OVERALL OBJECTIVE—TO FIND WAYS AND MEANS TO IMPROVE THE PROVINCE’S FISCAL SUSTAINABLE AND THE QUALITY OF LIFE FOR ALL NEW BRUNSWICKERS
It’s been quite a time in the history of mankind and planet Earth. The enemy is a virus that resulted in tragedy and suffering for millions of people around the world. The cost will be difficult to measure, but certainly will be in the trillions of dollars.
New Brunswick fared extremely well in terms of number of people who were infected as well as the impact on the economy. Our economy did better than all the other provinces in Canada. In terms of the virus many would give credit to the management team, political legislative committee and frontline workers. Notwithstanding the citizens of New Brunswick followed the rules in most cases. The Federal Government played an important role on the economic front by sending millions of dollars to provinces and introducing such programs for families such as CERB. And while we believe most of us will be vaccinated by the end of June, we mustn’t let our guard down, for its ugly head could rise again in the form of dangerous Covid variants.
Assuming we have weathered the storm, what is next? So much has been written about New Brunswick and its systemic problems. However, it would seem we haven’t moved the needle very far with respect to reform over the last few years. We are still talking about municipal reform, health and long-term care reform, education reform and debt. And we continue to do more and more studies.
Regarding debt there is an old saying that you can run into debt, but you have to crawl out. We seem to be digging deeper in the hole and no plan to crawl out. The government has projected deficits for the next three years.
High financing is confusing to many people. Therefore to simplify it, the province owes $18.4B dollars and over the next three years we could add another $2B to the debt. The interest on the debt amounts to an estimated $1.8 Million dollars per day that you and I are paying with our tax dollars. Imagine what we could do with that money.
In the last 10 years, our total debt has doubled, but our population has increased only slightly. We have spent way beyond our means, albeit partly out of pandemic necessity.
What is even more worrisome is that many of the other provinces in Canada are faced with similar challenges. New Brunswick only generates 65% of what we need to operate and the rest of our money comes from the Federal Government in the form of equalization and transfer payments. They historically get their money from surpluses in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. In light of the current circumstances, will the same amount of money be coming this year and ensuing years?
It has been said that if we decrease the size of the civil service, we could save millions. (How many people do you need to change a light bulb?). However, it’s easier said than done. The size of the province’s population and the size of the provincial civil service aren’t directly proportional. There’s a minimum size required regardless of the population level in order to ensure all constitutionally and legislatively mandated roles and all the associated necessary policy development, administrative and operational functions are provided. Any other approved programs can require more people to operate or at least oversee them. This serves to reinforce the importance of being as efficient as possible in the organization and provision of public services. Notwithstanding there still could be belt tightening within civil service.
Privatizing doesn’t always reduce the cost — sometimes it can, but there are usually trade-offs. It may make the government’s books look better, but the overall cost to individuals can actually go up and/or the quality, timeliness and reliability could go down.
We need to set goals, self-sufficiency being a key one. However, that will not happen overnight. We must look at it realistically and establish where we would like to be in 5 or 10 years – something that is attainable. We should strive for efficacy. We should strive to create a world-class education system that will lead to economic vitality. We should strive to modernize our health care system based on all the technologies that are available. I believe we know what to do. But do the politicians have the will, the courage and the energy to do it? Or will they fall victim to the cries of those who fear change and therefore resist it? Are they able to clearly and effectively communicate to people what needs to be done and why?
Endlessly repeating the same old vague promises to increase the population, grow the economy, reduce unemployment, etc. never seems to result in any significant progress, so a new approach that puts more of a public onus on political leaders to perform to a stated target may be worth trying. What’s the alternative — more of the same old, same old that results in little, if any, improvement?
The private sector has a big role to play, too. And that doesn’t mean just shouting for lower taxes and fewer regulations, i.e. more “unfettered” capitalism so the wealthy can get even richer. There’s a social contract factor here that means everyone should benefit from economic growth and development, not just the few who are already at the top. Historically significant transformation comes from the outside/in versus the in/outside.
In the past government has reached out to many consultants and special interest groups for answers. And in the fullness of time, reports are completed, including recommendations for action. The report then is reviewed and more often or not goes to a filing cabinet to gather dust with the other ignored reports regardless of how good they are. In New Brunswick they stay there for at least 4 years until the next government is formed and the report is dusted off, or more likely, a new one is commissioned. It’s a pointless cycle with no end in sight.
Currently there are several reports being worked on. Given the fact that our political leaders have fought in a pandemic version of World War III over the last year, priorities should be established. Transformation in Health and long term care has to be at the top of the list.
The Coalition (CCC) has capable, experienced people on our team. They are willing and able to help and always our recommendations are based on empirical evidence. We have offered our services to the government on many occasions. To make significant changes, government must engage all the stakeholders to shout from the rooftops that we no longer want to be a “have not”, drive-through province. Our narrative must change. “Come to New Brunswick it’s a great place to live”. It is safe, with clean air and quality people, to name a few. To quote a famous President, John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Let’s get at it.
Daryl K. Branscombe, Founder
Coalition of Concerned Citizens
Telephone number: 451-1357; 461-0053 (cell)
Address: P. O. Box 804, Station A, Fredericton, NB E3B 5B4