use of oil, gas and coal is a case in point. We ran out of space to put the pollution that results from burning these fossil fuels a long time ago. The ever increasing amount of fossil fuels we dig up and burn have swamped the ability of nature to recycle this pollution, allowing it to build-up in our atmosphere and ocean waters, destabilizing the climate and acidifying the sea on a global scale. This is why it is urgent to lessen our need for burning oil, gas and coal by consuming less and by switching to enduring and renewable energy sources such as the sun, wood fibre, wind and tides. While Premier Gallant released a strategy to do this last December, we have yet to see any concrete measures. The Department of Energy and Resource Development has neither a renewable energy development branch, nor a section dedicated to energy efficiency and conservation. There is no one in the Department of Energy to champion the development of renewable energy. Government hasn’t moved the bar for renewable energy, whether for space heating, water heating, electric power generation, or fueling vehicles since the Shawn Graham years of the last decade. Young entrepreneurs and some cooperative enterprises certainly have been trying, but the public policy environment is unsupportive. There are a remarkable number of start-ups where New Brunswick entrepreneurs are building low energy homes, looking to generate solar and wind power, manufacture and market wood pellets, supply energy storage systems, develop innovative tidal power technologies, and create clever controls to run these systems. It’s time that government catch up and establish helpful policies to support the development of the renewable energy sector, but to do so we need people in place who have the responsibility to do so. The federal government is championing the development of renewable energy across Canada. Our renewable energy resources are abundant. Their development will enable us to reduce our consumption of coal, oil and natural gas so we can do our part to reduce carbon pollution. Premier Gallant has set a target of cutting carbon pollution by 4 million tonnes over the next dozen years. He needs to make the development of renewable energy a priority if we are to ever achieve that target. I introduced a bill in the Legislative Assembly to help achieve this, but it was defeated. It’s time to be bold and build the economy of the 21st century, which must be powered and fueled by enduring renewable sources of energy. That’s something worth thinking about during this Environment Week. Plants can turn sunlight into food. It’s time we use it to power and warm our homes, fuel our cars, and run our economy. David Coon is the Leader of the Green Party and the MLA for Fredericton South.
When I graduated from university I wrote the federal public service exam, believing that public service would be a career where I could make a positive contribution to the life of my country. I ended up choosing a different path to public service, working for most of my career in the public interest sector for non-profit organizations, and then 3 years ago offering to serve the people of Fredericton South in the Legislative Assembly. Today, the civil service is maligned, disparaged, even vilified by some. Public service more broadly is seen as suspect with elected representatives trusted less than just about any other occupation, and public interest organizations regarded as special interest groups with a self-interested agenda. These perceptions are toxic to democracy and provide a pretext for diminishing the role of government and citizen advocacy at a time when we are facing a number of tough challenges. Mounting an effective and fair response to our rapidly aging population, rural decline, persistent youth unemployment, multi-generational poverty, slow economic growth, the transition away from fossil fuels, a rapidly changing climate, and ecological decline requires a public service that is properly supported to help governments tackle these challenges with evidence-based options for new public policy. However government cut-backs and its sometime antagonistic relationship with the public service have compromised its capacity to rise to the challenges of the day. Few departments have the in-house capacity to engage in research, strategic planning or policy development anymore. A former Deputy Minister of Social Development explained to me how he had to contract out policy development work to consultants with chronically unsatisfactory results. Progress is needed on many fronts. How do we make our communities age-friendly? How do we address the growing social isolation of seniors? How do we foster the development of innovative housing and care environments for seniors and the elderly? How would we embark on a basic living income program to improve on social assistance and unemployment? How can government support the development of rural communities? How do we make the transition to a low-carbon society? Given the plans for further cuts to government departments, either we can't, we'll make a poor job of it, or we pay high-priced consultants to tell us how to do it. Ten years ago, there were 9,000 civil servants working for our provincial government. When the Liberals formed government in 2014, this number had been cut by 1,300. Yet, Treasury Board President Roger Melanson wants to cut another 1,300 positions. Our public service has already been cut too close to the bone, handicapping our ability to meet the challenges we need to face head-on. Further cuts will incapacitate it entirely. The relentless refrain from government is they're looking for efficiencies, a word that has become synonymous with cutting positions. What we need to focus on is effectiveness. How do we effectively support rural communities in their efforts to improve the well-being of their residents? No group has the specific responsibility to champion rural and community development. What about the societal transformation we are going through as seniors make up an increasing part of our population? Where is the horsepower in the public service to manage this radical demographic change? How do we facilitate the transition away from fossil fuels? At the Department of Energy and Resource Development there is essentially one person who has energy efficiency as one among many files. The same could be said for renewable energy development. No Department has the mandate for ensuring we have effective public transportation infrastructure and services. Where do we go for the evidence we need to make good public policy? We don't understand which youth are leaving the province and why. There is a poor understanding of who makes up the working poor. We haven't got a good understanding of the consequences for New Brunswick of increasing automation. We don't know where and how to focus our efforts on preventing disease for the most effective results. This list is a long one. Part of the problem has been the hostility and distrust that consecutive governments have had for the public service. Rather than successfully managing the public service so it can effectively serve New Brunswickers with its expertise and evidence-based policy options, the political party in power has too often seen the public service as its handmaiden. One can only imagine what this has done for morale. Pubic servants also get sidelined when a government allows itself to be captured by corporate or partisan priorities, silencing their advice and ignoring their expertise. Certainly there are exceptions to the rule, where Ministers and their senior staff effectively work as a team to advance the public good, but this is all too rare in an era where so much decision-making is directed from the Office of the Premier. The senseless cuts needs to end, and the role of the public service needs to be restored so it can effectively help the party in power address the challenges of our time. Further hacking away at it will incapacitate us all. David Coon is the MLA for Fredericton South and the Leader of the Green Party.
Two weeks ago, New Brunswick’s Commission on Electoral Reform released its recommendations for increasing both voter participation, and the participation of underrepresented groups in our elections. Voter participation has been in freefall since the 1987 election, with only 64 percent of eligible voters casting a ballot in 2014, down from 82 percent 30 years ago. Democracy is the means by which we make collective decisions about our society, yet 36% of New Brunswickers didn’t show up to vote in the last election. Why? Could it be that New Brunswickers are feeling poorly served by our democratic institutions? Samara, a charitable organization dedicated to connecting citizens to politics, polls Canadians on their views about our democracy. What have they found? Canadians are withdrawing from the democratic system, because they see politics as irrelevant. Only 54 percent believe members of parliament can shape the direction of the country. In rating the performance of their MPs, respondents gave them a mark of 46 for “representing the views of constituents” and 45 for “holding the government to account”. Parliamentarians only broke through the pass threshold, scoring a 61, on “representing the views of their party.” The Commission on Electoral Reform made many good recommendations, including developing an annual report to the Legislature on the state of democracy in New Brunswick, phasing out political contributions from corporations and trade unions, lowering the voting age to 16, extending the right to vote to permanent residents who are not yet citizens, providing a financial incentive for parties to run more women, and considering some form of proportional representation. While government should act on these recommendations, the mandate of the Commission did not enable it to examine the central crisis in our democracy, the growing view that our democratic institutions are irrelevant. After serving as the MLA for Fredericton South and the Leader of the Third Party in the Legislature for two and a half years, I can understand this growing, but dangerous body of opinion. Over many years, an extraordinary amount of power has been concentrated in the Premier’s office, usurping both the authority of the Legislative Assembly and the role of cabinet. This has gone on for so long that anyone under the age of 50 has known little else than decisions made by executive fiat in the Premier’s office. How do we re-invest the authority that rightfully belongs to elected representatives back into our provincial parliament? Donald Savoie, professor of public administration at the Université de Moncton, offered this advice to Justin Trudeau in a Maclean’s interview in 2015, “. . . start by showing some respect for Parliament. Declare that you won’t have any more omnibus bills. Declare that your government and cabinet will have the utmost respect for MPs and committees of Parliament.” Professor Savoie’s advice is as relevant for Brian Gallant today, as it was for Justin Trudeau then. Respect the role of all MLAs, including those on the government side of the House, and respect the committees of the Legislative Assembly. It looks like Justin Trudeau is heeding Donald Savoie’s advice. Last week, contrary to the wishes of the Prime Minister, sufficient numbers of Liberal backbenchers, joined with their colleagues from the Conservatives, NDP and Greens to vote in favour of a bill to prevent health and life insurance companies from forcing clients to disclose the results of genetic testing. I have yet to see this happen in our provincial parliament. Government members in New Brunswick do not feel free to vote as they wish. At the level of Legislative Committees, on the rare occasion where we achieved unanimity among all three parties, twice now I have seen such agreements overturned by the meddling of the Executive Branch in the Legislature’s business. New Brunswickers want us to work together. They want their representatives to speak on their behalf in the Legislative Assembly, to work collaboratively to hold the government to account, and to vote accordingly. They want to see us work effectively in committees to ensure government departments and Crown Corporations are spending public money effectively and efficiently. They want us to collaborate to produce effective legislation that advances the public good, whether a bill is initiated by government, by a member of one of the opposition parties, or by a government backbencher. They expect that constructive amendments to improve bills are welcomed and supported. And they expect that they should have the chance to appear before a committee, to bring their suggestions and concerns directly to the Legislature. This is what a more effective Legislature would look like. This is what democracy would look like. This is what I am fighting for. David Coon is the MLA for Fredericton-South and the Leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick.
Sitting in the Emergency Room, waiting to be seen, hour after hour, is an experience most of us have shared – repeatedly. It’s a dreadful nuisance, but worse than that, long wait times in our ERs can endanger patient safety. Yet, government refuses to acknowledge this fact, so no action has been taken to redress the chronic understaffing of our ERs. During question period last fall, I asked the Minister of Health if he would act to cut ER wait times in order to protect patient safety. He refused to acknowledge that patients are at risk. Instead, he chose to fixate on the need to keep people with minor health complaints out of the ER line-up. This was akin to yelling squirrel at your dog to distract his attention. Those of us who bring our children to the ER with ear infections or show up with strep throat or urinary tract infections are not slowing down the treatment of more seriously ill or injured patients. We just wait and wait until those patients are treated, but they are not receiving timely treatment either. ER doctors are beyond frustrated when they find themselves stretched far beyond their human capacity to handle the volume of people in their waiting rooms who need attention as soon as possible. And they know better than any, that understaffing in their ERs can have tragic consequences. Our health system actually has targets for emergency services. One benchmark of a healthy emergency department is that no more than 4% of patients become frustrated and leave before they are seen. Most hospital emergency rooms across New Brunswick exceed that target by 2 to 3 times. Fully 10 to 12 percent of people waiting in our Emergency Departments leave before they are seen by a doctor. People waiting to been seen in the ER are triaged. Forty percent of people coming through the emergency room doors are status 3 patients who absolutely must be seen by a doctor as soon as possible. The provincial target for those of us who fall into that category is that 80% should be seen within 30 minutes of arrival in the ER. In the face of chronic understaffing, ERs are missing this target by 4, 5, even 6 times. This is a serious patient safety issue and the Minister of Health needs to acknowledge it and take action. In those one, two or three hours of waiting, the condition of level 3 patients can worsen, damage can be done; these consequences would be avoided if they were seen within the first half hour of their arrival, the target we should be hitting. Equally worrisome, some of the patients in this category are among the 10 to 12 percent of people who leave the hospital out of frustration, and can face catastrophic consequences. There are also people who fail to go to the ER when they really should because they can’t face hours of waiting to see the doctor. No statistics exist for this group. Our emergency rooms desperately need more doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants to ensure the safety of those sitting in the waiting room. This should be a front page issue. New Brunswickers have the expectation that if they need medical assistance they will get it in time when they go to the hospital. For some, this is not happening because staffing is inadequate. An immediate solution would be for doctors to be given the authority to call in extra help when they determine that wait times may be putting patient safety at risk. ER doctors are already authorized to call in extra help when there is a crisis in the ER caused by something catastrophic such as a train wreck. Surely the definition of crisis should be expanded to include wait times that are putting patient safety at risk. Doctors need the authority to call in extra help to act in the best interest of their patients. A permanent solution to prevent wait times from putting patient safety at risk is to increase the budget for our ERs, so they can increase their staffing levels to avoid this perilous situation in the first place. The provincial budget for 2017 will be released early next month. It must include additional money for the health authorities dedicated to resolving the wait times in our ERs. Sometimes, money is the solution. David Coon is the Leader of the Green Party and the MLA for Fredericton-South.