Question Period: Poverty in New Brunswick – 17 November 2016

Here is the video and transcript of oral questions, recorded in the language in which it was spoken.

Mr. Coon: In 2009, New Brunswick adopted a poverty reduction strategy, with the explicit mandate to reduce poverty in New Brunswick. Since that time, deep poverty has increased by 5%, and food bank usage . . . According to recent statistics—the latest evidence of this since the poverty reduction strategy was launched—New Brunswick’s food banks have seen a 26% increase in the number of clients. That is an extra 4 000 people each month. Will the Minister of Families and Children explain his plan to help families living in deep poverty?

Hon. Mr. Doherty: Thank you very much for the question. Rather than referring to them as food banks, we like to refer to them now as food centres in which we educate those who, unfortunately, have to use food banks about good nutrition, providing counselling in terms of being able to cook and in terms of being able to develop community gardens in which they can produce their own food. We are making changes in terms of educating the public about the importance of food, especially for those who, unfortunately, have to use these food centres. I am very, very proud of the new direction in which we are going as a government. It is a direction in which we are educating those who have to use it in the importance of good nutrition, the importance of being self-sufficient, and the importance of developing pride.

Mr. Speaker: Time, minister.

Mr. Coon: The fact remains that food bank usage has gone up by 26% since the poverty
reduction strategy was launched and deep poverty has increased. Shawn Pegg, Director of Policy and Research for Food Banks Canada, was in the media this week discussing the annual survey and the results. According to him, people fall back on food banks for all kinds of reasons, including job loss, low wages, and sickness. In times of need, our social assistance programs are failing New Brunswickers, sending them to food banks across the province—whatever you call them. Will the minister increase social assistance rates in the next budget so that those most in need have the resources that they need to secure healthy meals? That is the solution.

Hon. Mr. Horsman: It is a great opportunity to get up and talk about this issue with regard to food centres. Our government is going to focus on jobs and education because that is the foundation that is going to be helping and making sure that families are resilient. We understand that, if people can get jobs and better education, they will not have to rely so much on the food centres. We continue to talk with food centres around the province, and we will continue to help them. We continue to pack groceries with the food centres. It is about education. It is about education about healthy foods rather than foods that are not so healthy for the people of New Brunswick. We will continue. I want the member opposite to know that New Brunswick is the only province in Canada that contributes to food centres. I wonder whether he knows that. I will ask the member to understand that we are helping people in this province, and we will continue to do so because we want to move this province forward and make it the best place to live, work, and raise a family.

Mr. Coon: The minister does not seem to understand that poverty is increasing in this province, not improving. It is getting worse. There was a 4% increase in deep poverty, and the use of food
banks is going through the roof. More families are having to depend on food banks because they do not have the money to feed their families. The short-term solution for that is to increase welfare rates. The longer-term solution would be to adopt a basic income. The federal government is planning on adopting a national poverty reduction strategy with a basic income guarantee pilot study in a number of Canadian
communities. Will the minister agree to open negotiations with his federal counterpart to establish a basic income pilot in our province?

Hon. Mr. Horsman: I appreciate standing up here today. I find it ironic that members of the opposition are clapping for what the member for Fredericton South is saying.


Mr. Speaker: Order.

Hon. Mr. Horsman: The members opposite are against minimum wage, and they made cuts to everything. Again, we are working with these people. We are working with all New Brunswickers. Again, New Brunswick is the only province that is contributing to food centres.


Mr. Speaker: The member for New Maryland-Sunbury will come to order.

Hon. Mr. Horsman: We understand that jobs and education are key and are the foundation to
helping people. We want to continue that. The member opposite knows that we are working hard. We are working hard with the federal government and the provincial government. Now, for the first time in a long time, all three levels of government, including municipalities, are working closer together to handle these issues. We are very proud of what we are doing, and we will continue to work hard for the people of New Brunswick.

Mr. Speaker: The time for question period has expired.