New Brunswick’s Green Party leader says the province needs to take steps to raise incomes after Statistics Canada released figures showing the province has the lowest household median income in the country.
David Coon says New Brunswick should adopt measures enabling workers to join unions, while raising minimum wages and welfare rates and experimenting with a basic, guaranteed annual income.
He spoke to The New Wark Times during a visit today to Sackville where he answered questions about the Statistics Canada figures released this week.
The figures showed that in 2015, the national median household income was $70,336, while the New Brunswick figure was $59,347, the lowest in any province or territory.
New Brunswick also tied with Nova Scotia for the highest rate of children (22.2 per cent) living in low-income households.
First contract legislation
“I’m convinced that one of the reasons we have lower wages in New Brunswick is that too few people have unions to fight for them,” Coon says.
He adds he plans to introduce a bill in the New Brunswick legislature this fall to create first contract legislation that would require employers to bargain in good faith with newly unionized workers.
Coon maintains New Brunswick should take a number of other steps to reduce poverty.
“Right off the bat, we need to raise income assistance rates, people aren’t going to get out of poverty if we can’t do that,” he says.
“We need a basic (annual) income,” he adds. “That needs to be done in co-operation with the federal government. We’re not currently engaged on that, we need to be.”
The Green Party leader points out that the P.E.I. legislature passed a unanimous resolution last year calling for the province to pursue a partnership with the federal government on a basic income pilot project while Ontario is already testing the idea in four areas of the province.
“The federal government has expressed an interest in supporting exploration of this approach to help reduce poverty overall, but New Brunswick has not stepped up and said we want to be part of that,” Coon says.
“I would argue that beyond the pilot projects, New Brunswick would be the perfect place to actually pilot it on a large scale.”
(However, it’s not clear whether the federal government is still committed to helping more provinces test a basic income plan. So far, P.E.I has failed to get funding for one.)
Contracting out health-care services
Coon reiterated his strong opposition to the province’s plan to hand the management of New Brunswick’s extra-mural, home-care support program to Medavie Blue Cross which already manages ambulance services.
“It’s unconscionable,” he says. “When you contract out the management of a public service, then it becomes more of a numbers game, decisions get made by bean counters, not by public sector managers who are making decisions in terms of the public interest,” he adds.
Coon argues that if contracting out goes ahead, extra-mural nurses will know they’re no longer working for the public even though they’ll be paid from the public purse.
“They’ll be working for private managers and that changes everything,” he says.
“It doesn’t bode well for the extra-mural health care in New Brunswick.”
To listen to the interview with David Coon, click on the link below. The interview runs 6:44.