OVERALL OBJECTIVE—GETTING NB BACK ON TRACK
WHO WE ARE – We are a group of community and business leaders who believe there is a need for a non-partisan organization that can provide informed advice and leadership that will enable the actions necessary for New Brunswick to succeed both socially and economically.
INTRODUCTION – When Blaine Higgs became Premier of the province he might have thought, I can do this job. I can make New Brunswick self-sufficient and I will develop a vision. But the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. No matter how carefully a project is planned something still may go wrong. We believe Premier Higgs is now scratching his head and asking what happened? It is called Covid-19 and it has bought our nation, and indeed the rest of the world to its knees. So much has been written and talked about the virus over the last several weeks, we can add very little to the conversation. The challenge ahead is to define the new normalcy. And almost all agree that it is never going to be the same.
We applaud the Premier, Minister Dominic Cardy and other Cabinet Ministers. As well we applaud opposition leaders Kevin Vickers, Kris Austin and David Coon for their support and co-operation-and overwhelming appreciation to Dr. Jennifer Russell, and all of the medical team for their leadership during the crises. So far, we have the lowest number of cases, on a per capita basis, than any other Province in Canada, with no deaths. The Premier declared a state of emergency well in advance of other Provinces and it has worked. We also applaud the front-line workers who have the courage to go to work and keep the rest of us safe. And finally we thank the general population of New Brunswickers who follow the rules, though for many it is not easy. We are social animals and by nature we want to be around one another. Isolation can cause all kinds of stresses even in the best of circumstances. As the old saying goes, you don’t miss the water until the well goes dry. We miss even the most basic rituals of going to the restaurant and having coffee with friends. The good news is that it will not last forever. There is light at the end of the tunnel and the sun will shine again.
BOARD MEMBERS – are posted on our webpage www.coalitionnb.com. To learn more about our board as well as our organizational structure, click “About the coalition” and visit the Board of Directors. Many of our “op eds’ can be found under blogs as well as newsletters and commentaries on various subjects on our website.
MUNICIPAL REPORT TO BE RELEASED THIS SPRING – Why is it important to do Municipal Reform? CCC believes it is a building block that will enable the Province to do long-term planning for not only municipalities but also health and long term care, education, and other essential services. (See attached to this Newsletter Jean-Guy Finn’s commentary regarding reform that was published in the Telegraph Journey on April 24.)
Our researcher, Jon Taylor, continues to work on Municipal Reform. Jon is updating the 2008 Finn Report which recommends that the province’s existing local governance regime be replaced with 53 municipal entities. Data tables are assembled for 45 of the 53 entities and 20 have accompanying write-ups. While there have been changes in population as of 2008, the recommendations of the Finn report are still viable and necessary for the future success of NB’s local governments. The proposed new framework requires that each of the 53 municipal entities have a minimum population of 4000 and property assessment base of $200 million. The updates to the report thus far have demonstrated that most of the proposed municipal entities would still meet these minimum requirements, but it is also important to identify which municipal entities will require alteration if the new framework were to be implemented today. Considering the difficulties associated with largescale municipal reform, implementing a previously existing proposal with updated data has a greater chance of success than drafting an entirely novel proposal.
Each of the write-ups will describe the geographic boundaries including a map, demographic base, financial base, municipal and provincial responsibilities and an updated property assessment. These write-ups will be available to the public for anyone curious to know more about how this proposal would affect their communities and regions. The report should be completed by the end of June, which will then be presented the Premier and Honorable Jeff Carr, Minister of Environment Local Government for their review, comments and action.
The systemic problems haven’t changed much over the years. New Brunswick is dependent on primary resource extraction. However, there have been a number of mills and mining companies that have closed. Most of these were located in Northern New Brunswick. The bottom line is there is lack of industry to support the population which is declining, especially up North. Add insult to injury and our salmon industry in the Miramichi is in jeopardy. As a result of all of this, more people are migrating to urban centers, and rural New Brunswick is losing its appeal and sustainability. Unfortunately, the Province will not be in a position to underwrite costs-leaving very few options. Unless people who live in rural communities are prepared to pay more taxes, then the level of services will most certainly decline. With no significant increase in GDP people who remain are going to have share resources and services. By merging municipalities many services can be provided to more people at a lower cost.
One of the main problems which has come to light as a result of the updates to this report, is the lack of candidates in many of the province’s municipalities. This is something that was not stressed enough in 2008. Most northern municipalities have far higher voter turnout rates than the provincial average, but these communities are also frequently prevented from voting in quadrennial elections because there are not enough candidates to hold a contested election.
The recent creation of the Rural Community of Haut-Madawaska demonstrates the benefits of pursuing the sort of reforms proposed in this report. Haut-Madawaska now occupies the entirety of proposed Entity 1 – except one village, Lac Baker. The whole area was suffering from a lack of candidates, but by consolidating into a RC, this problem has been solved. Lac Baker voted not to join, despite having frequent acclamations. Unless the population increases significantly or Lac Baker decides to join the rest of proposed Entity 1, acclamations and by-elections will continue to degrade the integrity of the municipality’s democratic institutions. The success or failure of Lac Baker in the coming election will be informative for the viability of this proposed new framework going forward.
POLICING IN NEW BRUNSWICK – We invited Fredericton’s Chief of Police Roger Brown to address our Board. Chief Brown was the former Assistant Commissioner and Commanding Officer of the RCMP in New Brunswick. He has forgotten more about policing that most people will ever know. A few comments from Chief Brown are as follows:
- His budget for the Police Department in the City of Fredericton is $18M, which represents 15% of the city’s total budget. (This compares to other municipalities in the Province.
- He is comfortable with 114 as the police complement for the City of Fredericton. He placed great emphasis on scheduling and deploying of police officers at different times of day and night.
- He believes there is a great deal of duplication in the use of equipment. He sold the rescue boat as they had only one call last year. As well, both the fire department and the RCMP have rescue boats in the City of Fredericton.
- There is a 333% increase in crystal meth activity in the City of Fredericton.
- Armored Rescue Vehicles are used for training and ready to deploy. The needs are minimal and the province would be better served with those vehicles available to all police departments on an as needed basis.
- He suggested a need for a province wide ERT Team
- He believes there are great inefficiencies in overlapping jurisdictions (fed/prov/municipal). He thinks what the best model for New Brunswick is to have regional policing based in the identified regions. This is what the Finn Report suggested as well as for other services such as fire and ambulances.
As a result of our meeting with Chief Roger Brown we intend to write a letter to Minister Carl Urquhart suggesting he review the policing operations for the province.
EDUCATION – Not much new has happened in education as a result of virus. The minister and staff have been busy from ordering self-isolation for travelers to infected regions to closing schools. New Brunswick’s public education system responded quickly to the pandemic. Following the closure of all schools on March 16 the Department, working with early childhood educators across the province, created and opened a network of daycares for the children of thousands of essential workers. – Attention then turned to developing online learning resources that were announced on April 2, offering structured learning for students across the province, ranging from two to three and a half hours per day. The school year was officially ended, with January marks serving as final grades.
Work is now underway to make sure students without access to technology or internet/connection are given those tools, and to make sure that, if schools remain fully or completely closed, that online learning can be improved in terms of quality and quantity. The Department has established mental health supports for students and will work to continue to enhance those supports, along with those for students with special needs.
The Provincial Green paper is still work in progress. Pilots for second-language instruction and flexible learning groups scheduled to start in September will begin once schools are safe to be reopened.
On other news Chris Treadwell, the former Assistant Deputy Minister of Education will officially retire on April 30. Chris has been a strong advocate of personalized and experimental learning, and approached these ideals with passion and energy. He will be greatly missed in the education circle as he was such a motivator and enthusiast for change. Chris will not be idle for long, and we wish him well in whatever direction he decides to go. Kudos Chris for everything!
There are thousands of books written on learning and education. However, with so much uncertainty, we are heading into unchartered waters. The world is becoming smaller and smaller and smaller. Technology is leading the way and if Bill Gates gets his way everything will be digitized. It probably started 20 years ago but its gaining momentum. Ultimately, we will not be able to buy or sell goods unless we have a code number. And to be sure “big brother” is watching us.
All of this impacts education and we must rise above just curriculum when addressing learning in schools. When you think of the rhythms of life, there are fundamentally four pillars that give people balance. The four pillars are as follows
(i) Physical: We all know the value of physical exercise. This should be an integral part of school life. Being fit feels good. Obesity is bad. Nutrition is important. Playing sports will teach children to work as a team member, be respectful to one another and learn the value of competitiveness.
(ii) Intellectual: The left side of the brain is responsible for controlling the right side of the body. It also performs tasks that have to do with logic, such as in science and mathematics. On the other hand, the right hemisphere coordinates the left side of the body, and performs tasks that have to do with creativity and the arts. We must recognize the skills and aptitude of each child and co-ordinate learning to their individual skill sets.
(iii)Emotional:-The values of giving and loving, learning and sharing are the adjectives that will bring balance. Time should be set aside for the interaction of teacher and students to talk about concerns they may have. Our children are scared about the future and we need to provide them with comfort and security.
(iv)Spiritual: – Meaning relating to a high power that guides us. Time should be set aside for children to meditate and learn the value of relaxing. Matts for meditating should be provided. Spiritual issues should be an important subject to talk about. The quieting of the spirit is so important in the learning process.
Education is a huge issue and expense. We must learn to spend our money wisely. Universities will undergo significant changes over the next few years. We can longer spew out graduates who have no training to earn a living. Personalize and experiential learning is the way to go. We must train our children that will lead them to a productive work environment. Parents need to be more involved with their children especially on social issues. Teachers are trained to teach, and cannot spend an inordinate amount of time on behavioral issues.
As time goes on, teachers will need to be retrained to address the new approach of experiential and personalized learning.
HEALTH AND LONG TERM CARE – We continue to beat the drum. We need a long-term plan for health and long term care. While Covid-19 has interrupted the plans and will continue to do so for some time, we can learn from this experience. Firstly, the experts who did the financial modelling, missed the mark by a significant number around the world. In New Brunswick the hospitals are running at 60%. The emergency rooms are not operating near capacity. But the good news is we were able to move approximately 120 ALC patients from hospitals to nursing homes. Beds will now be available for patients undergoing major surgeries.
On the positive side, we are now able to talk with doctors on the telephone and/or virtual communications such as Zoom. They can now call in prescriptions and line up blood work. All of this was not available 6 weeks ago. The Premier commissioned a committee of 4 people to deal with the “bottlenecking” in the health system. He was motivated when he learned it took 23 signatures to get one letter signed. All this is positive, but we have a ways to go. Our CCC health team committee has put together a draft plan that will soon be posted on our web site. As Donald Trump would say, these men are some of the best and the brightest in Canada with over 100 years of experience.
If the plan is well thought out, then we would not experience the fiasco we did before, when government tried to close emergency rooms in rural New Brunswick. You simply cannot take away something, unless people understand what you are replacing it with. All of New Brunswickers need to work collaboratively to find a workable plan that provides an efficient level of care while controlling our costs.
BANK OF CANADA MUST SUPPORT NB’S DEBT REPAYMENT– The budget was looking good for this coming year. The government showed a surplus in the operating side and we decreased spending on the capital side. But with this crises who knows where we stand. Les Smith a member of our Board wrote an “op ed” on the history of the Bank of Canada and its relationship to the provinces. It is posted on our website. Les has been advocating for some time that we should be able to borrow directly from the Bank of Canada. What couldn’t be done through negotiations, can now be done, which will help. We believe the province has a couple of bonds due sometime in May and June this year amounting to $1.6B. If we were able to borrow from the Bank of Canada, our interest will be reduced by an estimate 3%. This amounts to $50 million dollars. Notwithstanding the Transfer Payment Agreement is up for renewal next year. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Regardless we can’t go it alone and the Federal Government will need to continue to support us; however we suspect with a proviso. It is called in economics, “moral hazard”. The concern is, will a province operate as efficiently as possible if they know that the Federal Government will bail them out. There was push back by organizations and other Provinces, when the Feds bailed out Newfoundland a short while ago.
There is an old saying that misery loves company. So we are not alone. Every province in Canada is affected by the crises. The Federal government has so far committed $50B to the provinces and another $9B to university students. The United States has committed $7 trillion dollars. However, Canada has capacity to incur more debt, albeit not advisable under normal circumstances. Our debt ratio to GDP is 34% well below other countries like Italy, Greece, Spain and other European countries who are running at 102% and higher. Suffice it to say that the world is awash with debt.
DOES GUARANTEED ANNUAL INCOME MAKE SENSE FOR CANADA?
One of the lessons that we learned from this virus is a need to put money aside for that “rainy day.” The problem is that some people don’t have enough money to feed their children and are living day by day.
Some form of guaranteed annual income (GAI) for all Canadians has been the subject of much discussion and debate within Canada and in various other countries for decades. The fundamental objective is government to guarantee all citizens sufficient financial support to meet basic needs. Canadians over the age of 65 already receive a form of GAI. This is a nominal sum of money which is available to all senior citizens. The tax system is used to ensure an element of fairness in the system so that any seniors who receive significant funds from other sources see some or all the GAI “clawed back”. While the Guaranteed Annual Supplement may have flaws, it has demonstrably reduced the numbers of Canadian seniors living in poverty.
There have several trials of GAI in parts of the world and most have demonstrated reductions in poverty, decreased health care costs and improvements in literacy. A number of countries, or states within countries have a form of GAI, often with restrictions on who is eligible. The current COVID -19 Pandemic has demonstrated the fragility of financial support experienced by Canadians who work at or below minimum wages. The federal government is struggling to modify existing financial support mechanisms to ensure that basic living needs can be met by the many who have lost sources of income. This patchwork approach attempts to meet the needs of specific groups through modifications to existing systems. It seems inevitable that individuals or groups will “fall through the cracks” with attendant social problems. Individuals with disabilities are particularly at risk in times such as we are experiencing. A broad based GAI could address these concerns.
The Coalition of Concerned Citizens is interested in exploring possibilities for some form of GAI in New Brunswick. This exploration will involve an initial webinar to as broad a base of special interest groups, including government, industry and labor as is practical. The hope is that the discussion that follows will provide information on how a GAI could work given the diversity of the New Brunswick workforce which includes seasonal, term and full-time employees with a broad range of wages. The discussion could potentially lead to one or more pilot projects, say centered in a large municipality. The objective of the pilot projects would be to address the common concerns regarding the GAI namely, what is the cost, how will it be funded, and will the GAI serve as a disincentive to work?
If you or your group would be interested in participating in such a webinar to begin the exploration of GAI in New Brunswick please contact us at the coordinates provided at the end of our newsletter.
Our objectives have not changed. The fundamental question is what does it take to manage 776,000 people? What must we do to create efficiencies to reduce cost and make our province more sustainable? The task is daunting. But we must not lose spirit. As Franklin Roosevelt said, “Let me assent my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is ….fear itself.
What is encouraging is the collaboration of the political leaders, business leaders, community leaders and citizenship of New Brunswick. Together we are working through this pandemic. However, will this continue in post pandemic? We sure hope so. One of our board members, Andy MacPherson from Saint John, put together a commentary with a title “Demand Accountability from Politicians and Citizens. It is posted on our website. One example of a citizen pledge is “It is my responsibility to understand the issues that I am to vote on”. A Candidate pledge is “I pledge to make my decisions based on facts and not solely on party lines or of special interest groups.”
In the coming months, we will address such issues as (1) Guaranteed Income (2) Mental Health (3) Indigenous Issues, (4) Energy Secretariat, (5) Economic Development, (6) Self-Sufficiency, to name a few.
If you find this newsletter interesting and informative then please pass it on to friends and colleagues. There is strength in numbers. We love to hear from you. You can reach us on Facebook, Email or by phone. Thank you.
Telephone number: 451-1357; 461-0053 (cell)
Address: P. O. Box 804, Station A, Fredericton, NB E3B 5B4
Appendices: (1) Commentary – Rural-urban divide no longer defines our province.