Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve heard our elected officials state many times, “We are all in this together.” New Brunswick’s response to the housing crisis and calls for worker safety show that is not the case.
Throughout the pandemic, the provincial government has avoided making investments or legislative changes that would benefit New Brunswickers.
In fact, a report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) showed the provincial government has almost completely depended on the federal government to help its citizens and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our elected officials have bragged about how well the economy has done during the pandemic, but that is, in part, the result of the direct funding from Ottawa to the people of New Brunswick and the province not spending money sent from the federal government to help New Brunswickers.
If there was ever a time to make changes to help working people, it is now. However, the Higgs government has ignored calls for changes despite the obvious need to help.
A sad theme throughout the pandemic has been investors from outside the province buying apartment buildings for much more than the asking price, then hiking up rents by 50 to 75 per cent which is forcing many out of their homes.
The government has stated they don’t believe in rent control and put in other measures to protect tenants. Those measures have proved ineffective as at least twice a week there’s stories of people being forced out of their homes due to ridiculous increases.
In a CBC story published on January 20, Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch said the province has sufficient protections for tenants:
He pointed out that there is a rule in New Brunswick that rent increases are not supposed to exceed what is generally charged in a given area in buildings of similar condition. That effectively constitutes “rent control,” he said.
But in practice, increases of any amount in New Brunswick are allowed if a tenant does not formally object to the Residential Tenancies Tribunal within 30 days of receiving notice.
And in buildings where some tenants file an objection and some do not, a tribunal ruling that an increase is unreasonable applies only to those who have submitted paperwork.
“If you don’t make the complaint, it’s not going to be acted upon,” acknowledged Fitch.
Instead of policies that protect residents during a global pandemic, the government has placed the responsibility on the tenants to effectively police the greed of these outside investors. Minister Fitch stating the policy is effectively rent control demonstrates how far this government’s ideology strays from reality.
That same ideology has prevented this government from helping workers, many of whom have been laid off during the pandemic or have been forced to go into work with COVID symptoms because they cannot afford to take a sick day.
While businesses have been offered help, which they should, a simple change to the Employment Standards Act granting all workers paid sick days would be immensely helpful for people and the economy. Even just a temporary paid sick days program similar to the one Nova Scotia is using would be helpful. However, workers are not a priority for this government.
Premier Higgs criticized New Brunswick workers for not taking jobs in fish plants and on farms earlier in the pandemic and openly spoke about wanting CERB to end even though it was the only way some families were surviving.
We are not all in this together.
The ideology of this government and its strict adherence to its flawed principles have left New Brunswickers to fend for themselves.
Susie Proulx-Daigle is the president of the New Brunswick Union.