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.
By David Coon With a simple tweak to the legislative mandate of the Child and Youth Advocate, the 148,000 seniors in our province now have their own champion, and those responsibilities will include adults in care as well. The Child, Youth and Seniors Advocate is an independent officer of the Legislative Assembly, just like the Auditor General. The position is currently held by Norm Bossé, the lawyer brother of Juno-award winning FHS music teacher, Don Bossé. Norm Bossé and his staff have gained international accolades for principled and effective advocacy on behalf of children and youth in New Brunswick. In fact, the reputation of his office is such that at least one of his staff moved to New Brunswick so they could have the opportunity to work with our Child and Youth Advocate. I have no doubt that under his leadership, given a sufficient budget, Mr. Bossé will serve seniors and adults in care equally well. Like all Legislative Officers, the Child, Youth and Seniors Advocate reports to the Legislative Assembly, not to a cabinet minister or to the Premier, ensuring he is free to act without political interference. The one constraint the Premier and cabinet can place on legislative officers is financial. It is the Legislative Administration Committee's responsibility to propose the budgets of legislative officers to the Legislature for approval. However, if there is a majority government in power, and it chooses to whip its committee members into carrying out its wishes, their majority membership on the committee can be used to constrain the activities of legislative officers. For example, our Auditor General's budget is similar in size to that of PEI's Auditor General, despite being responsible for overseeing a far larger provincial budget and many more departments and Crown Corporations. Compared to the budget for Nova Scotia's Auditor General, on a proportional basis, our AG comes up a million dollars short. Both the Liberals, and the Tories before them, have managed to short-sheet her budget. In fact, the work of most of our Legislative Officers is under-budgeted to one degree or another. Perhaps if the work of the Legislative Administration Committee was carried out in public, rather than behind closed doors, the budgetary needs of our legislative officers might be better served. With the brand new responsibility to advocate for seniors and adults in care, it is too early to know with any precision what additional moneys the Child, Youth and Seniors Advocate will require. It's not even clear what the new mandate will include, as this was not spelled out in legislation. However, as a member of the Legislative Administration Committee I strongly advocated for an initial budget that would get things up and running quickly. Based on the current mandate for children and youth, seniors and adults in care should expect the Advocate for Child, Youth and Seniors will be both an advocate to government on their behalf and an investigator of complaints. I would expect the office of the advocate will identify gaps in services, conduct research into areas impacting seniors, provide policy advice, and propose legislative changes. For concerns and complaints, I would expect the Seniors' Advocate will investigate, assist and support seniors, adults in care, and their families to seek resolution. As part of the work on behalf of children and youth, the Child and Youth Advocate has published a regular State of the Child Report with recommendations to government. The office has also published special reports on priority concerns. With an adequate budget, similar could be done on behalf of seniors and adults in care. Mr. Bossé has been working diligently to flesh out his mandate. In fact, he will be sitting down with my Seniors Round Table in the near future, to hear their thoughts on what his mandate should include. The decision by the Gallant government to create a champion for seniors is a timely one, with last week's release of the Aging Strategy for New Brunswick. Perhaps this will provide a framework for the Seniors' Advocate to work from. The needs are great - from social isolation to the lack of access to early diagnosis of dementia, to the paucity of long-term care services. From a young age, we are taught to respect our elders. This needs to be mirrored in the programs and services provided by our provincial and municipal governments. David Coon is the MLA for Fredericton-South and the Leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick.
David Coon, Leader of the Green Party, MLA Fredericton-South Economic Transition This government’s strategy, New Brunswick’s transition to a low-carbon economy, largely reflects what New Brunswickers recommended to the Select Committee on Climate Change during the public hearings it held around the province last summer. Yet this budget does little to say where we are headed with respect to the 118 commitments made in the transition strategy. The opportunity should be seized to make deliberate spending decisions to take positive action that will protect us from the destructive weather that global warming is bringing us and to help us make the transition to a low carbon economy that will shrink our energy costs. Les gens du Nouveau-Brunswick en sont venus à trop bien connaître les longues pannes de courant, les routes et les ponts endommagés, les maisons et les entreprises inondées et l’érosion côtière causée par les tempêtes et les inondations liées au réchauffement planétaire. Le renforcement, la relocalisation et la restructuration de nos infrastructures pour qu’elles soient solides et viables fourniront en outre de nouvelles possibilités économiques pour les gens du Nouveau-Brunswick. Private Management of Public Services Mr. Speaker, budgets describe how a government intends to protect and empower its citizens. When it comes to jobs, this budget includes the privatization of management services for cleaning, food and orderly services in our hospitals. We are told this means 280 jobs will be lost, patient safety could be at risk, and hospitals become exempted from the local food strategy. This neither protects, nor empowers these New Brunswickers. Le budget alimente l’angoisse que tant de personnes éprouvent relativement à l’éventuelle décision de privatiser la gestion de notre programme extramural. Le discours du budget indique que le gouvernement a l’intention de former d’autres partenariats public-privé afin d’accroître le nombre de lits dans les foyers de soins, même si la vérificatrice générale a constaté que les partenariats du genre dans le secteur de l’éducation ont coûté au Nouveau-Brunswick plus que ce qu’ils ont permis d’économiser. Caring about Health It is a good thing to see an increase in the budget for Community Health Services. This is an area that must be significantly expanded. The government is moving in the right direction. The budget should contain a deliberate decision to end unacceptable wait times in our emergency rooms. At the other end of the hospital, we have seniors in need of nursing care, forced to live in hospital rooms for lack of anywhere to go. I see no sense of urgency in this budget to solve this problem. Il est bien de voir une petite augmentation de la somme prévue dans le budget pour les services de santé mentale, qui correspond au financement ciblé fourni par le gouvernement fédéral. Toutefois, il faut augmenter rapidement et considérablement le budget pour les services de santé mentale afin de répondre aux besoins des personnes du Nouveau-Brunswick aux prises avec une maladie mentale. Addictions Sixteen percent of New Brunswickers consume alcohol at levels that put them at long-term risk of liver disease and certain cancers. Twelve percent consume enough alcohol to cause injury and overdose. I fear government has not yet come to grips with the conflict between its promotion of alcohol consumption through NB Liquor’s marketing efforts and the rate of abuse and addictions that too many New Brunswickers struggle with. Le gouvernement du Nouveau-Brunswick tire des recettes d’environ 160 millions par année d’Alcool NB. Le budget pour l’année qui commence prévoit 20,4 millions pour le financement des services de traitement des dépendances, ce qui est comparable à la somme de 20,2 millions que prévoit le budget de l’année en cours. De plus, le budget pour le mieux-être accordé au ministère du Développement social est passé de 7,3 à 7 millions de dollars. We need a budget that comes to grips with addictions. Perpetuating Poverty Mr. Speaker, there are roughly 100,000 New Brunswickers living in poverty. 22,000 families and individuals receive social assistance from the provincial government. It must be galling for those who have no other choice but to try to live on social assistance to hear people say the best social program is a job. Eighty percent of those on social assistance cannot work and yet we provide them with an income that is impossible to live on. In this case, we in fact need a better social program. Income assistance rates need to reflect the costs of providing the necessities of life. Two months ago, Prince Edward Island’s legislature unanimously passed a motion by Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker to develop a basic income pilot project in partnership with the federal government. Maybe there is a long-term solution here that we should explore as well. Public Housing One thing that makes it possible to afford the basics for those living in poverty is subsidized housing. New Brunswick owns 836 apartment buildings, 153 buildings for seniors and 633 buildings for families. Cuts over the years have reduced services to the Province’s tenants, putting it into the category of absentee landlord for many. The waiting list for subsidized housing continues to grow from 5,371 in 2013 to 5,889 in 2015. Long-Term Living The new aging strategy just released by the Council on Aging made a series of important recommendations about tackling the dementia crisis, creating age-friendly communities, reducing social isolation, and innovative living arrangements. Our communities need to be more age-friendly…and I see nothing in this budget that will help our communities become more age-friendly. More than 3,000 seniors living at home suffer from some form of dementia. Significant numbers remain undiagnosed. Action needs to be taken now to address this growing dementia crisis. Doing the Same Thing for the Economy and Expecting Different Outcomes If it’s one thing every government does, it is to make the economy its number one priority. So how come our economy, or I should say our economies aren’t in better shape. The Tories had their go at the economy for 11 years and the Liberals for 9 years. Any emphasis on community development, rural development, or regional development was abandoned a long-time ago. Ce qui manque au budget, c’est un soutien à l’élaboration de stratégies de développement économique visant les régions rurales et les petites villes. Citizen Advocates An important function of this Legislative Branch of Government is to provide citizens with Legislative Officers to advocate on their behalf to the Executive Branch and to the provincial parliament. Any objective assessment of the budget for our legislative officers would say they are underfunded given their mandates. Yet once gain this government has frozen the overall budget for our Legislative Officers – despite inadequate budgets, despite added responsibilities, despite growing requests from the public, despite proposals by the Legislative Officers for improvements to their budgets, zap their frozen again. Link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYX...
Imagine spending just $125 a year to heat your home (taxes and service charges not included). That’s what it costs to heat a home built to Passive House standards. The cozy layers of insulation, triple glazed windows, meticulous attention to blocking drafts, and the conscious design measures to let the sun shine-in, combine to eliminate the lion’s share of heating costs. In doing so, the household carbon footprint becomes more of a pawprint, cutting carbon emissions by 85%. Fighting climate change means lower heating costs. What about solar energy? Seventy percent of the heat supplied to these homes is created simply by ensuring the sun shines through south-facing windows - simple and free. As reported in this newspaper two years ago, a local business called Southern Exposure Construction, owned by Tim Naugler, has been building these homes in the Fredericton area for a number of years. How do we ensure all new homes in the future come with such inconsequential heating costs and a tiny carbon footprint? That’s where the climate action plans adopted by New Brunswick and Canada come into play. The additional 10 to 15 percent construction costs of high performance homes needs to be eliminated as a barrier. This can be done with the incentives and innovative financing mechanisms provided for in these strategies. Government could provide a low or no interest loan to cover the additional costs which could be repaid through the property tax system. There is also a pressing need to finally implement our provincial building code and ensure its requirements prevent new houses that waste energy from being built in the first place. However, the really big gains are to be made in refurbishing our existing stock of homes and buildings. Buckets of ink are spilled on news coverage and commentaries about refurbishing power plants. We need to shift our thinking to include the demand side of the energy equation. Fighting climate change requires a province-wide program designed to upgrade homes and businesses that cuts their heating costs and shrinks their carbon footprints. Home renovation is a time-honoured pastime in New Brunswick. We take great pride in our homes, and in improving them. A large-scale program to provide incentives and financing that enable us to improve our homes to stamp out energy waste would be most welcome. Who wouldn’t want their heating bill to shrink by 15, 25, even 40 percent, and to be able to take pride in seeing their carbon footprint shrivel as a result. It’s even possible to take an existing home close to the energy-sipping performance of new Passive Homes. Since re-siding our homes is a fairly common renovation, this provides an opportunity to increase insulation levels and draft-proofing to near Passive House standards before new siding is installed. I know of two families in the Fredericton area who have begun such renovations. Fighting climate change means making war on energy waste. This is where the societal benefits of shrinking our home’s carbon footprint line up with the personal benefits of cutting the cost of heating our homes. Achieving these goals will create a tremendous amount of work for our tradespeople, and increase sales for the necessary products and services. So refurbishing our stock of buildings also aligns with the societal need to create employment. This is why there is an important role for government to play in providing incentives, convenient and affordable financing, and appropriate regulation. Where will the money come from to provide the financial incentives needed to drive the upgrading of our homes and buildings all over the province? This is where the revenue received from putting a price on carbon comes into play. It represents the investment capital needed to drive down the heating requirements of our buildings, thereby cutting heating costs, shrinking carbon footprints and powering local economies in every corner of our province. What we need to sacrifice in responding to the climate crisis is energy waste, in all its forms. This requires immediate action on the part of governments. The Gallant government should waste no time in implementing its new climate action plan. David Coon is the Leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick and the MLA for Fredericton South.
September 23, 2016 Dear Members and Supporters:It has been two years since I was elected as the first Green member of the Legislative Assembly in New Brunswick. It’s plain to see the impact I’m already having.The widespread support that was evident for my local food security bill led the Gallant government to establish local food as one of its priorities for economic development. A local food strategy is expected soon. It was nice to see the Premier, for the first time, adopt my position that an import replacement strategy will strengthen local economies and create jobs. Continue reading
To see the list of scheduled public hearings being held around the Province by the Select Committee on Climate Change click HERETo view the experts schedules and presentations - click hereObserve Expert Presentations - come to the legislature to watch the experts present or tune in online by following the audio broadcast from the legislative website Continue reading
Today we concluded the second session of the 58th Legislative Assembly. You can watch a brief excerpt here of my final speech, or the full 8 minutes below: Continue reading
By David CoonLast week, the Premier’s office arranged to have the swearing-in ceremonies for the two new cabinet members to be held in their ridings. The Lieutenant Governor and the Clerk of the Executive Council had to travel to St. Stephen and Miramichi to perform a ceremony that has always been held at the Legislative Assembly. The political maneuvering of this government knows no bounds.Much has been said about the government crossing the line between the responsibilities of the Executive Branch (Premier and cabinet) and those of the Judicial Branch with the bill to amend the Judicature Act. This is the bill that would give the Minister of Justice a veto over the Chief Justice’s decision about where judges reside. I believe this to be interference with the administrative independence of the Chief Justice and therefore unconstitutional. I spoke extensively about this in the Legislature and made a rarely used reasoned amendment at Third Reading in an attempt to prevent it from going forward. Continue reading