Response to the Speech from the Throne

December 4, 2015

David Coon, Leader of the Green Party

MLA, Fredericton South

Mr. Speaker, as the Leader of the Third Party in this parliament I am pleased to respond to the Speech from the Throne. New Brunswickers are looking for something to believe in when it comes to their government. The Globe and Mail reported on the speech as unusually gloomy. Of course, they hadn’t heard the reply from the Leader of the Official Opposition at that point. I must say both speeches left me wondering where’s the hope?

Here’s the hope. Stephen Harper is gone. Justin Trudeau is in the Prime Minister’s Office.  Elizabeth May works well with the new Prime Minister. Hopefully, Tom Mulcair will as well.

Harper famously wrote about the need to build a firewall around Alberta prior to becoming Prime Minister, but after being elected he piled the sandbags high around Ottawa, leaving the provinces to fend for themselves. The wealthy thrived, while the Maritimes turned inward, wondering what we had done to be cast loose from the country. Where was the hope in that?

Voici l’espoir. Sans M. Harper, le Nouveau-Brunswick n’a plus besoin de se croire seul et isolé du reste du Canada. Nous pouvons ressusciter notre conversation avec Ottawa et demander leur soutien afin de résoudre nos défis. Nous devons nous engager avec nos sœurs Maritimes et faire face à nos défis en commun ensemble.

What seemed like insurmountable problems, now seem resolvable, working with the federal government and the other Maritime Provinces. The Throne Speech needed to recognize this opportunity and lay out the government’s commitment to and set priorities for cooperation, whether it’s building a low carbon economy, driving job growth through green infrastructure, clean technology and green jobs, instituting a preventative health care system, providing accessible effective mental health care, or establishing a basic income guarantee to enable people to live in dignity while providing the opportunity for those who are able to break out of the cycle of poverty. Here’s the hope of cooperation.

Le discours du Trône devait enflammer un sentiment de citoyenneté et d’engagement à un but commun : celui de bâtir une société saine et bienveillante, bâtir une économie équitable et durable. Ce que nous avons est un discours du Trône fixé sur le déficit public et le niveau de la dette. Mais où est l’espoir?

A government’s greatest aspiration should go well beyond balancing the books.

Nelson Mandela said, “there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

Well we learned this year that the rate of childhood poverty in Saint John has exceeded that of Toronto. Yet in the quest to cut the deficit, the method for calculating how much rent people living in poverty pay for subsidized housing has been changed so that single Moms, seniors, and others are paying more. Where’s the hope in that?

L’accès aux soins de la santé mentale pour les jeunes est épouvantable, alors que la majorité des maladies mentales se déclarent avant l’âge de 25 ans. Le ministère de la santé ne verse que 3% de son  budget dans les soins de la santé mentale. Lors de la rencontre du comité des corporations de la Couronne, le président de Horizon m’a répondu que tous leurs évaluations de la santé communautaire indiquent que les soins à la santé mentale est un problème urgent, mais ils n’ont pas les fonds pour répondre à ce défi, donc ils doivent fabriquer une solution parmi leurs restrictions budgétaires.

Children caught in the middle of their parents divorces are victimized by a confrontational family law system which one judge amounted to child abuse. There is no publicly funded mediation, there is no legal aid for divorce, there is no effective attempt to force deadbeat Dads to pay their child support.

The Youth Justice System has been called a pipeline to incarceration by the Child and Youth Advocate for mostly minor offences. We have among the highest rates of pre-trial detention for youth anywhere in Canada. And kids between the ages of 12 and 17 are routinely handcuffed and shackled when being transported, whether they pose a risk or not.

And how are our children fairing in our schools? There is a pressing need for appropriate classroom support directed at the emotionally and behaviourally challenged, as well as those with reading and writing disorders and severe cognitive delays. The needs of these individuals are great but the scattered approach we have in place is not effectively helping special needs students develop the life skills required to lead productive lives.

Until specific plans, headed by professionals well versed in the area of special needs and education, are put in place to support our classroom teachers, the results will be more youth on the street while our teachers and education assistants resort to long term stress leave because of the unrealistic demands placed on them.

Here’s the hope. Our Child and Youth Advocate, an officer of the Legislative Office, is doing a tremendous job to advocate on behalf of children and youth and has a national reputation as a result. The pressing need is for government to listen to his recommendations and place a high priority on implementing them.

The Throne Speech insists we have no money, which is why proposals are being made to cut teachers, cut education assistants, cut hospitals and farm out the plowing and salting of our roads to profit-driven companies. In the immortal words of Willy Sutton, when he was asked why he robbed banks, he said, “Because that’s where the money is.”

Here’s the hope. We can stop being the piggy-bank for big business and politically well-connected smaller businesses and free up $100 Million a year or more.  We can charge a fair market price for our natural resources, rather than selling them off at firesale prices.  Both of these were among the most commonly recommended suggestions made during the public consultations for the Strategic Program Review, but were dropped from the Choices government is now presenting to the public.

Mais où est l’argent? Nous avons l’impression que pas tout le monde paye leur part des taxes. Il est l’heure de publier les taxes payées par les compagnies privées au Nouveau-Brunswick afin de faire une évaluation équitable de toutes les taxes payées. Le fardeau passe du dos des compagnies publiques à celui des individus. This needs to be rebalanced.

The challenge for the 21st century is to transform our society and our economy in ways that fossil fuels play a much smaller role. In the age of rapid climate change, a government should not be preoccupied with building a pipeline to the Bay of Fundy from Alberta. It’s a pipe.  It is not going to fix our economic problems. It will ensure more carbon gets dumped into our air and our oceans, precisely at the moment when our carbon footprint needs to get a whole lot smaller, a whole lot faster. Yet the Throne Speech devotes almost an entire page to championing new fossil fuel infrastructure that will increase the production of more carbon based fuel.

Pour limiter le réchauffement climatique à moins de 2 dégrée Celsius, nous devons transformer la manière que l’on produit et consomme l’énergie et la manière qu’on planifie nos communautés et leur système de transport.

Here’s the hope. Justin Trudeau told the world in Paris earlier this week, he is committed to building a low carbon economy in Canada by driving growth based on investing in green infrastructure, manufacturing clean technology, and creating green jobs.  That is exactly what we should be doing in New Brunswick. It’s exactly what my Green Jobs bill would achieve.  We can make the Maritimes the epicenter of the energy transition for Canada.

1.  We need a conservation and efficiency makeover of our homes and buildings to reduce per capita use of fuel and electricity by half in the coming decades.

2.  We need to accelerate the roll-out of the smart electrical grid to maximize use of sources of power from water, biomass, sun, wind and tidal, and to integrate electric vehicles.

3.  Accelerate growth of bioenergy sector  (wood and crops) to supply heat, transportation fuel and electric power.

4.  We need convenient public transit to provide and alternative to driving.

5.  We need to secure agreements to work with Ottawa, Nova Scotia, and PEI.

6.  We need to institute carbon pricing for industry importing carbon-based fuels and then hand over the revenue to homeowners, businesses and municipalities to invest in energy efficiency, renewable energy and green transportation to accelerate the energy transition.

We have companies already building and renovating homes that stay toasty warm with a thimble full of energy.  We are blessed with ample supplies of energy that are renewable, stored up in our forests, and free for the taking from the sun, wind and tides.  Making this energy transition will grow the construction, bioscience, clean tech, and IT sectors.

Alors que le monde s’éloigne du pétrole, du charbon et du gaz naturel et se tourne vers la production d’énergie propre, nous pouvons mener la charge nationale facilement, ici au Nouveau-Brunswick.

●   Between 2006 and 2011, the number of people employed in the renewable energy sector more than doubled globally.

●   Job creation in the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries outpaces job growth in traditional energy sectors at a ratio of 15:2 jobs created per $1M invested.[1]

●   The International Energy Agency estimates the total amount of global investment in clean energy production will reach 1.55 trillion by 2020.

●   Since 2009, Ontario has attracted more than $27B in private sector investment, creating more than 20,000 jobs and 30 clean energy companies by 2011.

●   Massachusetts committed to building an economy based on renewable energy production in 2008. The industry has grown 47%, adding 28 000 green jobs since 2010. In 2014, Massachusetts’ clean energy sector was comprised of over 88 000 workers and almost 6000 employers establishing a $10 billion industry.[2]

●   Renewable energy generation employs an average six people per 10 MW of capacity. New Brunswick has just under 3800 MW of capacity. If government policy were to mandate an additional 1,200 MW of renewable energy capacity, it could result in the creation of 720 additional direct jobs.[3]

●   For every dollar invested on energy efficiency, New Brunswick would see a net gain of between $3-6 dollars in its GDP. Over a 30 year period, this could generate $5.9 billion.

Here’s the hope. There are already companies manufacturing geothermal heat pumps, designing industrial biofuel digesters, and building super energy efficient homes right here in New Brunswick. We need a legislative framework to create the right conditions for start-up and for these companies to expand and excel. The time is right for New Brunswick to secure our energy future with home grown solutions, which is why I introduced the Green Jobs Bill in the Legislature on Wednesday.

The Throne Speech says that the government is working to create the right conditions for businesses to start up, expand and invest. The best way create these conditions is to invest in our schools, colleges, universities, health care and public transportation. Unless people are confident they have access to good schools, excellent health care, and convenient public transportation why would they locate here? And what about community economic development?

Voici l’espoir. Le discours du Trône cite que le gouvernement va collaborer avec les municipalités locales afin qu’elles puissent développer les outils nécessaires pour développer leurs économies. Mais il nous faut la capacité institutionnelle pour le faire.

We have a Minister of Rural Affairs, but he has no ministry. It is time to establish a Department of Community Development, with branches for rural and urban development.  It could be financed with money saved by eliminating the Regional Development Corporation, which has failed to actually develop any region of the province. It’s time to focus our development efforts on communities, both rural and urban, in partnership with them.

It is encouraging to see a commitment in the Throne Speech to develop a local food and beverage strategy following the defeat of my local food bill in the last session. To be effective it must establish clear targets for expanding New Brunswick’s use of local food and beverage products and detail effective mechanisms to achieve them such as establishing procurement requirements for public bodies. There is every reason for us to place a priority on increasing the production and processing of local foods to feed New Brunswickers. Not the least of which is the economic opportunity it would provide as more of our food dollars support farmers and processors here rather than worlds away.

Here’s the hope. In New Brunswick, local organic agriculture has been expanding to meet the growing demand for groceries and restaurant meals that are healthy, local, and don’t depend on damaging the land or mistreating animals.

Following the release of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations, it’s surprising the Throne Speech devoted absolutely no time to how government intends to pursue reconciliation with First Nations in New Brunswick. Nor was there anything about safeguarding the language and culture of the first people’s of our province.

Here’s the hope. We could restore the authority of the Legislative Assembly over the Executive Branch of government so that people could count on more representative government. The Legislative Assembly could take the lead to rebuild the relationship between First Nations and New Brunswick.

Plus tôt cette année, j’ai demandé qu’on retire le jeu de politique du programme de subvention SEED ce qui permet aux organisations communautaires et aux charités d’employer des étudiants pendant l’été. Let’s put those decisions back into the public service, so funding is provided based on need. We don’t need Cabinet Ministers handing out summer student grants like they are bottles of rum in ridings held by opposition MLAs. Nor do we need MLAs telling local groups that they will only get their grant if they hire the student the MLA recommends.

When it comes to the environment, New Brunswickers want to do their part, but many are beyond frustrated with the inadequate recycling system in their communities. The last time a government showed any leadership on waste reduction and diversion was in 1999.  Here’s the hope. Municipalities across this country have embraced recycling on a large scale and we could too.

While I support the commitment to improve access to primary health care and ensure all health professionals are functioning at their full scope of training and practice, we cannot wait for this to be achieved to fix our overcrowded hospital emergency departments.  Here’s the hope. There are nurse practitioners looking for work who could manage the routine visits to emergency departments, if they were split into two functional units – one for actual emergencies staffed by physicians, and the other for the more routine demands of treating ear infections and chest congestion staffed by nurse practitioners.

Le discours du Thrône devrait announcer les priorités et politiques du gouvernement pour la session parlementaire suivante, but apart from fighting the deficit with cuts and new revenue, this speech leaves this government’s priorities as a bit of a mystery. In fact, in its conclusion the Throne Speech says government will provide details on additional policy and program matters of importance to the people of New Brunswick. So we must stay tuned.

Voici l’espoir. I will continue to seek collaboration. I will introduce bills that represent real solutions. I will continue to propose amendments to government bills that will increase their effectiveness in serving the public interest. And I will continue to present ideas, suggestions and solutions for the challenges facing this province.