Oct. 2, 2009
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following op-ed piece was released today by Premier Shawn Graham.
This week marks the third anniversary of the swearing-in of our government, when we pledged to be bold and be decisive in our work for the people of New Brunswick. Looking back now over the last three years, I'm very proud of the fact that we've honoured our commitment - and even prouder of how much we've accomplished as a result. Despite the global economic downturn, our province is becoming stronger overall in terms of jobs, our economy, population, education and post-secondary systems, health care, senior care, the environment and more.
One of our greatest achievements to date is job creation. New Brunswick's employment growth was 3.9 per cent between September 2006 and August 2009 - the highest east of Ontario. In fact, Saint John's unemployment rate was 5.2 per cent in August, whereas Toronto's was 10.1 per cent.
To maintain this momentum, we're carrying out our Plan for a Stronger Economy, featuring tax cuts totalling $380 million over four years - the largest one-time tax reduction package ever introduced in our province; support for business; and $1.2 billion for infrastructure, which is creating the equivalent of an estimated 6,000 year-long jobs.
As well, our Population Growth Secretariat recently announced that our population had increased for the 10th straight quarter, meaning that there's been a net gain of almost 4,600 people in our province since the start of 2007.
In the education system, we're working to build the best in Canada to ensure that all New Brunswick children continue to acquire the skills they need to be successful. Since 2006, literacy among Grade 2 students has gone up seven percentage points. In the same period, we've added almost 400 teachers; about 500 teachers' assistants, school intervention workers and library assistants; and more than three dozen new high school courses in trades.
Meanwhile, we're making the post-secondary education system more accessible and affordable. We've funded 950 new seats in the New Brunswick Community College system. We also removed the assessment of parental and spousal income from eligibility calculations for New Brunswick student loans. We're further helping students with a two-year tuition freeze at public universities; a doubling of the tuition rebate; and a timely completion benefit for graduates who finish their degrees in the prescribed time, allowing 100 per cent of the provincial portion of student loans in excess of $26,000 to be forgiven.
This year, we're making record investments in health care to enhance service delivery for New Brunswickers. As a result, the median number of days New Brunswickers wait for surgery in our province has dropped by 24 per cent in the past year. Furthermore, our health-care system now includes 51 nurse practitioners. There are now 144 more physicians practising in the province than there were in October 2006, and more will soon be recruited. Next spring, the first students will graduate from the Centre de formation médicale du Nouveau-Brunswick in Moncton, and begin their residencies. As well, the Dalhousie University medical program will be delivered on the campus of the University of New Brunswick in Saint John next September.
To ensure that the health-care system will be sustainable for future generations, we're making it more efficient by streamlining its administration. For instance, as a result of the move from eight regional health authorities (RHAs) to two, the total deficits for the RHAs have been cut almost in half, from $49.8 million in 2007-08 to $26.1 million in 2008-09, and we expect the RHA deficits to continue to be reduced.
To promote the sustainability of our province's environment and communities, we're continuing to implement the first New Brunswick Climate Change Action Plan, which we launched in 2007. So far, 90 per cent of the actions highlighted in our plan have been started or completed. As well, through an initial investment of $20 million, work is underway to restore the Petitcodiac River, which will be flowing freely again next spring.
What's more, we're helping New Brunswick seniors to be independent longer. Seniors' assets have been protected from the calculation of nursing home fees, and investments in home support now total more than $95 million per year. Since 2006, the hours of care in nursing homes have increased to 3.1 hours per day per resident. As a result, 285 new staff members have been hired to support resident care in nursing homes around the province.
All of these achievements show clearly that we are a government of action. Further proof is the fact that 82 per cent of the 250 commitments in our Charter for Change have been kept or are ongoing at this point in our mandate, and 14 per cent are underway. Of course, there's still much work to be done to ensure that our province will be self-sufficient by 2026. But all residents of our province can rest assured that our government can be counted on to keep moving New Brunswick forward.