Response to 2018 Budget (full speech)

Response to 2018 Budget, 2 February 2018

David Coon

Leader of the Green Party

MLA Fredericton-South

Nine point six billion dollars is what government intends to spend to serve the people of our province.   Despite $165 million in additional revenue over what was received this past year, this budget will drive our deficit back up to $189 million by spending $235 million more than last year. After three years of effort to balance the books, this budget just continues to add to our ever-growing debt.  

Government has got to start living within its means, while helping the tens of thousands of New Brunswickers who lack the means to live.

We can do both, but this government is doing neither.

The deficit and the provincial debt:

The $165 million in additional revenue is more than enough to support new initiatives that are needed to make life better for New Brunswickers.  

After steadily reducing the deficit of $500 million inherited from the Tories, by 22% in 2015, 32% in 2016, 54% in 2017, government stalled out this year with the deficit barely decreasing from $119 million in 2017 to $111 million this year, and now with this budget intends to drive it back up by 64%.

The Auditor General wrote in her most recent report that she was encouraged by the recent signs of fiscal progress and hoped this progress continues.  Clearly it has not as this budget spends more than it takes in for the 11th consecutive year.

Moreover, the Auditor General, noted that the net debt has doubled in a decade, and said this growth in debt is not sustainable.  She says that continued action is required because steadily increasing debt “may eventually impact the Province’s ability to meet its existing financial obligations, both in respect of its service commitments to the public and financial commitments to creditors, employees and others.

Once again she called for the Province to set and achieve targets for long-term Net Debt control and reduction, and once again her recommendation has been ignored in this budget.

It is time we take the Auditor General’s recommendation to heart.  This doesn’t require austerity as some would have you believe. Some services have already been cut to the bone.

Making Choices:

What it requires is different choices.

For example, on top of the $150 to $200 million of financial help to industry that once again is contained in the budget, the Minister announced an additional $50 million.  We cannot afford to subsidize huge profitable multinational corporations.  Yet this government continues to do so.

Le gouvernement doit remplir deux rôles principaux : protéger et habiliter les citoyens et leurs communautés; ces responsabilités doivent donc se concrétiser dans le budget.

The budget should be focused like a laser beam on making life better for people, particularly for those who struggle with poverty, their health, their finances, or their age.  

Comment peut-on répartir ces dépenses pour garantir que nos enfants réalisent leur plein potentiel, pour garantir que nos aînés reçoivent le soutien dont ils ont besoin pour vivre leur plein potentiel? Comment peut-on répartir ces dépenses pour garantir que nos citoyens et leurs communautés puissent s’adapter dans un monde qui évolue rapidement?

How do we allocate these expenditures to ensure our communities are vibrant, more self-reliant and resilient? How do we allocate these expenditures to help New Brunswick make the transition to a low energy economy that necessarily must be powered and fueled with green renewable energy?  How do we allocate these expenditures to move down the path to reconciliation with the First Nations of New Brunswick?

Fighting Poverty:

The Minister of Finance says the budget is designed to address three challenges:  Senior Care and Health Care, Youth Employment, and the economy.

It is startling that the fight against poverty did not make the cut.  The Conference Board of Canada study, that the Premier likes to quote, that ranked New Brunswick as having a high quality of life, also pointed out that what held us back from a higher ranking were our rates of poverty, our rates of suicide, and youth unemployment.   

We know that poverty is a huge factor in the poor health of our population, in the high literacy rates, and in unemployment.  Yet this budget does not tackle poverty head-on.  

Yes, the national program to establish affordable early learning centres across Canada will be helpful.  In 2016, 71% of single Mom’s with a pre-schooler were living in poverty.  I applaud the federal government for this initiative, and trust it will be implemented effectively in New Brunswick.  However, I fear this government is more intent on scoring political points from this national initiative then rolling it out in the most effective manner possible.

Mr. Speaker, one of the most effective ways to cut health care costs, improve literacy, increase employment and propel community development is by tackling poverty.  

Yet, income assistance rates remain frozen at levels impossible to live on. This effectively sentences individuals and families to government-enforced poverty, with single people trying to live on $537 a month.   

And all the rules that keep those living in poverty from getting ahead remain: whether it’s the prohibition against sharing an apartment or the claw-back of child-support from single mothers, disability pensions from the disabled, or royalty revenue from indigenous people.

Unlike PEI, there is nothing here to pilot a basic income guarantee, which could make a real difference in people’s lives.  There is no mention of accelerating the increase in minimum wage.  The agency set up to fight poverty, the Economic and Social Inclusion Corporation has its budget frozen in this budget.  The budget for adult training has been cut.  In light of this, it is no wonder overcoming poverty wasn’t a key priority in the budget speech.

Les listes d’attente pour les logements subventionnés demeurent longues, et le budget pour le logement n’a guère évolué depuis l’année dernière à 92 millions de dollars.

Pour ceux qui sont sans logement, malgré le travail remarquable des organismes communautaires de Fredericton, de Moncton et de Saint-Jean, nous restons sans engagement pour le financement des stratégies. D’abord chez soi, dans nos collectivités.

The Canadian government announced its $40 billion national housing strategy last November. Why is there no sense of urgency to finalize the Canada-New Brunswick agreement to gain access to New Brunswick’s share of these funds to provide affordable housing, and to fight homelessness.  The most common request for help in my constituency office is from people who are in insecure housing, unsafe housing, who have been evicted, or are homeless.

I have come to the conclusion that the responsibility for housing needs to be reorganized so that NB Housing re-assumes its mandate to ensure affordable housing is available to New Brunswickers in need.

Health care spending that makes sense:

The biggest part of this budget, a quarter of the spending,  goes to health care.  That is $2.8 billion dollars.  Most of this money, 80 %, pays for hospitals, physicians and drugs to care for people after they fall ill – which amounts to sick care.

We will spend $1.3 billion on hospitals, $665 million on doctors, $200 million on drugs, and $113 million on mental health care.  

A smart budget would allocate its expenditures to reduce the number of people falling ill in the first place. This means two things: a clear focus to combat poverty; and real action on prevention and health promotion.

A smart budget would also deliver health care differently to both improve access and deliver health care in a less costly manner.

That’s what we would do, because we look upstream for solutions, rather than applying band-aid solutions.  

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 environmental conditions from diet and alcohol addiction to air quality and food quality.  

A livable income, a secure roof over your head, sufficient and healthy food, a sense of belonging, an education, and a healthy home, workplace and environment will vastly improve the health of our population, cutting the costs of sick care.

Cela témoigne de la nécessité de mettre en place des politiques et des programmes publics plus efficaces pour le développement social, le développement communautaire, la santé et la sécurité au travail, et la protection de l’environnement.

On s’attendrait d’un budget pour le bien-être qu’il focalise sur la prévention et la promotion de la santé, mais ce domaine demeure sous-financé à 7 millions de dollars.

To take one example, the Department of Health has estimated that alcohol abuse cost the New Brunswick government $448 million in 2002.  Of that amount, $121 million were health care costs.  And these numbers are 15 years old. Just imagine the savings to the health care budget if we were able to cut alcohol addiction in half.

The one area of spending traditionally designed to  prevent disease and foster health promotion is public health.  Inexplicably, the budget of the Chief Medical Officer of Health’ budget was cut by almost 30% with large numbers of her staff being scattered among other departments.  

Green initiatives to make our province more self-sufficient in healthy food - beginning with our hospitals and nursing homes, to cut alcohol addiction, to get cancer-causing pollutants out of our workplaces, our homes, and neighbourhoods - would dramatically cut health care costs because we would have a healthier population.

A second essential pathway to lower health care costs and a healthier population is improving and changing access to health care services.

Our health system remains designed to address acute problems, anchored in our network of hospitals, with doctors serving as the gateway to health services, making for expensive health care for chronic conditions or minor ailments, and inaccessible mental health care for many.

Nous dépensons 1,3 milliard de dollars pour les hôpitaux où nos ainés sont obligés de s’installer en raison du manque de soins à domicile ou de places dans les résidences pour personnes retraitées, qui coûtent beaucoup moins cher, il faut le préciser.  

Les personnes qui ont des conditions chroniques ou des affections mineures, ou encore qui n’ont pas de fournisseurs de soins primaires sont obligées d’utiliser les services d’urgence à l’hôpital, alors qu’il n’y a aucune urgence.

This government, just like the government before it, talks about the priority and benefits of community-based health care.  It can deliver a significant portion of the health care now delivered in hospitals, more effectively, at less cost in ways that are better suited to managing chronic disease, treating minor ailments, prevention and health promotion.

However, the network of community health centres promised by both Tories and Liberals has never materialized.  Places like Petitcodiac are ready and waiting, and in real need of a community health centre, but nothing has happened.  No network of community health centres means continuing expensive health care.

The government’s promise to improve access to health care by maximizing the use of health professionals such as nurse practitioners, pharmacists, and midwives, working to their full scope of practice has been broken.

These health professionals are often in a better position to deliver health care services, more effectively, and at a lower cost, so I would have thought implementing this election promise would have been a priority from day 1.

Pharmacists can handle treatment of many minor ailments and issue prescriptions more affordably, but unlike just about every other province, these services are not covered by Medicare in New Brunswick.  This leaves people sitting in ERs for endless hours, waiting to use the expensive machinery of the hospital to get a prescription for common infections, rather than simply popping into their pharmacy for a few minutes.

With the positive deal just announced to bring down the cost of generic drugs in Canada, there is now an economic imperative for our pharmacists to be able to work to their full scope of practice, to deliver health services covered by Medicare, as their revenue drops from prescriptions.  This revenue would help offset these losses, ensuring communities do not lose their pharmacies, while improving access to health care.

Nurse practitioners could become the primary care provider for so many who have been waiting for years for a family doctor, at a lower cost than physicians, but this government will not permit them to establish private practices and be reimbursed by Medicare.  As a result, we have nurse practitioners leaving the province, and for some who stay, they are losing their certification for the lack of hours practicing.

Midwives can provide pre- and post-natal care, and deliver babies at a lower cost than obstetricians, freeing them up to concentrate on high risk pregnancies.  The post-natal care can ensure that children get off to a good start in life. Yet, in three and a half years, only three midwives have been permitted to practice, and only in a single location - Fredericton.

This is the government’s fourth budget which has failed to implement these advances – all of which were promised in this government’s election platform.  Instead we have communities who may lose their only pharmacy, thousands of people without primary care health providers when nurse practitioners are out of work, families wondering why they can’t access a midwife in their community, and communities wondering if they will ever see a community health centre.  

This year New Brunswick will receive $5.2 million out of the $250 million available from the Canadian government under the Canada-New Brunswick Agreement on Home Care and Mental Health Care.  This is intended to improve access to mental health care, particularly for youth.  Yet, I see only a $2.5 million increase in the mental health care budget.

Comment ces fonds seront-ils dépensés? Seront-ils utilisés pour étendre l’accès aux services de santé mentale communautaire qui ciblent les enfants et les jeunes, qui reconnaissent l’efficacité d’une intervention précoce pour traiter les maladies mentales? Est-ce qu’ils serviront spécifiquement à financer la psychothérapie?

The discussion on health care costs continues to be caught on the rocks of a very politicized debate on the number of hospitals we have, exploiting the fear of people that they will lose access to health care as a result of future efforts to control health care costs.

Greens believe we can improve access to health care, at lower cost by moving more health care into the community, delivered by a wider array of health professionals working to their full scope of practice.  Nurse practitioners, pharmacists, midwives, psychotherapists must play a more prominent role in our health care system, in our communities.  

Cela rendrait les soins de santé plus abordables et plus efficaces.

Support for again in New Brunswick:

The Premier has repeatedly insisted that our aging population represents the Province’s largest challenge, yet this budget barely scratches the surface.

It has been almost four years since the former government released a three-year Home First Strategy, designed to keep seniors in their homes as long as possible.  This was based on the recommendations made by the Premier’s Panel on Seniors in 2012.

After being elected, this government has repeatedly emphasized its commitment to Home First, but now after the expiry of the Home First Strategy it is barely getting to first base. It is only in this budget that we are finally seeing some action.

Les soins à domicile sont en pleine déroute. On manque gravement d'aide au maintien à domicile tellement ces travailleurs sont mal payés. C’est bon de voir que ce budget pose les premiers jalons pour s'attaquer à ce problème urgent.

Government received $12.4 million for this fiscal year from the federal government under the Canada-New Brunswick Home Care and Mental Health Agreement to increase home care, by supporting caregivers. This federal money was key to making progress here.

This budget provides $11.3 million to support family caregivers, and $12 million to increase the wages of home support workers, as well as special care home employees.  It also will finally give the Seniors and Long Term Care Branch at Social Development some capacity to carry out strategic planning and develop public policy and programs for seniors.  These are all positive steps in the right direction, but so long coming, and certainly less than comprehensive.

Part of the government’s aging strategy is to recognize Age-Friendly communities, but it does not appear that this budget provides funding to help communities upgrade their infrastructure to actually become age-friendly, as has been done by Nova Scotia with its Age-Friendly Community Grant Program.

Older seniors often are unable to drive and need access to convenient public transportation. The government received recommendations for a public transportation strategy from the New Brunswick Economic and Social Inclusion Corporation last December that would support seniors living at home.

A key recommendation was for dedicated provincial funding to expand transit and community transportation. Another was to provide stable core funding to allow community transportation initiatives to focus on service delivery. Je ne vois aucun de ces éléments dans le budget. On ne peut pas retirer les services locaux aux communautés, sans fournir les moyens aux gens pour qu’ils puissent accéder à ces services là où ils ont été centralisés.

I see $3 million in revenue from the federal government from its public transit infrastructure fund, down from the 6.5 million received last year, but this fund is for infrastructure not operational costs.

Investing in ourselves

Dans son discours, la ministre a dit qu’il fallait créer des possibilités pour permettre aux jeunes de rester ici et que le budget comprenait des mesures pour y parvenir. Eh bien! Monsieur le Président, rétablir le programme de rabais sur les droits de scolarité pour les nouveaux diplômés contribuerait grandement à l'atteinte de cet objectif.

A new report from the Maritime Commission on Higher Education found that the decline in retention of New Brunswick university students with the Class of 2012, had been reversed by the Class of 2014, with 74 percent of New Brunswick students residing in the province 2 years after graduation.  The tuition rebate program was well established by that time, and undoubtedly contributed to this improvement.

The tuition rebate represents an expenditure of $25 million in the budget, but a true investment in helping graduates get a good start in life here in New Brunswick.  Repurposing some of the $150 million dedicated to business could readily fund a renewed tuition rebate program.

The third priority this budget is supposed to address is the economy.  The Minister of Finance said in her speech, that building an innovative and productive economy is important.  The way this government’s budget intends to address this is by throwing millions more at efforts to increase exports.  Yet, we are already one of this country’s most export dependent provinces.  Why would we want to further increase our dependence on volatile markets outside New Brunswick?

It’s time we try something new.  It’s time to focus government economic policy on replacing imports as a basis of our prosperity.

Une étude qui sera bientôt publiée par le Centre for Local Prosperity de Nouvelle-Écosse s’est penchée sur les avantages pour notre économie de remplacer des importations coûteuses par des produits locaux pour stimuler la prospérité.  

The results demonstrate that targeting a 10 percent increase in local production to replace imported goods and services across Atlantic Canada could add more than 43,000 jobs, $2.6 billion in new wages, and $219M in new tax revenue.

New Brunswick imports more than $9 billion worth of goods every year.  Imagine the local economic benefits of replacing even a portion of these imports with local production and local services.

L'année dernière, le gouvernement a lancé une stratégie visant à transformer notre économie pour qu’elle soit beaucoup moins dépendante des combustibles fossiles.

An import replacement strategy that tackles coal, oil and natural gas will both strengthen our local economies and achieve the goals of the government’s climate action plan to transition to a low carbon economy.

To replace the imports of oil, coal and natural gas, we need to increase local services to upgrade the energy efficiency of homes and buildings.  This will grow the demand for energy efficiency products and technologies, more of which we should be producing locally.  We will need to increase the local production of clean renewable energy,  which will grow the demand for these fuel, technologies and the associated infrastructure and services, more of which we should produce locally.  

Shortening our supply lines through replacing imported food by increasing the production and consumption of local food will reduce the carbon footprint of transportation while growing our local economies.  

Repairing equipment and machinery, like electrical transformers, rather than importing new replacements from outside the province, is another example of how local services could replace imports, bring the work to New Brunswick, while helping to meet our legislated targets to reduce carbon pollution.

The success of the craft brewing industry in New Brunswick is an example of how replacing imports from outside our borders by increasing the production of locally produced beer has multiple economic benefits.

Local food, local manufacturing, and locally-produced green, clean energy will do the same.

Nova Scotia has only half the exports of New Brunswick, yet it has less debt per capita and has balanced its books.

Import replacement is an economic strategy that Greens would pursue to make our communities more prosperous and stable.   It is an economic strategy that will focus on Main Street, not Bay Street.

This is unlike the $150 million that Opportunities New Brunswick and the Regional Development Corporation draw from, which help big profitable business enterprises, at the expense of our local businesses.

Greens would change the emphasis to ensuring Main Street is thriving.  Bay Street can take care of itself.

If a hardware store, hair stylist, pharmacy, restaurant, farmer, building contractor, or energy contractor, for example, is looking to expand their business, they should be eligible for payroll rebates. These businesses are the backbone of every local economy, and are an essential part of a green economy.

Last year, this government gave $3.6 million in payroll rebates to the highly profitable Bell Canada and a forgivable loan of $6.8 million to the phantasmagorically profitable TD Bank, which has previously received $2 million in payroll rebates from the province. That sucking sound, is the sound of our local wealth being hoovered by the super-corps.

Conclusion:

Government can live within its means while ensuring all have the means to live, but it will take a new approach – one that is rooted in the realities of today, and the hopes of tomorrow not the experience of yesterday.  It is time to jettison old strategies that no longer work and adopt those that will.  It’s time to mobilize the energy, knowledge, and creativity found in our communities to move New Brunswick forward.



Our Principles

>Living within Our Ecological Means

A culture of cooperation, caring and understanding is essential to ending violence in our society. Rehabilitation rather than vengeance must be the goal of our justice system.

> Local Self-Reliance

We must have the opportunity and the responsibility as citizens to contribute to the common good, which requires that all have the capacity to participate in community life.

> Real Democracy

Everyone must have equal access to the necessities of life and be treated with dignity and respect. Treaties with First Nations must be honoured.

> Social Justice and Equality

We must be able to participate in decisions that affect our lives and be guaranteed that our votes are reflected in the make-up of the Legislative Assembly.

> Active Citizenship

Our communities should be in control of their own destinies, supported by strong local economies, and sustained by local sources of food and renewable energy.

> A Culture of Peace and Respect

We must live within the ecological limits of the Earth, while meeting our needs without threatening our children's future or the survival of other species.

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