The end of the year is a time for individuals and governments to take stock. On December 30, our Premier, Blaine Higgs, decided to use taxpayers’ money to publish his own record on the front pages of every daily newspaper in the province.
Under the catchy headline “Delivering for New Brunswickers,” Higgs tells us he has spent millions of dollars to make our life more affordable, to support New Brunswick businesses, to make our communities safer, to improve our infrastructure and our health care system.
But isn’t there some essential information missing from this waltz of millions portrait of our Premier’s record? What about the reality of the citizens of New Brunswick in 2022?
Blaine Higgs tells us that he has made our lives more affordable, but Statistics Canada data gives us a more realistic picture.
New Brunswick taxpayers have the lowest median after-tax income of all Canadian provinces. As for the thousands of individuals and their families who rely on social assistance to survive, they also are at the bottom of the barrel, with the lowest total income of all provinces.
Our province has seen a significant increase in the number of children and adults using food banks, and our unemployment rate is the third highest in Canada. For the thousands who live in apartments, the Premier has removed the rent cap, making it harder for thousands to pay rent. We also have presently the longest waiting list for subsidized housing in years. Has our Premier made life more affordable for us in 2022?
As for workers, it is true that our Premier has raised the minimum wage and that we are currently ranking fifth in Canada. However, he refuses to improve employment standards, including paid sick leave. We also have the lowest median hourly wage in Canada, except for Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
When it comes to labour, it is clear our Premier does not hold unionized workers close to his heart, especially not those in the public sector. Just before Christmas, he pushed through Bill 23 which completely changes the balance of power in favour of the employer.
Under the new law, a union must wait 72 hours before calling a strike, while an employer can lock out its employees with only 24 hours’ notice. A strike vote is only valid for one year. Arbitration tribunal decisions have been severely limited, and the employer can now use scabs to replace employees during a strike or lockout. Has this really improved the lives of New Brunswick workers?
For women, our Premier refuses to extend the Pay Equity Act to the private sector. He also refuses to ensure that women have access to public abortion services throughout our province. Has he really improved the lives of women?
As for seniors, our Premier refuses to implement the recommendations of the report New Brunswick’s elders neglected and forgotten, even though there is an urgent need to act to protect these vulnerable people. Has he improved the lives of seniors?
For Acadians and Francophones, he took a year to respond to the recommendations of the Finn-McLaughlin report on the review of the Official Languages Act. The appointment of Kris Austin, former leader of the anti-bilingualism political party, on the committee studying the report was a real slap in the face of Francophones. He ended up accepting only one of the report’s recommendations and moved to reduce the scope of the work of the Commissioner of Official Languages, whose office he considers too negative. Did he improve the lives of Acadians and Francophones?
As for First Nations, he refuses to acknowledge that they face systemic racism. He refuses to set up a public inquiry into systemic racism that would be led by them. Instead, he appoints a commissioner who produces a report recommending the establishment of a task force on the elimination of systemic racism in the police force. Did he fight systemic racism?
In the health sector, he abolished the boards of Horizon and Vitalité and replaced them with his own directors. He opened the door to private for-profit companies to deliver health care services. Meanwhile, 74,000 people do not have a doctor, our public health care system is short of more than 1,000 nurses, hundreds of hospital beds are occupied by seniors because there are not enough beds or staff in nursing homes to accommodate them, and emergency rooms are closing because of lack of staff. Has he improved our public health care system?
Finally, he gave a tax cut to everyone, but in fact it is the richest who will benefit the most.
This is the true record of Blaine Higgs, not his tax-paid advertising.
Jean-Claude Basque is the past Provincial Coordinator of the New Brunswick Common Front for Social Justice