My first real memory of politics was Pierre Trudeau’s advocacy for a just society. As an eleven year old, this vision for our county inspired me. If politics was capable of bringing about social change, it was something I wanted to know more about.
This was also the era of Louis Robichaud’s program of social equality, continued by Richard Hatfield, which ultimately lifted so many out of poverty, and laid the groundwork for the Acadian and francophone minorities to become full participants in New Brunswick society.
Indigenous peoples figured nowhere in the social change of that time. Reconciliation, the recognition of the treaties, and the resolution of land title must be today’s political priority. As Greens we embrace this, and as MLAs we will act on it.
There are corrosive forces at work in New Brunswick that seek to undermine the progress made to ensure the language and culture of Acadians and other francophones are safeguarded. This threatens to turn us against each other.
New Brunswickers have had the right to be served by their government in either English or French for almost half a century now. It’s been 37 years since the Legislative Assembly recognized the equality of the anglophone and francophone communities in New Brunswick. And it has been a quarter century since these rights were entrenched in our Constitution. So what is going on?
Fear seems to be at the root of it.
Many are fearful about the economy and the future of our public services. This is being used by some to argue that we cannot afford social equality. Repeat this enough, conjure up scary stories about going over an economic cliff, and fair-minded people can become fearful.
Just look at the crisis in recruitment and retention of paramedics. The deteriorating ambulance service in rural New Brunswick is a result of poor management. Medavie has allowed staffing levels to fall far below what is required to keep our ambulances on the road. Blaming it on decades-old requirements to provide public services in English and French is to miss the actual problem altogether.
There are also more than a hundred paramedics who are off work because of work-related health problems. Paramedics are burning out, they are suffering from PTSD. Improving ambulance service in New Brunswick should be a cause that unites us.
What about the stories making the rounds about unfair hiring practices in the public service. This should have been put to rest a long time ago by government. Open and transparent governance should mean open and transparent hiring practices. Yet we have witnessed a string of governments who seem to believe that their work is their business, not the business of the people of the province. If there is nepotism in hiring practices, let’s root it out. If a bureaucratic one size fits all approach to second language proficiency requirements is being taken, no matter the job, let’s bring some good sense to bear.
Which brings me to second language training. It is not available for most adults, whether English or French. Second language training must be readily available, accessible and affordable. If second language training in the school system is not producing the results we want, then we need to heed the advice of educators on how to improve those outcomes for both English-speaking and French-speaking students.
If we are to successfully navigate the future, we must do so as people united with a common purpose. This is only possible if we all feel secure and respected. This requires good leadership, and an unwavering commitment to engaging New Brunswickers in pursuit of a just society.
David Coon is the Leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick and the MLA for Fredericton-South