Put People First Again

Working as the MLA for Fredericton South has been quite an education for me, and for my constituency coordinator Taeyon Kim. It is a pleasure to serve my constituents. In doing so, I have learned the system is not working for those in need.

I think most of us have the idea that if we found ourselves in dire straits, and in need of public services, they would be there to help us out. We go about our lives thinking there is a safety net to catch us if we fall, financed through our taxes. The often cited quote, “the measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members” comes to mind. While there are certainly services in place, they don’t quite measure up to the standard of civilization most of assume.

If you fall on hard times and are forced to apply for income assistance, you would reasonably assume that the cheque would be just enough to cover the essentials for food and shelter. You would be wrong. In fact you would find yourself having to make choices every day, such as forgoing food so you can feed your children. Maybe you have to leave prescriptions unfilled so you have enough to pay your rent. Or perhaps you foregoe a dialysis appointment or a mammogram because you haven’t got enough money for cab fare to get to the clinic.

For the life of me, I cannot understand the moral underpinnings of a social welfare system that fails to ensure the welfare of those who must turn to it for help. An individual or family depending on social assistance should have enough money to pay for the basic necessities of life, but as a society we deny them this.

If you, or a family member, develop a mental illness, it would be reasonable to assume that our health care system would provide timely access to diagnosis and treatment. After all, if you have emphysema, heart disease or cancer, you can count on being diagnosed and treated in good order. If however you are suffering from a mental illness, access to a diagnosis and treatment remains out-of-reach for too many. This has driven families with comfortable incomes to do their utmost to find treatment for their family members out of province. For those of more modest means, their loved ones go on suffering; some self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, some end up in jail, some die. You may think this harsh, but it is the current reality. If we don’t talk about it, the system will never be fixed.

That is why it was so courageous for Amanda Browne and her Mother Ginette DesRoches to consent to be interviewed by CTV’s Laura Brown. Amanda has attempted to take her life multiple times. She has been unable to get effective treatment for her mental illness. Her Mother is naturally worried sick. This is not a unique situation in New Brunswick. What is unusual is Ginette and Amanda decided to go public.

If you are a senior seeking a diagnosis for dementia, you can wait for as many as two years. This is two years too late for many who would otherwise benefit from new drugs that delay the development of dementia.

I remember former Premier Frank McKenna saying that putting people first ended when the money ran out. His words have stayed with me over the years, and now that I am an MLA and party leader in the Legislature, I am determined that we put people first again.

We are a compassionate community, and we are compassionate people, but compassion has been squeezed out of the system. The constant budget cuts, the elimination of professional positions, the chronic disparagement of public servants and the denigration of public service in the name of small government, deregulation and tax cuts have left a deep mark.

The role of government is to protect and empower people in their communities. This requires an activist government devoted to putting people first once again.

David Coon is the MLA for Fredericton South and the Leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick.