New Brunswick Green leader David Coon says his party has already begun planning for the 2024 provincial election.
“One of the things we have to do a better job at communicating across the province is why we are distinct from the other parties, why our program is unique,” he told a group of about 25 supporters earlier this month at the Open Sky Co-op in Sackville.
Coon, who is marking 10 years as leader, said Greens not only fight for things that would improve people’s daily lives, they also respect the natural environment in ways the PCs and Liberals do not.
“We’re different that way,” he said. “We work to defend the commons, land, sea and sky.”
Coon listed a number of the party’s achievements in the legislature when the Higgs Conservatives were governing with a minority of the seats and depended on support from opposition parties.
He said the Greens successfully pushed the government to provide free flu shots for everyone in the province and persuaded the PCs to index welfare benefits to the rate of inflation.
“[Inflation indexing] to protect that meagre income that people who are living in poverty have to try and get by on,” he said, “but unfortunately, we were not yet successful in getting income assistance raised substantially.”
Coon expressed optimism about building the party’s momentum.
“Look at the last election in 2020,” he said.
“I didn’t know how to run a snap election, so we were learning by the seat of our pants in a pandemic…but despite that, all three MLAs were re-elected and Megan and Kevin [Arseneau] increased their margins dramatically.”
Coon added that, aside from holding the three Green ridings, the party also made significant gains.
“We were New Brunswickers’ second choice in 15 ridings,” he said to a round of applause.
“We’re the only party that grew our vote in both Francophone and Anglophone New Brunswick in the 2020 election.”
Coon said that New Brunswick voters are increasingly looking to the Greens for policies that sustain families, communities and the environment.
Saving rural hospitals
“New Brunswick can’t, in my opinion, afford to have another majority government,” he said referring to the PC victory two years ago that gave the Higgs government a slim majority of the seats.
Before that, Coon said, the government was forced to abandon its plans to convert six rural hospitals, including Sackville Memorial in Mitton’s riding and Stella-Maris-de-Kent in Arseneau’s riding, into long-term care facilities for patients waiting for nursing home beds.
“In the minority government, we were able to convince the Premier to reverse his decision to abandon those hospitals, that was the Green caucus that did that,” Coon said.
“We were skeptical and I remember the day I had to get the Premier to come into our anteroom outside the Chamber and meet with Megan and Kevin to give them his word that that’s what he was going to do.”
During her speech at Open Sky, Megan Mitton said she’s proud of the Rural Health Action Group which has been fighting for full services at the Sackville hospital since Higgs announced the cutbacks in 2020.
“I know I don’t trust the government, but there are efforts happening, there are some nurses being hired; they need to move faster on physician recruitment [and] there are still issues with our hospital,” she said.
“I’m going to keep fighting and I know people in the community are too.”
Mitton said she met recently with Minister of Health Bruce Fitch and sensed what she called “a lack of urgency” from the government on fixing problems such as recruitment and retention of health care professionals.
“They came out with a health plan last year that doesn’t have recruitment and retention as one of its pillars,” she said.
“I don’t know how you could do that.”
‘Bucket with holes in it’
Mitton, who serves as the Green party health critic, referred to the Vitalité and Horizon Health Networks’ appearance before a legislative committee this month.
“They were trying to paint a picture around recruitment and retention in the province, ‘Oh, we’ve got 270 new RNs (Registered Nurses) hired since April 1st’ and so I asked, ‘Well, how many have left?’ [and they said] ‘188 have left in that same time period.’
“That’s a net gain of 82,” Mitton said.
“That’s a really different picture to paint of what’s going on, you know, pouring water into a bucket that has holes in it is really what’s happening right now.”
She said it is especially important for her and other members of the community to continue holding Horizon’s “feet to the fire” as shortages of medical staff continue to force closures of hospital emergency rooms.
“We need change,” she said. “We need that sense of urgency.”