An Affordable Home on a Tolerable Planet
By David Coon
Over 150 years ago, American philosopher Henry David Thoreau posed the rhetorical question: “What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on”. I was reminded of this quote as I watched a family’s home washed into a rushing river during the climate calamity that struck British Columbia last week. At the same time, here at home we are seeing families washed out of their apartments all over New Brunswick because of unaffordable rent increases.
We face both a climate crisis and a housing crisis. As Greens, we want to see government re-engage in the housing market as it did in the seventies and eighties through the New Brunswick Housing Corporation – supporting the construction of cooperative and non-profit housing. It was dismantled as a stand-alone Crown Corporation by Frank McKenna in 1990, but its enabling legislation remains on the books. The rental market is stranding New Brunswickers, and it is time that government intervenes to support the development of non-market housing.
We have a tremendous workforce of tradespeople and homebuilders who, thanks to New Brunswick’s chapter of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, are being trained in net-zero building design and construction techniques. Affordable housing that doesn’t cost the Earth? That’s something I want New Brunswick to be known for.
But we need those tenants to be able travel to work, school, medical appointments or to visit family without incurring the huge cost for a private vehicle that carries with it an equally large carbon footprint. We need a public transportation system.
Canada, and New Brunswick, are outliers in the industrialized world for the provision of public transportation services. Canada is in a dead heat with Albania and Kazakhstan for having the poorest rail service among the member countries of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.
New Brunswick has city transit systems, intercity buses, a rail system, and a system of river and marine ferries, but you can’t get there from here in many cases. Try taking a train to Saint John, a ferry to Campobello, a direct bus from Fredericton to Miramichi, or even to the local airport. It can’t be done.
There is money available from Ottawa to improve public transportation, money that Premier Higgs has thus far spurned.
In response to one of my questions during Question Period, the Premier let it be known that four government departments are discussing some kind of plan for public transportation. This is encouraging but considering the urgent need for public transportation infrastructure and the imperative that we shrink the carbon footprint of transportation, we need a bold plan.
It’s time to take control of the rails, upgrade them and run commuter trains between north and south and among our three largest cities. Maritime Bus needs to be integrated with the rail service and our ferry services.
Given our size, and the fact that Nova Scotia and PEI have similar public transportation needs, we should pool our efforts with those provinces to create a seamless and affordable public transportation system to serve our entire region.
When there is an important public purpose to be served, a Crown corporation is an effective tool. Such regional Crown Corporations exist, think of Atlantic Lottery. If we can facilitate the delivery of a regional gambling system, I know we can work together to meet the needs of people for getting from here to there, without fueling the climate crisis.
My caucus colleagues and I will be speaking more about these priorities in the Legislative Assembly in the weeks to come.
David Coon is the Leader of the New Brunswick Green Party and MLA for Fredericton South