Unprecedented. Uncertain. Challenging. New Normal. Social Distancing. Isolation. Lockdown.
These are just some of the words and terms that have quickly taken on new meaning for all of us. They have become part of our regular vocabulary as we continue to live and work through the COVID-19 Pandemic. They remind us of the extreme change, sacrifice, and strangeness we’ve all experienced.
But there are no words to properly capture the incredible strength and solidarity of the tens of thousands of New Brunswick workers who have been relentless in their commitment to serve the public and to keep this province running. Despite risk and worry in these very trying times, many New Brunswickers have had to adjust the way they work and where they work, while often enduring significant impacts on their personal and family lives.
These workers, whether working from home, behind the scenes, on-call, or on the frontlines, have all risen to the challenge and continue to demonstrate a steadfast commitment to safety and serving the public with professionalism as well as compassion.
And for that, we, like so many others, are filled with gratitude and pride.
But we can’t ignore that this has come at a cost to workers’ mental, emotional, and physical health. The countless cuts to public services over the past decades have weakened our public services. These cuts have also forced workers to do more with less. How much longer can they be expected to continue delivering services to the public without the support and resources they need?
Living and working through this pandemic has reminded New Brunswickers of the importance of our public services, but it has also exposed serious gaps and cracks in our public sector. For those working in schools, health care, nursing homes, courts, laboratories, parks, utilities, and so many more professions, these gaps and cracks come as no surprise. For many years, workers have been calling attention to these weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
And today, in solidarity our eight unions, representing more than 58,000 provincial public sector employees, are calling for attention and action. We are asking the New Brunswick government to invest in the public sector, recruit more workers for the numerous vacant positions, and retain the ones we have by improving working conditions and pay. All of this will help our economy recover while closing the gaps and repairing the cracks in services New Brunswickers depend on every day.
Let’s be honest, New Brunswick can afford it. Multiple reports show that New Brunswick spent far less than its provincial and territorial counterparts on the pandemic relief. According to a recent analysis conducted by economists at the Royal Bank of Canada, New Brunswick spent $600 per New Brunswicker on pandemic relief, while the Canadian average was over $2,200 per capita.
The New Brunswick government should periodically look at the province’s practices regarding natural resources and how they are managed and provide value for the people, like in forestry, fishery and mining.
It also makes economic sense to invest in improving public services when times are tough.
The private sector was hard hit during the pandemic. Economists agree that it will take years for many businesses to recover. It’s not logical to think that the private sector will lead the way out of the pandemic when they are just trying to survive.
Further, governments get the biggest economic returns by investing in public services. Economists overwhelmingly agree on this point: to secure the recovery, both Federal and Provincial governments must take advantage of historically low borrowing rates and invest in our communities. Unlike households, government’s plan over longer time horizons, and play an important role in stabilizing the economy during ups and downs. If the government borrows now to invest in something that enables stronger economic growth in the future, our debt will increase, but so will our expected GDP showing the decision to be fiscally sustainable in the long term.
New Brunswickers cannot be expected to accept less from our public services – when in fact they deserve so much more. There is a recruitment and retention crisis in most government departments, particularly in our schools, health care and mental health services.
It’s become abundantly clear to all that the public sector plays a vital role in supporting, protecting, and serving New Brunswickers. The extreme pressures of the pandemic, combined with years of underinvestment, have highlighted the urgent need for increased public sector investments. These investments will improve and strengthen our public service. It is the best and only path forward to building a fair and prosperous economy for all.
Daniel Legere, President, New Brunswick Federation of Labour
Paula Doucet, President, New Brunswick Nurses Union
Stephen Drost, President, CUPE New Brunswick
Colleen Coffey, Atlantic Regional Vice-President, Public Service Alliance of Canada
Susie Proulx-Daigle, President, New Brunswick Union
Rick Cuming, Co-President, New Brunswick Teacher’s Federation
Gérald Arseneault, Co-président, Fédération des enseignants du Nouveau-Brunswick
Debi Daviau, President, The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada
Claude Richard, Business Manager, IBEW Local 37