Green Party Leaders Response to the Speech from the Throne

This video and text are recorded and written in the language they were originally spoken.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to provide a response to the Speech from the Throne on behalf of the Third Party in the House. I want to acknowledge that we meet on the unceded territory of the Wolastoqey people and that our relationship is governed by treaties of peace and friendship, as it is with the Passamaquoddy and Mi’kmaq people. I also want to acknowledge that we have not been respecting those treaties which has led to injustice and discord. It is time that agreements are struck to settle the Crown land question, so that First Nations have the land base and resources to sustain their future, and we can get on with meeting the challenges that face all of us, together.

It is a privilege to serve the people of Fredericton South in our provincial parliament and to sit as the Leader of the Green Party. It is our duty to use this privileged position to represent our constituents, no matter how they voted, no matter whether they are citizens or newcomers, no matter whether they are old enough to vote or not. As parliamentarians we also have an obligation to do our best to pursue the common good, and represent the future interests of the children, youth and those yet to be born.

To be sure that means thinking long-term, for the long-haul. In a time of rapid deterioration in our climate and in the face of ecological decline in our forests, rivers and ocean waters, and the extinction of species we have a particular responsibility to reroute our path to the future, away from satiating greed to nourishing need.

We have our challenges in New Brunswick, we can resolve them as long as political considerations don’t take precedence over the public interest. There is nothing wrong with New Brunswick that cannot be fixed by what is right about New Brunswick. Our biggest barriers to change are political, not economic. It is a question of having the will and the wisdom to act.

Mais agir résolument exige que nous croyions fermement dans notre capacité de créer le type du Nouveau-Brunswick que nous voulons pour nos enfants et nos petits-enfants. Mais qu’est-ce que cela signifie au juste ?

Alors que nous soulignons le 150e anniversaire du Canada, c’était il y a 150 ans que 3 solitudes ont émergé au Nouveau-Brunswick : les Premières nations, les acadiens et les anglophones. Les défis auxquels nous sommes confrontés demandent une action collective, mais pour aller au-delà ces solitudes il faut une compréhension mutuelle et une réconciliation, basée sur le récit de la vérité concernant notre passé et l’établissement de justes relations entre nous.

This Legislative Assembly has a role to play in achieving these things, but it has become ill-equipped. The Executive Branch of government, as it has ping-ponged back and forth between Liberals and Tories, has over the years engineered a silent coup, usurping the powers of this parliament to exercise control over its activities. As lawmakers, overseers of public finances, and representatives of our constituents, we are functioning in an institutional culture where it is no longer clear to many what in fact our job involves.

I have heard some say they don’t think it serves the public any good to hear what MLAs agree with or don’t agree with. That once bills have been introduced for First Reading in this Legislative Assembly, they actually are good to go, before they have been debated, before they have been examined clause-by-clause at committee, before the public has had a chance to comment.

Some even say that debates about proposed legislation are best kept behind closed caucus doors.

It leaves me wondering what is our purpose here Mr. Speaker? I tabled a debatable motion today asking the members of this Legislature to give the authority to our standing committees to call for persons, papers, and documents. I hear members referring to the Legislature as the people’s house, but our standing committees do not currently have the authority to invite people before them.

Pourtant, nous excluons des Néobrunswickois de participer dans les travaux de cette institution démocratique, nous restreignons leur rôle à celui de spectateurs dans la tribune du public. Nos comités permanents devraient pouvoir convoquer des témoins de la population pour nous assister dans nos travaux avec les témoignages qu’ils peuvent présenter — comme cela se fait déjà dans la plupart des parlements au Canada.

The other motion I tabled this morning would require that the Standing Committee on Procedures, Privileges and Legislative Officers call the Legislative Officers, except the Auditor General, to present their reports and recommendations to them, so this committee can follow up on the recommendations. At the moment, those reports and recommendations simply land on a virtual shelf and for the most part, collect cyberdust. This is no way for us to treat the work of our Legislative Officers.

Increasingly the work of government is being obscured from this Legislative Assembly. A large amount of the activity of government is occurring through Crown Corporations, such as Service New Brunswick, and will occur through new government-organized corporations such as the Energy Solutions Corporation, or 698202 NB Inc. which did the drug deal with the cannabis companies.

Government finances are even hidden beyond the reach of the Legislature entirely, with private companies managing public services. The management of public pensions and their investments has been privatized. The management of our ambulance service is private. The management of our extra-mural hospital program is about to be privatized. The food and cleaning services in our hospitals is about to be privatized. Tax assessments are soon to be taken out of government. And the provision of nursing homes has been privatized.

Cela ressemble à un de ces cas où il faut payer plus sans savoir où ira l’argent. Si on ne peut pas savoir ce qui se passe dans les finances publiques, c’est qu’on n’a pas affaire à un gouvernement responsable.

It seems to be a case of paying more but knowing less.
If we don’t have the right to know what is happening with public finances, we don’t have responsible government.

Medavie Health Services subsidiary, NB EMS, which manages Ambulance New Brunswick, and soon will take over our Extra-Mural Hospital, refused to provide the Standing Committee on Crown Corporations with their financial statements. Nor do they provide them to the Board of Ambulance New Brunswick. We are talking about a billion dollars over the last ten years that was transferred to NB EMS, the subsidiary of Medavie Health Services, to run our ambulances, and we are unable to see their financial statements.

I sought copies of the un-redacted contracts for the private-public nursing homes, which the Right to Information Commissioner recommended the Department of Social Development provide me, following her extensive investigation. However, the Department rejected that recommendation after seeking private legal advice from Stewart McKelvey, and are using that to deny public access. Imagine spending public money on lawyers to shut down the right to public information.

Both the Public Accounts Committee’s questions and my RTI request for details on the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure’s lease with Irving Oil’s property company for the new New Brunswick visitor welcome centre near the Canada-US Border in St. Stephen were rejected. The rent is secret, the square footage of what we rented is secret, the terms of the lease are secret, and the conditions for terminating the lease are secret.

Nous ne savons même pas ce que cette administration recherche dans des négociations avec l’administration fédérale pour obtenir des fonds pour des logements abordables, pour aider les Néobrunswickois à réduire leurs couts énergétiques, ou pour augmenter notre utilisation de sources renouvelables de chaleur, de combustible et d’énergie. C’est un secret.

What’s not a secret Mr. Speaker, is the amount of money a single person with long-term needs receives from social assistance each month – $575. That is not enough to live on, by any stretch of the imagination. I have had constituents point this out to Social Development and the response was, “You have to give up something to get something!” Like winter clothing, Mr. Speaker? How about adequate food, safe clean housing, or transportation. Certainly one’s dignity, and definitely your small disability pension, if you have one. Mr. Speaker, this is a disgrace. Income assistance rates have got to be indexed to some measure that ensure people can afford to meet their basic needs. And the rules that keep them from making their income go further have to be eliminated, like sharing an apartment, or clawing back a small pension.

The Throne speech says the government is investing in initiatives to reduce poverty, but there are no details. The multi-billion national housing strategy is to be released in a few weeks as part of the federal government’s national poverty-reduction plan. Why no mention in the Throne Speech of what this government intends to do with our share of this money?

My constituents tell me about the excruciatingly long wait times to access emergency care, to receive an MRI, to see a neurologist, to receive mental health care, and to find a health care provider, all the while their health deteriorates. Tout comme le budget de l’aide sociale a besoin d’être augmenté, le budget des soins de santé doit être renforcé pour mettre fin aux temps d’attente qui sont dangereusement longs. Pourtant, je ne vois rien dans le discours du Trône qui répond à ce problème.

Just as the income assistance budget needs to be increased, the health care budget must be bolstered to end these dangerously long wait times. But I see nothing in the Throne Speech that addresses this problem.
How do we pay for this? Stop giving millions away to wealthy corporations like the TD Bank. On May 24th this government announced it was going to provide a forgivable loan in the amount of $6.8 million – to a bank, Franks bank, in fact, a bank with a trillion dollars in assets that made $2.8 billion in profits in its third quarter. There are no words to describe the iniquity of subsidizing a bank. Yet New Brunswickers wait and wait, at their peril, for health care services.

There is an increasing sense among young New Brunswickers that our province is falling apart. While I understand why the feel this way , it’s not the case. It’s just that we are not facing our problems head on. But the longer the problems we do face go unaddressed, the chances that they can be resolved decreases.
Since 2011, New Brunswick’s population between 15 and 64 has declined by 26,000 people or by 5%. This undoubtedly reflects the increased rate of New Brunswickers aging into their senior years, but some of this decline in our working age population reflects young people who have moved away. That is a natural thing, but I hate to think some left because they felt they had no future here.

It didn’t help that they lost $10.5 million in Education and Tuition Tax Credits, or $22.4 million in Tuition Rebates, or $2 million in changes to the Timely Completion Benefits. There is nothing in this Throne Speech to help the majority of students who carry heavy debt.

Par ailleurs, la perte des personnes âgées de 15 à 65 ans dans notre main-d’œuvre s’est accélérée depuis 2011. Environ 26 000 personnes ont quitté notre main-d’œuvre durant 6 années, 10 000 depuis 2014.
Nous ne savons pas combien de ceux-ci se sont retiré du marché du travail et combien ont quitté le Nouveau-Brunswick pour trouver de meilleurs salaires ou pour travailler dans un domaine de leur choix. Nous savons toutefois que le rabais sur les droits de scolarité a fait une immense différence dans la vie de plusieurs jeunes personnes qui supportaient le poids d’une dette écrasante après l’obtention de leur diplôme.

As the debt grows, banks make money from the accumulating interest. We should not be forcing our young people to pay interest on the money they need to get an education. In fact, Canadians pay the banks more than $100 million a year to administer the Canadian Student Loan Program. Student loans should be interest free.

On the other end of the generational spectrum, there seems to be absolutely no sense of urgency to needs of the rapidly growing population of older people. The much trumpeted Home First Strategy to help people stay in their own homes has yet to materialize. There is a dire shortage of personal care workers in the province because they are paid low wages and must bear the cost of transportation between clients – time for which they are not paid.
The Seniors Health, Well-Being and Home Safety Review is the only tangible initiative under Home First that I can see, yet I don’t see how it is going to help seniors remain independent longer. It is primarily a way of gathering data to design the senior’s navigator program, which as this rate, won’t be available until at least 2020. And it is the only way to access the financial assistance to seniors for minor in-home repairs.
Oddly, the Throne Speech did not mention the promised Dementia Strategy.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to see the emphasis in the Throne Speech on supporting those with addiction and mental illness, after relentlessly pushing this government for action over the past three years.
Cela dit, je vais attendre d’avoir les détails pour déterminer si ce qui ressort du discours se transforme en des mesures réelles pour améliorer les soins en santé mentale et traiter des troubles addictifs comme le syndrome de dépendance à l’alcool.

I am glad to see the government following through on the recommendation of our Select Committee on Climate Change to introduce climate change legislation. As we recommended, it is essential the bill enshrines the carbon pollution reduction targets already adopted by this government. We also recommended the bill require the implications for carbon pollution and adaptation activities be considered for all government-funded and government-approved projects.

We are not on the path to meet our targets. We need ambitious policies, changes in technologies, and changes in the consumption patterns of individuals and firms.

It is disappointing that this Throne Speech does not commit to mandate NB Power to displace fossil fuel generation with renewable power generation, adopt more ambitious targets for renewable power sales, or even expand the small-scale community renewable energy program – which to date has yet to generate a single kwh of renewable power.
We know that Ottawa has been working with the provinces to announce measures later this fall for retrofitting buildings and homes. The effort will include investments in modern heating and cooling systems for aging office buildings and factories; the installation of new windows, insulation and lighting, and spending on renewable energy systems to reduce the use of electricity and natural gas.

Pourquoi le gouvernement ne dit pas ce qu’il va faire pour aider les ménages et les entreprises à réduire leurs coûts d’énergie tout en réduisant leur empreinte carbone?
With respect to putting a price on carbon pollution, the primary way this will reduce carbon pollution in the short-term is if the revenues are recycled back to households, businesses and municipalities through financing mechanisms and incentives to reduce fossil fuel demand in transportation as well as in home heating and industrial applications. This revenue would complement whatever the Province has negotiated with Ottawa for the same purposes

The Throne Speech says the revenue from pricing carbon will go into a climate fund with dedicated investments to combat the effects of climate change. This will not cut the costs of transportation, it will not cut the costs of heating, and it will not cut carbon pollution.
Think about a retired person, living in their family home heating with oil. A carbon price by itself is not going to do anything. However, if the revenue is use to ensure that person can insulate their home to cut their heating bills, and replace their oil furnace with a central heat pump, then it is mission accomplished. Carbon pollution has been reduced, heating costs have been slashed, and the home is more comfortable to live in.

La même chose peut se dire pour tous les propriétaires de voiture. L’impact d’un prix sur le carbone disparaît vite quand le prix de l’essence suit un mouvement de montagne russe. Par contre, les revenus pourraient être retournés à la municipalité pour améliorer la fréquence du transport en commun ou le rendre plus fréquent. Une partie pourrait aussi aider les gens à s’acheter une voiture électrique quand vient le temps de remplacer leur véhicule. Les déplacements coûteraient moins cher et la pollution par le carbone serait réduite. Mission accomplie!

For carbon pricing to reduce carbon pollution, means recycling the revenue into measures that will help households and businesses to cut their carbon pollution. Minimal carbon pollution, minimal cost. Diverting it to road and bridge upgrades, relocating infrastructure, installing bigger culverts, will mean, in the short-term the price on carbon will be for nought.

While the Throne Speech makes a nod to supporting regional economic development, there are no details. New Brunswick has been without a rural development strategy a long-time.
It is time, and we can start by standing by our woodlot owners. The economic injustice done by government after government since Frank McKenna eliminated their woodlands as the primary source of supply to the mills is unconscionable. At a recent Public Accounts Committee meeting, the ADM of Energy and Resource Development said they still haven’t decided whether to enforce the proportionality provision of the Crown Lands and Forests Act or get rid of it.

New Brunswickers are sick and tired of the feeling that their governments cave to the interests of a handful of wealthy corporations, rather than having their back.
This seems to be playing out once more with the spraying of glyphosate. Despite the widespread opposition to its use on our forests and under our powerlines, despite the mounting evidence of its ecological impacts and its health hazards, the former government cut a forestry deal that increased the amount of spraying, and this government refuses to act.

Mr. Speaker, New Brunswickers are tired of the two old parties playing ping pong with the reigns of power. At next year’s election New Brunswickers have an opportunity to return a minority government, with Greens holding the balance of power, so that the public’s interest will triumph over political considerations in the next government.

Thank you Mr. Speaker