Megan Mitton says one of the things she learned during her first year in the New Brunswick legislature is that there isn’t much political will to make changes.
“There’s really a lot that needs to be done,” the MLA for Memramcook-Tantramar said during an interview at the mayor’s New Year’s Day levee last week at Sackville Town Hall.
“There’s all kinds of things that need to happen,” she emphasized, “everything from making sure that the extremely rich are paying their fair share, to making sure that we are properly funding nursing seats in our province to help address the nursing shortage, to passing a ban on conversion therapy.”
Mitton explained that conversion therapy is the “disproven and harmful practice of trying to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity usually through psychological means.”
She says she raised the issue in the legislature a couple of times, but after meeting with people in the LGBTQ community, is now drafting her own bill and plans to work with members of the other political parties to get it passed.
“This is something that wouldn’t even cost the government money, but is about protecting human rights,” she said, adding that other provinces, including Nova Scotia, have already banned conversion therapy.
Mitton has also been pushing the provincial government — so far, without success — to pay for abortions and other medical services, such as care for HIV patients, at Clinic 554, a privately run facility in Fredericton that has announced it may have to close if it can’t get provincial funding.
Successive New Brunswick governments have maintained the policy of funding abortions at three public hospitals, one in Bathurst and two in Moncton.
“The best practice is to provide this service in a community-care setting,” Mitton says.
She argues the province’s refusal to fund abortions outside of hospitals violates the Canada Health Act and forces many women to travel long distances.
“Transportation to get to medical services is a challenge anyway for a lot of people,” she says. “There’s also the timeliness factor for being able to access surgical abortions.”
Mitton referred specifically to a couple of bills the three-member Green caucus introduced during the fall sitting of the legislature.
One, to amend the Crown Lands and Forests Act, would ban spraying the herbicide glyphosate on Crown forests while also requiring mills to buy more wood from private woodlot owners.
Another, to amend the Family Income Security Act, would allow the provincial minister of social development to work with the federal government to ensure a basic income guarantee for all New Brunswickers.
“Poverty is really such a huge issue in New Brunswick especially for seniors, especially for children,” Mitton says, “and if we aren’t willing to figure out ways to take care of everyone, to make sure they have what they need, then we’re really failing as a society and as a government.”
Mitton explains that the Green bill would replace social assistance rates with income guarantees and require the government to review them regularly.
She points out that current social assistance rates haven’t increased since 2014.
“It’s not enough to live on,” she says. “It’s $537 a month for a single person and it’s very hard to imagine how to find housing and food and heat with that amount and there are strict rules around not being able to even share your residence,” she adds.
“It’s not designed to really lift people out of poverty.”
Sackville & climate change
Earlier, Mitton told about 60 people at the mayor’s New Year’s Day levee she’s proud to represent Sackville and its surrounding communities in the provincial legislature.
“Sackville is always a leader,” she said.
“One thing I want to really highlight is the mayor and council’s leadership bringing together a round table on climate change,” Mitton added.
“That’s one of the defining issues and challenges that we face and I’m very proud that our town is innovating and finding ways to address that.”