A group of New Brunswick unions and community organizations has issued a “progressive” platform for the provincial election scheduled for September 24th.
The platform, released today in Moncton, calls on political parties to promise to increase spending on social programs and public services while raising taxes on corporations and the rich.
“It is time to shift the balance back to government policies that express New Brunswickers’ desire to care for each other and live in a fair society,” said Geoff Martin, a part-time Mount Allison political science professor who also works for the university’s faculty union. (The Federation of New Brunswick Faculty Associations is one of the union groups backing the new platform.)
Speaking in French, Lyne Chantal Boudreau, President of Regroupement féministe du Nouveau-Brunswick, an organization that advocates for francophone women, said that instead of cutting or privatizing such public services as child care and home care, politicians should be promising to improve them while adding new services and social programs.
Poverty, women’s rights and child care
Among other things, the new platform calls on politicians to promise to eliminate poverty by increasing minimum wages and welfare rates while passing a pay-equity law that would raise wages for women who work in the private sector. It also calls for increasing the availability of surgical abortions while establishing a provincial registry of doctors and pharmacists available to prescribe the abortion pill
The platform advocates creating a Bill of Rights for residents of nursing homes and a Council on Aging similar to the New Brunswick Women’s Council. Noting that the New Brunswick Drug Plan covers fewer than 9,000 people, the platform advocates eliminating prescription drug co-payment fees for those under 18 as well as for adult students while expanding coverage to include dental and eye care for all with no increase in premiums.
The platform challenges the political parties to campaign on promises of a publicly funded, universal child care system for children up to 12 regardless of whether their parents work outside the home. It also calls for the elimination of all tuition fees for Canadian university and college students by 2023.
To read the full 15-page platform, click here.
Focus on fairness
“Thirty years ago, governments began focusing on reducing taxation for the wealthiest in the hope that it would make our province more competitive and that everyone would eventually benefit from businesses’ economic success,” Geoff Martin said.
He added that now it’s time for New Brunswickers to recognize that tax cuts for the better off did not lead to more jobs, higher wages, sustainable economic development or balanced government books.
“Instead, we have seen increased disparities between the wealthiest and poorest citizens,” he said.
Change in direction
Martin acknowledged that the group had not worked out the costs of implementing its platform, but wanted instead to present it as a call for a change in direction.
“[It’s] as much [about] trying to start a discussion and, in a sense, leaving it to the political parties, who will directly face the voters, to cost what they see as the good ideas here that they want to draw on,” he added.
Jean-Claude Basque, provincial co-ordinator for the New Brunswick Common Front for Social Justice said his group helped draft the new platform because of the steady erosion of social programs over the last 30 years.
“This platform is saying to the political parties, ‘come back to what was there 30-35 years ago because that’s what’s working for society and for individuals and families,'” he said.
“It’s not a question of money,” Basque said, adding that recent revelations about the billions stashed by wealthy elites in offshore tax havens show there’s lots of money for social spending.
“It’s a question of political will from government to decide what are their priorities and then implementing these priorities.”
More equal society
The Executive Director of the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity, another of the groups involved in writing the new election platform, said she’s hopeful about the response from the political parties.
“I am optimistic that it will help them develop their platforms,” said Johanne Perron.
“I don’t expect them to pick up everything that is in our platform, but I certainly hope that they will all look at it seriously,” she added.
“I truly believe that it would help get a more equal society and I dare to think that our political parties want that as well.”
How interesting to have citizens/organizations coming together to unite their voices, asking for socially-oriented and people-centred governance. I have the utmost respect for our colleague Dr. Geoff Martin for his values and work. I am happy to see him, taking part in this collective effort. I think his words are well-said: “It is time to shift the balance back to government policies that express New Brunswickers’ desire to care for each other and live in a fair society…”.
This being said, I read the article and the report and I have a few comments: This report scores important points indeed. However, some of the ideas do not seem to be realistic, at least to me.
1. By unrealistic, I specifically mean the recommendation to see our province offering free studies (or no tuition fees) to all Canadian students by 2023. Is this request realistic? Is this a good thing for the economy of NB or for the sustainability of its institutions? Other provinces (Ontario) had issues when they have implemented some of these ideas. Perhaps a European place with history of success with this regard would be France… but even there this system is far from being perfect for all. An interesting place closer to home is Québec where tuition fees for citizens of Québec are less than those of other Canadians, which are much less than international students. I wonder if such a model would be more financially viable.
2. The report has the merit of having the concern of being inclusive to all. It is inclusive to a very large extent indeed. Perhaps it would have been more inclusive had it also included citizens with high needs such as:
A. Families that have children with complex health conditions: These citizens may not be numerous in terms of numbers but their needs are too complex, placing a burden on our health, social, and educational systems. A particular challenge for these children, their families, and care providers is around the vulnerable moments of transitions from pediatric to adult services or from one school to the other or from hospital to home, and vice versa. For instance, a youth may be legally or chronologically 19 years old but his developmental needs are not there yet or will always need support. If we think long-term and from a developmental perspective, these children will age one day. Their needs may be even higher than the average senior healthy citizen.
Related to children/youth, we are lucky to have an office of the child and youth advocate within the Government. An example of an excellent policy that made a concrete difference in the daily life of children with complex health conditions is the Integrated Services Delivery (ISD) approach to care, which is all about a close collaboration among team members and Government departments (Health, Education and Early Childhood Development, Social Development, school districts, health authorities, etc.). I think we should keep the good work, regardless of the colour of the new Government.
B. Another vulnerable group is the newcomers to our province, namely the recent refugee wave: Are we really ready to facilitate their integration in the long-term? Are they ready themselves? Are we ready to deal with socio-cultural issues as they arise? How do we discourage dependence on social assistance, create jobs, and remove barriers to access to jobs? Ms. Perron and Mr. Basque may have specific ideas that could help.
3. Personally, I do not think there is anything wrong with the partnership between the private and public sector as long as the services remain free to the public, are of at least the same quality, and are provided in the preferred language of the patient (as much as realistically possible). Last but not least, according to me, what matters the most in any partnership is transparency (antidote of collusion)– whether the business partnership is private-public, public-public (across levels of governments) or private-private.