Real Change Means System Change

By David Coon


We need to build compassion back into our public services.  To be clear, I’m talking about the system, not the people who work in it. 

Some months ago, I attended a forum about youth in care, which brought together youth, whose guardian is effectively the Minister of Social Development, with social workers who work in the system.  At one point, out of frustration, a young person proclaimed that the system sucked, and a social worker chimed in to agree that it does. Both felt trapped by a system that is serving neither the youth, nor the professionals charged with serving them. 

The same could be said for those who have been waiting in the ER for hours and the doctors and nurses that serve them. Or the seniors who need some help to be able to stay in their homes but can’t find it, and the personal service workers who serve them. The list goes on. 

The institutional systems that developed in the ’60 and ‘70s to protect and empower New Brunswickers, have become too focused on their own needs, rather than those of the general public. This is the result of Liberal after Tory after Liberal after Tory government trying to run government services like businesses, rather than as public services. In my mind, the turning point was when former Premier Frank McKenna infamously proclaimed that the idea of people first, ended when the money ran out. Government after government cut budgets for front-line services and they deteriorated. More and more of us are feeling poorly served, while those delivering the services are feeling overwhelmed and are burning out. 

The problem is the system treats the public and public employees as liabilities – costs to the system – rather than people who are citizens and public servants. It’s why we need system change. It’s my goal to ensure citizens are well-served and public servants are able to provide the public services we need with care and compassion. 

Todd Leader, a psychologist and social worker who teaches at St. Mary’s University, has written a book called “It's Not About Us; The Secret to Transforming the Mental Health and Addiction System in Canada”. I heard him speak at the annual meeting of the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes, and his message was inspiring – a call to action really. He makes the point that we need to stop delivering public services from an expert and management perspective, and establish a system that treats the general public like we would want our family members to be treated. It is the system itself, that is preventing the transformation we so badly need. 

Other parties talk about transforming the way we do things in health care or seniors care, but without transforming the system itself, the results will continue to be nothing more than cosmetic. Too many people will continue to be poorly served, or fall through the cracks of the system altogether. Those who deliver our public services will continue to burn out, and it will become ever more difficult to recruit new employees.

I want to change this. We need to change this, but we have to come together as people with a common cause. There is no room here for the politics of division. There is no room for the politics of blame, or for the politics defeatism. 

Our challenges have continued to grow because we have had government after government try to make change by doing more of the same. The traditional parties themselves are trapped in a system, of their own making, that actually prevents the change we need. 

In this election, you have the opportunity to make a difference by changing your vote. We need a Legislature that is as green in its make-up, as our beautiful province.

David Coon is the Leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick and the MLA for Fredericton-South.