Four distinguished panelists gathered to discuss the future of New Brunswick after the pandemic. They made observations on immigration, communities of care, grassroots consultations, climate change, and governance.
Journalism and Communications professor Jamie Gillies hosted the event on behalf of St. Thomas University, the first of a number of talks in the Frank McKenna Centre for Communications and Public Policy Speaker Series. The panel was titled “New Brunswick: Different Future(s).”
St. Thomas University Sociologist Gül Çalışkan detailed one of her recent research projects, Promise of Home, that examines the immigrant experience in New Brunswick. Çalışkan’s New Brunswick Innovation Foundation-funded project started in 2019 and, although it was slowed down by the pandemic, has continued with collaboration from a number of St. Thomas University students, from the City of Fredericton as well as community members.
Çalışkan’s team’s research so far has studied the teen experience through storytelling and will continue with people of other generations and families, in order to move toward visioning and making policy proposals for the future.
Çalışkan’s work looks “to understand the challenges that immigrant face,” which is a huge step in envisioning the future of the province, given the recent stories on groups of immigrants that have arrived from Togo in the Haut Madawaska region and staffing businesses in towns like Shippagan.
Çalışkan’s presentation featured the video work of one of her student participants, in a discussion of change and fear: “sometimes the people it attacks become brittle.”
St. Thomas University Sociologist Erin Fredericks also spoke on the panel. She is working on two projects currently that are turned toward the future.
Frederick’s SSHRC-funded research, called “Imagining liveable futures for queer, trans, and two-spirit youth: A community- and arts-based study,” is about suicide prevention and mental health. She is also working on another project that is cross-generational, working with queer elders and queer, trans and non-binary youth.
According to Fredericks’ research, queer, trans and non-binary people create communities of care: “we are a system of care on our own (…) we can provide that system of care for each other.” Problems occur when expectations of that care can exist in the wider society, especially empathy. Understanding better these communities can help better understand the needs of ideal future health care in the province.
For Fredericks, the government needs to “engage with people in real knowledge exchange,” in consultations around the province, especially when dealing with marginalized peoples. “The taken for granted things need to be already covered,” for people to feel safer engaging in consultations and contribute to building a better province.
University of New Brunswick Political Scientist, Heather Millar, attributed three rules on how the province can move forward in adjusting and slowing climate change: “play nice, play fair, and play together.”
On the first point, Millar said that the pandemic “Atlantic Bubble” could be a good model to use with energy-electricity infrastructure with our neighbouring provinces. Her second point was about the regulatory regimes that show “the material cost of energy rates.” Millar declared that “we have an opportunity to reframe public interest away from costs and toward other ideas like clean energy and sustainability.”
Millar’s third point examined the feasibility of mixed energy infrastructure projects, and giving citizens a greater level of control over the decision-making. “Community demand” requires that consultations be truthful and “build public trust.” There is potential, post-covid, to “scale up some of the great projects” that exist in the province.
UNB Law Professor Nicole O’Byrne, a legal historian, spoke last during the panel. Her observations on the pandemic show that one of the features of emergencies is that people are often “willingly give up power.” O’Byrne warned against the loss of accountability that comes during these types of situations.
Instead of using the Emergencies Act, under which the provisions of the constitution could be followed, the Federal government left “the provinces to their own devices” during the pandemic.
As soon as the pandemic started, the Higgs government, still in its minority government, proposed an amendment to the NB Emergency Measures Act. O’Byrne calls the proposed Bill 49 “alarming” in that it would have suspended basic rights: “you’re heading into totalitarianism.” “Arbitrary expressions of power,” can result from this types of law which is equivalent to ruling by decree.
The event was followed by a rich discussion during which panelists were asked if they were optimistic about the future.
Sophie M. Lavoie is an editorial board member of the NB Media Co-op.