State of our Province speech
David Coon, Green Party Leader of New Brunswick
March 30, 2021
I am honoured to be here today, to deliver my take, on the state of our province.
I have been the Green Party Leader for ten years and I have had the privilege of travelling from one end of the province to another, from Caraquet to Campobello to Cape Tormentine. There are very few roads I haven’t been down, including the 900 series roads, which are not for the faint of heart.
I have met mayors and nurses, small business owners and caregivers, students and teachers. I’ve met folks in coffee shops, parents in their homes, on their farms, and aboard our ferries. And of course, I hear from my constituents in Fredericton South every day.
What I am about to say, is inspired by all of them.
Each and every conversation I’ve had has not only helped me understand the challenges we face, but has helped me see solutions.
When I talk about the state of the province, I think about the state of the people. All of us, everyone, indigenous, newcomers, Acadians, anglophones, people of all ages, backgrounds, and gender identities – all of us.
While the Premier measures the state of our province primarily in financial terms, my measuring stick is different. Do we feel secure?
On balance, are we happy?
Are the kids alright?
Is the natural world around us thriving?
Are we proud of the state of the province we’ll pass on to our children?
How would you answer these questions?
A former chief of psychiatry once told me that a staggering number of her young patients had no sense of purpose. While this may be difficult to accept, does it feel to you like New Brunswick is headed in the right direction, in any direction?
Looking back over the past year, it is undeniable that we have been rocked by losses and challenges.
We have lost loved ones without the ability to properly say our goodbyes. We have seen each other’s pain, and each other’s strength and generosity. We have seen our healthcare workers toil to care for us and our loved ones.
We mourned the devastating discovery of the unmarked graves of indigenous children. We’ve witnessed extreme weather disasters across our country. And now there is war in Europe.
It’s been tough. But hardship, has a way of bringing what’s most important, into sharp focus.
We look at the tough realities that so many are experiencing, and recognize that in many cases, things don’t have to be so tough. Our government has chosen to let things be harder than necessary for people, because their priorities lie elsewhere – like in an accountant’s ledgerbook.
As Green Party leader, my priorities are clear. When I think about well-being, I think about the state of healthcare and education. COVID has demonstrated how fragile our health care system is, and the vital role that our schools play in the well-being of our children.
I also think about how the climate crisis affects us every day. We know that the health of our environment, and our own health, are in-ex-tric-ably linked. We must move towards 100% renewable energy, increase investment in public transportation, and help families and businesses make their homes and buildings more energy efficient. The cost of inaction gets higher every day.
The crisis in affordable housing is driving people out of their homes. I don’t want to live in a province where seniors, single parents, or young families – where anyone – has to face sudden, astronomical rent increases.
We need caps on rent increases, and an all-out effort to see the construction of high-quality affordable housing.
Small businesses and the self-employed are the economic foundation of our communities, but COVID has forced challenge after challenge upon them. Hair salons and gyms, restaurants and bars, musicians and performers, concert venues and theatres have struggled – and our government has withheld money that could have helped them navigate the pandemic.
In sharing the state of the province as I see it, it’s important to acknowledge our difficulties, but I want to put the spotlight on hope.
And I don’t mean the theoretical, maybe one-day, what- ifs, but the tender green shoots of promise I see growing in all of our communities.
I want to take a few moments to tell you about the actions of some the changemakers I have visited around our province, to put the spotlight on the hope they represent. These are just some of our changemakers.
Sister Auréa Cormier of the Common Front for Social Justice in Moncton and Claude Snow from the Comité des 12 on the Acadian peninsula are tireless advocates for the poor.
Some are philanthropists like Marcel Lebrun, the founder of the 12 neighbours affordable housing project in Fredericton, that is providing homes, community and opportunity to the homeless.
Others work in health-care, like Dr. Sara Davidson and pharmacist Dan Pike who established the Riverstone Recovery Centre in the provincial capital, to support those struggling with drug addictions.
In the Moncton area, Paul Ouellette has been a tireless advocate for the mentally ill, campaigning for the establishment of a mental health advocate at the Legislative Assembly, and the expansion of mental health courts across the province.
In Saint John, the non-profit organization, Housing Alternatives has renovated old dilapidated buildings into affordable housing.
In Miramichi, woodlot owner Jean Guy Comeau works tirelessly in an effort to bring sustainability and local stewardship to the forest resources of the Miramichi for the economic benefit of the entire community.
The folks at the New Brunswick Home Builders’ Association are training and certifying local builders in net-zero energy home construction.
Housing developers Paul Arseneault and Gunther Foerster are building a green community of net-zero energy homes in Moncton.
The City of Saint John has its own electrical utility which is developing a local wind farm to supply its citizens with renewable power.
And there are a growing number of young entrepreneurs who have created solar power companies from Saint John to Bathurst.
In the southeast, the Really Local Harvest Cooperative is supporting the development of local and sustainable farming to supply local food.
In Sackville, Open Sky Coop is providing skills-training, residential supports and vocational assistance built around farming to improve the quality of life for those living with developmental disabilities.
In Pointe Verte, local citizens created a cooperative called La Barque to provide space, tools and training to energize the Chaleur community.
In Shippagan, researchers at Valores, the coastal zone research institute, are working with communities to develop a climate change adaptation plan for the Acadian Peninsula.
In Edmundston, the non-profit Atelier R.A.D.O, runs a food bank, community kitchen, and clothing depot and provides emergency services for people in poverty.
In St. André, dairy farmers Jacques and Roche Laforge built the first biodigester in the province to turn cow manure, along with waste from food processors into renewable power for the electricity grid.
These are just a few examples of the incredible strides being made here. New Brunswickers are working hard to build the province we want to live in – a place that reflects our distinct and unique character, powered by an economy that is suitable to a smaller and significantly rural province like ours.
Local governance reform presents an opportunity to empower municipalities across New Brunswick, to take on community development. We must seize this chance to create the policies that will foster the development of locally-led cooperative housing, renewable electricity projects and community forests.
We care about one another and we know how to get things done. But we cannot achieve it without support.
Changemakers face a common barrier – policies of deregulation, privatization and inadequate government investment. These policies stem from an ideology that has been embraced by every Premier since Frank McKenna, and continues to be embraced by Blaine Higgs today. This is an ideology that values economic growth at any and all costs, and prioritises wealthy corporations above people and the environment.
It’s an ideology that more and more of us are recognizing as harmful, inhumane and unsustainable. It has been failing us for decades.
Why is there such a big disconnect between who we are as people and how governing parties operate? When I was first elected in 2014, I was told by the Liberal government’s House Leader that, “the system is the system.”
I don’t buy it. To say that “the system is the system,” leads to young people with no sense of purpose, no sense that their values will be embraced by those who run the system, no sense that change is possible.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
We need to, and we can, put the well-being of people at the heart of government decision-making. It starts with respecting all citizens as family, as friends, and valued members of their community.
We need to be able to live together with respect. Crucially, this means seeking meaningful reconciliation with First Nations, with whom we signed treaties of peace and friendship. We need to pursue both. But there is no peace without justice, and injustice has been the hallmark of the relationship between successive governments and First Nations. It is far past time for us to change that.
I hope, like me, you see how much is possible if the political will is there, if the values of government align with those of our people.
As New Brunswickers we have a strong sense of place, and a profound connection to the land. Our commitments to family and community run deep. We take pride in being self-sufficient, but know we have a responsibility to our neighbours. These shared values are the backbone of everything that we do, and have shaped our society.
But our society has also been shaped by decades of cuts in front line public services which have left staff overworked and under-resourced. COVID has exposed the fragility of our health care system, and the yawning holes in our social safety net.
Over the years, we have seen important institutions like the New Brunswick Housing Corporation dismantled, contributing to the rapidly shrinking supply of affordable housing. The New Brunswick Transportation Authority, which could ensure access to public transportation in every corner of the province, currently, exists in name only.
The vast Crown lands that cover half of our province, once rich in wildlife, blanketed by beautiful forests, teeming with biodiversity, have been turned over to a handful of corporations, almost as if they were privatiazed, and stripped, of the abundant life they once supported. The degradation of the forests must stop.
We’ve gotten used to hearing politicians proudly proclaim that government must be run like a business – meaning coldly, impersonally, and with a sharp eye on the bottom line.
I’m not saying government shouldn’t be frugal. It should. But too often Liberals and Conservatives have been penny wise and pound foolish. Just look at the ongoing nickel and diming of front-line workers in the care sector. Then consider the tens of millions of dollars wasted on chasing costly and risky technologies, like small nuclear reactors. Or on subsidising unimaginably wealthy corporations – the very same corporations that hide their profits in off-shore bank accounts, so they don’t pay their fair share of taxes.
You know this isn’t right. I hear it all the time.
I want to see the well-being of our children, our people, and our communities put at the heart of government decision-making.
Where do we start?
Let’s begin with healthcare. Let’s start by listening to those on the ground, providing health care services, and to the people who use them.
Health care needs to be restructured to be preventative, patient-centred, and community-based. This means making collaborative care clinics and team-based family practices the norm. It means treating both body, and mind. It means providing public health with the money it needs to deliver preventative health care. And it means ensuring secure access to rural health care.
Second, we need government to reclaim its responsibility to ensure there is a good supply of affordable housing. That is the point of the New Brunswick Housing Act, and the New Brunswick Housing Corporation. It is time to reactivate both. And it is past time to cap rent increases to keep tenants secure in their homes
Third, we must respond urgently and meaningfully to the climate crisis, and that means moving away from our dependence on fossil fuels. We need to take steps to become self-sufficient in renewable energy.
We are a determined bunch. We take pride in knowing we can provide for our families and communities. I think that is why there is so much interest in having solar panels on our roofs. Just like having a source of wood heat in the house, and a generator in the shed, the idea of using the sun to power our homes, aligns with our desire to be self-sufficient and live more sustainably.
That drive for energy self-sufficiency and local sustainability is reflected in our communities. Mayor after mayor have told me how they have wanted to power their municipalities with the sun or wind, but NB Power won’t play ball with them. And existing laws prevent them from moving forward.
I remember as a boy, visiting my grandfather on his farm and he announced that he had just replaced all the hoses in his car. That day he gave me a wrench to take home, as if to say, you can do the same thing. His faith in me, has led me to go on to try many things in my life.
I know that we can become more self-sufficient.
The simple act of providing someone with the tools they need to get going can make all the difference, and open up new worlds of possibility.
But there are some tools, that only government can provide. New policies and legislation that sweep away barriers to change. Affordable financing to ensure that the capital needed to make change is readily available.
Ultimately, when I think of the state of the people, I ask myself, what is the true measure of success for New Brunswick?
It will be when everyone has a strong sense of belonging and the opportunity for happiness – when we respect one another, and live in harmony with the natural world around us.
If each of us, no matter our gifts or abilities, is accepted, respected and embraced as a friend and neighbour, as a valued member of our community, the state of New Brunswick will be second to none.
I, along with my fellow Greens, look forward to working with you, to get us there.