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Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick
Speech from the Throne
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Reply to Budget Speech
by Mrs. Marcelle Mersereau,
Financial Critic and Member for Bathurst

March 28, 2002

Unrevised Excerpt from the Journal of Debates (Hansard)

The text of this speech has been made available through the
Office of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly. The electronic version
is for informational purposes only. The printed version of the
Journal of Debates (Hansard) remains the official version.

[Translation]

Mr. Speaker, when traveling around the province and hearing the Lieutenant-Governor's name, one hears comments such as, She is open, accessible, gracious, involved, a person of whom all New Brunswickers are proud, no matter where they live. She is a New Brunswicker who, also, is proud of her province and her country.

So, today, I salute and thank her for the way she performs her duties. I also thank her for her involvement in all those small communities in the province that have welcomed her and have had the opportunity to hear her.

As for you, Mr. Speaker, the comments heard are: You are professional, respectful, and collected, and you perform your duties with fairness. Yours is not an easy task, and I can tell you that we do appreciate how you carry out your role in the Legislative Assembly.

What can one say about Legislative Assembly employees? If they were not here, we would not be here. Or rather, if we were here but they were not, we would be hard-pressed to perform our duties as we do.

To the Clerk, the Sergeant-at-Arms, the pages, all the library staff, and all those who support us in our efforts, I offer my heartfelt thanks. I join all my colleagues who gave special recognition yesterday to Phyllis LeBlanc, Eric Swanick, and Louise McKnight. I extend warm congratulations to these employees and I trust that they will enjoy a most rewarding retirement.

I thank the Opposition Leader, Mr. Richard, all my caucus colleagues and all Opposition Office employees, without whom it would be most difficult to carry out our duties in the House.

To the ministers and government members, I realize that your job is not an easy one. You must both govern the province and listen to the people of this province. This is not an easy role, and I do appreciate that. I must nevertheless tell you that you have put your shoulder to the task, as we did, to defend the best interests of New Brunswickers.

Our thanks and recognition are also extended to government employees who are on the job, working day in day out to implement government policies and the legislation passed here, who inform New Brunswickers in these areas, and who deliver programs as they feel they should—with professionalism.

The Bathurst riding—all speech makers obviously always claim that their own riding is the best—is, I must tell you, the best in the province. It is the only single-municipality riding. So, we do have that distinction. I must say that the people of Bathurst have given me a third mandate to represent them in the Legislative Assembly. I am very grateful for their support and I hope that, all things considered, the progress that they expected will have been made on issues of concern to the city of Bathurst, the Chaleur region, and across the province.

[Original]

I will speak very briefly about my riding and try to put it into perspective. If you live in the northeast, you are fully aware of one of the most important issues we are facing. We have the highest unemployment levels in New Brunswick, and this government has done very little to ease that unemployment. In fact, it has been sitting on an economic impact analysis of Brunswick Mine since March 2001, and it is fully aware of how critical the problem has been. This economic impact analysis was done by Fréderic Arsenault. He is very clear about his concern, and I quote from his memo that accompanied the report:

I have noted during discussions with residents of the area, and justifiably so in light of the conclusions of the economic impact analysis, a fair amount of concern about the overall economic future of the region. It is in fact more than a question of jobs and salaries, mining has become part of the culture and fabric of the life of the population of the area. I would suggest that a strategy needs to be developed to address both concerns as best as possible. Otherwise there could be negative economic impacts far beyond those identified by the impact analysis. In particular government needs to be sensitized to the seriousness and the relative immediacy of the problem.

Some people may automatically assume that the eventual closure of Brunswick Mine is primarily a problem for the Bathurst area and the Chaleur region. The analysis shows otherwise. There is an impact in the Acadian Peninsula and the neighbouring counties of Restigouche and Northumberland. The impact is also felt in the more urbanized and industrialized southern counties. Furthermore, if one were to consider the future of the smelter at Belledune in jeopardy as a result of the closure of Brunswick Mine, it is clear that the impact would be a major impact also on Restigouche County.

From a strategic point of view, the message has to be conveyed to neighbouring commissions and to governments that the impact is not only local and regional.

The reason I am quoting Mr. Arsenault is that I have, for the past two years, tried to impress on the government that this issue is not regional. It is a provincial issue. In fact, it also has an important national component. This is the message that this government has to understand. When we talk about Brunswick Mine, we are not just talking about the heart of a Liberal riding. We are talking about an economic impact that will be felt throughout the province. It is time that the government understood this. It is about time that we took action to address this critical economic issue.

I will say that the task force the Premier has put in place for Restigouche-Chaleur is one step in that direction. In 2000, the city of Bathurst also initiated a task force, which has been working very hard to try to see whether the impact of what is going to be happening can be modified. However, I want to make it very clear that the federal government, the provincial government, the company, and all the suppliers need to be at the same table in a strong partnership.

I will give you the rationale for it, and it is very simple. It is on page 5 of the report. Just in wages alone and the operations of the mines . . . We are not talking here about anything more than paying the power bill, $14 million, or repairs on services. We are just talking about the operation of taking the mineral out of the earth. The impact is $109 million a year. Needless to say, that is not just going to impact the city of Bathurst or the Chaleur region. It is going to impact a lot more.

Employment is on page 7 of the report. There is Gloucester with 1 700 jobs and New Brunswick with 2 218 jobs. The figure for the whole of Canada is 3 420 jobs. Again, people think it is a local and regional issue. It is a provincial issue, and it is more than that. It is a national issue, because some of those jobs are not even in New Brunswick.

With regard to the federal and provincial tax revenues—and that does not take in everything, just the tax revenues generated—there is $45 million in federal tax dollars coming in and $44 million in provincial. That is almost $100 million a year in tax revenues that will not be in the coffers at either the provincial level or the federal level.

Mr. Arsenault made a very good point in his introduction to the report. This report, I have to say, was paid for by the company, given to the commission, and hopefully will be a springboard for the task force to get the players at that table to make a real difference. It has to go beyond a small initiative. This is as big as what happened in Cape Breton. I think we really need to refocus. We need to look at it in that scope, unless we are not concerned about lost revenues of that nature in New Brunswick. We are talking about much, much more than just one region.

Representing Bathurst has been satisfying, but the challenges that we face in that region are going to be very big. That is why I am implore the government to take into account that this is much, much bigger than what it seems to be in the mind of the government at this time. I am sure that with the report, the task forces, and the partnerships that are being developed, it will happen, but we cannot waste any more time. We have to act.

That is my region. That is my riding. That is why I am in politics, to make sure that the voice of the Bathurst region is heard in this Legislature.

As Financial Critic, I would like to commend the Minister of Finance on his well-crafted, delicately worded, and finely tuned budget—his first—and on his boots as well. He has applauded himself and his government for his projection of a surplus in the 2002-03 fiscal year. However, there is only one figure in this 38-page budget that matters, a figure that really tells the story of how well the government is doing. That figure is a $58.7-million deficit. That is the amount the government has added to the provincial debt. You can talk all you want about surpluses and about how well you are doing, but there is something wrong when, at the end of the day, you are still increasing the province's debt by over $50 million.

I will use the words of a former Finance Minister—and I am sure you will recognize the name, Mr. Speaker—D.D. Patterson, who was in Hugh John Flemming's Cabinet. He had a quote that he used often in the House: You can run, you can hide, but the increase in the net debt will find you out every time. I see a bit of a smile on some members' faces, and I am sure it is because they remember that quote.

This is a budget that is meant to fool the people of New Brunswick into thinking that this government knows what it is doing. It is meant to lull them into a false sense of security, thinking all is right in Peter's neighbourhood, but it is not. Things are not right at all. When the minister says there may be reason for concern next year, he is right, but he should also have said that if he had not been bailed out by the federal government, his prediction of a $181-million deficit would have come true.

This budget is a continuation of what the Lord government has done for the past three years, and that can best be described as putting the province deeper and deeper in debt. In fact, cumulatively—the Minister of Finance likes to use that word in his own report—the Lord government has contributed $7.1 billion more to the debt in a mere three years. It is funny, but that fact is not mentioned in the two report cards the Lord government has issued to the people of New Brunswick. Remember D.D. Patterson: You can run, you can hide, but the increase in the net debt will find you out every time.

Now it is time to go beyond the Premier's navel gazing and take a more accurate look at where we are and where we have been. Let us talk about where the Lord government has taken New Brunswick since June 1999. The Lord government came to power with the unemployment rate sitting at 9.7%. It is now 11.3%. In fact, in my area of the province, the unemployment rate sits at over 20%. How does the Premier explain this? He talks about how there are more people in the workforce than ever before. He does not bother to explain that the workforce numbers include those working and those looking for work.

Let us look at the actual figures. In February, there were 385 000 people in the workforce and 322 000 people were employed. That leaves 63 000 people who have the dubious distinction of being included in the New Brunswick workforce when they do not have a job. Of those employed, there are 54 000 who are working at only part-time jobs. That means no benefits, little opportunity for advancement, and minimum wage.

It is true that financial analysts consider the country to be in an economic downturn. However, New Brunswick has fared even worse than the other provinces. The Conference Board of Canada predicts that for the second year in a row, New Brunswick will be lagging behind. In fact, it will be dead last, behind every other province, in its percentage of growth.

It is not hard to determine why. This government has made huge mistakes, and the most damaging of those were in economic development. The first was being content to coast during good economic times instead of continuing the hard work that had been started in order to attract business investment to New Brunswick. Instead, in its fervour to get rid of any Liberal success story or any other success story, the government ripped apart one of the most admired and envied Department of Economic Development in the country and replaced it with two departments with overlapping and intertwined agendas. Seeing the error of its ways, the Lord government took more than two years before it finally put economic development activities back under one department, but the two years of tinkering, changing letterheads, and rearranging offices and personnel and the confusion that followed took a toll. This has caused a great deal of frustration and confusion for the business community.

I have been approached by a number of businesspeople who have contacted the government about a desire to create jobs in our province, only to throw up their hands in frustration when the government has little interest in these initiatives. The Help-wanted Index is compiled from the number of help-wanted ads published in 22 newspapers in 20 major metropolitan areas and is considered an indicator of labour demand, measuring companies' intentions to hire new workers. That indicator dropped 15 percentage points from January 2001 to January 2002 in New Brunswick.

The minister likes to talk about projected GDP growth. For 2002, we are projected to have a 1% GDP growth; however, that places us ninth out of 10 provinces. In 2003, our growth is projected by the TD Financial Group to increase by 2.9%. It sounds good until you compare New Brunswick to other provinces. Again, we are ninth in the country.

If you do not think we are losing ground, compare that to 1999, when we had a GDP growth of 3.5%. Our retail sales tell a similar story. From 2000 to 2001, our growth in this area was only 2.4%. That is, once again, placing New Brunswick at the bottom of the pack, below every province and territory in Canada. Another major reason for our lacklustre performance has been the abandonment of programs such as the Small Enterprise Capital Assistance Program, aimed at supporting New Brunswick-grown small businesses. Despite talking about the made-in-New Brunswick solution of supporting our own entrepreneurs, setting up businesses, and contributing to our economic growth, the Lord government has failed to find a way to do that. As a result, more young New Brunswickers than ever before are leaving our province.

Faced with all these dismal statistics, the Premier released his plan to kick-start the economy. It was a 10-year plan based on all good things, like building blocks called investing in people, creating a competitive fiscal and business environment, embracing innovation, and building strategic infrastructure. It sounds impressive, and it sounds good. It surely looks impressive when you consider what it costs, $63 000. It is a 95-page, glossy, full-coloured, CD-included document containing phrases from every economic development document ever released in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Alberta, and Ontario. Unfortunately, producing a pretty document will not lower our unemployment rate. It will not produce jobs for our young people so that they will not leave the province. It will not entice investors to come to our province, and neither will sitting on your hands waiting for an upswing in the economy. Only actions will do that. These flowery words must become actions. They must be transformed into incentives and programs that will boost our economy and give companies a stable environment in which to invest.

The smoke and mirrors also come with good stories and some questionable statistics. In the Premier's Prosperity Plan document, he boasted about the 5 900 call centre jobs that have been created since 1999. However, there are a few things he forgot to mention. The Business New Brunswick Minister gave me the real facts in response to a right-to-information request. Added into the number of 5 900 are the 400 CanJet jobs—CanJet closed operations in New Brunswick—and jobs from the Qualiflyer Group, MREDC, Virtual-Agent Services, and Moneris Solutions Corporation, which never created any jobs and never even established an office in the province. These companies alone accounted for more than 1 000 jobs that were never created. In addition, many companies fell far short of their projected targets, making the real number of call centre jobs created since 1999 just over 3 000. When your track record in economic development is as dismal as this government's, there is only one thing left to do: You make up the numbers.

[Translation]

Let us not forget the whining over the past three years by this government about Ottawa's participation in health care funding. However, the true story is that overall federal transfers have increased. The Canada Health and Social Transfer went from $338 million in 1998-99 to $470 million in 2000-01, with overall federal transfers exceeding $1.9 billion this year, up from $1.7 billion in 1999-2000.

Let us not forget the federal funding for our highways. That has been the main reason for more than a few trips to Ottawa by our Minister of Transportation. The minister says that he wants to be treated the same as his counterparts in other provinces across Canada. He says that he wants his fair share of highway dollars from the federal government, and there is no disagreement there. Well, it appears from Transport Canada documents that he is getting more than his fair share. In fact, under the current agreement expiring in 2005-06, New Brunswick will receive $91.9 million, Newfoundland will receive $78.1 million, Quebec will get $14.4 million, and Nova Scotia will get $2.5 million. The other provinces will receive nothing under this program. So, you see that the Minister of Transportation had better get his facts straight and had better be careful what he wishes for, when he says he wants to be treated the same as his counterparts in other provinces.

The Premier calls it a government managing smarter. Let us talk about that. Let us talk about the hiring freeze that never was. In October 1999, the government announced that a hiring freeze would be implemented until further notice. However, the then Minister of Finance quickly noted that there would be exemptions. There were exemptions. In the next two years, there were in fact 5 549 exemptions—all but 69 of those that had been requested. So, during the so-called hiring freeze, the Lord government hired 5 549 people, nearly three times more than those who took early retirement. Quite a freeze!

It is no wonder that the Auditor General questioned the government's projected savings of $238.8 million with the Early Retirement Program. He also questioned why the program was initiated, since most of these retiring employees would take normal retirement by 2007 and it would not have cost the government those extra funds. He also pointed out that the savings projected would only happen if the retiring positions were eliminated. Obviously, based on the 5 549 people hired in the first two years, not many of those positions have remained vacant.

According to the government's own figures, the civil service has decreased by some 20 positions since June 1999.

This so-called workforce reduction process was accepted by Human Resources Development Canada as an initiative that would mean retiring civil servants would qualify for employment insurance benefits. This qualification was based on provincial Department of Finance documents that guaranteed that the workforce would actually be permanently reduced and that the retiring employees would be preserving the jobs of their coworkers by leaving. I am still questioning the accuracy of those documents.

Now, the minister responsible for human resources says that all his government did was notify HRDC that 1 300 employees were retiring. Well, that is not all his government did. In fact, it applied to have these employees considered under a special EI program that only goes into effect when employers guarantee that their workforce will be permanent reduced by every employee's retirement. The HRDC decision was based on this document.

To put it simply, the Early Retirement Program was a bad idea. It was conceived by an inexperienced government that was looking to invent new ways and methods of changing how government works. Well, there is no denying that it did change how government works, but certainly not for the better.

On Saturday, February 16, I had the opportunity, along with about 100 others, to be part of a daylong seminar—Achieving Pay Equity: Why and How?—sponsored by the Coalition for Pay Equity. This was a great opportunity to have a discussion with women and men not only from New Brunswick but also from across Canada on this very important issue. I left—as did, I am sure, my colleague the Minister Responsible for the Status of Women—with a renewed commitment to the need to explore pay equity legislation in New Brunswick.

Before we begin to talk about pay equity, let us establish exactly what we are talking about when we talk about pay equity. Pay equity is equal pay for work of equal value. Work of equal value is determined by a number of factors, including responsibility, level of training, and working conditions.

Historically, female-dominated professions have been paid less than male-dominated professions, even in occupations with similar training and responsibility levels. In fact, Statistics Canada states that at least half of the 30% wage gap that continues to exist between women and men in our country can be attributed to no other reason but gender bias.

In fact, Statistics Canada shows that women were more likely to be underemployed. Around 70% of the underemployed workers in New Brunswick are women. In addition, women hold 72% to 73% of the part-time jobs.

One of the conference speakers put it this way: We continue to live in a country where childcare workers make less than zookeepers. So, we know the problem, but how do we fix it? Not by introducing baby bonuses, that is for sure. This would only make the situation worse.

The increasing levels of education for women and the growing number of women choosing traditionally male-dominated jobs have not closed the wage gap as rapidly as one would expect.

Since 1970—relatively progressive years in terms of gender equality—the wage gap between men and women has closed by only 4%. The Chair of the Advisory Council on the Status of Women has said that, at this rate, it will take 110 years to close this gap.

While there is no debating that an unacceptable wage gap exists between men and women in our province, there is a great deal of debate on how best to deal with this issue.

It is clear that legislating pay equity is not easy. There are evaluation systems to develop and employer programs to create and implement. Quebec planned for eight years, between the time pay equity legislation was announced and the time employers were expected to have their programs implemented.

However, we cannot close the door on this option, simply because it is daunting and challenging. If the road to equity were easy, we would be there by now.

If the government is truly serious about this issue, it must bring forward a consultation process that allows all options to be debated openly. If the committee recommends pay equity legislation and the Lord government does not wish to go that route, it will then be up to the government to justify its decision. I simply ask the government to put in place a process that will not have its hands tied.

[Original]

Tourism has been, in the last few years, one of our major growth areas in the province. Figures from 1987 to 1999 grew each year until we had reached nearly $1 billion in revenue. Then Premier Bernard Lord came to power, and it was all downhill. One of the first things this government did was dismantle the Department of Tourism and place it in two different departments, neither of which contains the word "tourism", and decrease its budget by $10 million.

In the year 2000, figures were down by 5%. In the year 2001, that decrease was 7%. Even this year, with tourism responsibilities finally put back in one department, only $7.1 million is being spent on marketing programs. That is far below the 1999 levels, so it appears the government still does not get it. Tourism is an area where we can continue to grow, but it is an area that demands constant attention. You cannot rest for one year and expect the numbers to continue to grow. It will not happen. You must be aggressive in your approach, and you must be willing to support the industry with marketing programs.

Although this government likes to talk about its response to improving health care, statistics show that health care in this province has not improved during the government's two years in office. The Premier appointed the Premier's Health Quality Council in 1999 to try to find solutions. In the next two years, the council spent nearly $2 million to prepare a report with recommendations. Well, the report has been released, the recommendations have been noted, and the regional health authority board members have been appointed. Despite this expenditure of $2 million, New Brunswickers have not seen one single change or improvement in the health care system as a result of the council's work. There are still 36 000 New Brunswickers without a family doctor, and the waiting lists to see specialists and for surgery continue to grow.

We can talk a bit about education and another of Premier Lord's building blocks. I would call them Lego blocks at this point, I think. This government dismantled the system being used in the Department of Education and brought in District Education Councils. This was all done under the guise of empowering people. It was an attempt to make the people believe they would have more input and authority over their own schools with this new system. We found out how flawed that thinking was. We found that out this year, when local District Education Councils tried to do a little maintenance, fix a few roofs and replace some windows, without first checking with the minister. The minister did not take too long to inform the councils that they had overstepped their authority.

I challenge you to find parents who are convinced that the system is now better, who feel that they now have more input into what happens in their schools, or who are convinced that their children's education has improved. Education reform? No. It is more bureaucracy and a deeper buffer between parents and the school system. There is no change in the classroom. Our test results prove that the government is not up to the challenge of making a difference where it counts—in the classroom.

During the Lord mandate, the government has commissioned dozens of reports, studies, task forces, and committees to find solutions to some of the province's more controversial issues, but once they are completed, it appears this government does not have the courage to move forward with implementing recommendations. Let us look at a few of them.

The Premier's Health Quality Council spent two years studying health care in the province, as I mentioned a minute ago, and the only recommendation that has been acted upon is the establishment of regional health authorities. Even for that, the government did not follow the council's suggestion to set the authorities apart from the Department of Health and Wellness. What the government has created is an extension of the department, with the minister having ultimate authority over the boards, thus creating eight mini Departments of Health across the province. Then there was the Martel report, which looked at emergency rooms in New Brunswick hospitals. Little of that report was ever acted upon.

The Metz Farms report was a classic example of government asking for advice and then going in a different direction.

The ATV report was completed as a result of dozens of volunteers spending time and energy to compile 39 recommendations that would make riding all-terrain vehicles safer. Well, the government took nine months to accept finally one of the report's recommendations and to off-load the remainder of the responsibility for finding solutions to private organizations.

Then, of course, there were reports that the government will not even release or talk about, like the $112 000 Cleveland Allaby report that was supposed to deal with problems within the Department of Justice. Also, there was the report by retired Deputy Minister Normand Martin that looked at the best use of human resources. It is not clear why this study was implemented, and from reading it, I am not sure he was the only person who was able to do that report.

Remember the Children Come First report? The government was applauded for taking the initiative. However, one of the main recommendations was to hire 177 new social workers, who were in high demand throughout the system, and we have now found out that the department is not willing to act on that. The Child Death Review Committee recommendations were released two years ago, and we have had no indication that any of those have been acted upon.

Who can forget the Minister's Round Table on Local Governance? This was an exercise that lasted for six months and involved dozens of people. The 16 recommendations from that report were received, and the government launched into another series of consultations, hoping once more to delay making any controversial decisions until its second mandate. This study-of-the-study exercise is expected to last for at least another six months before the government announces its next move.

The winner for the most studies, reports, and financial analyses is NB Power. During the past three years, this government has said it will announce its decision on the future of NB Power, giving deadlines on four separate occasions. All these deadlines have come and gone. There is still no decision, and the studies continue. Millions of dollars have been spent to give this government details on all the options. Over and over again, it has received reports, studies, and new information. However, the waiting continues, and the familiar phase of "no decision yet" continues to echo throughout the Premier's Office, to DNRE, to the offices of NB Power.

It is the courage to govern that is missing the most in this government—the courage to develop policies and to make decisions based on those policies and the courage to stand behind those decisions. The people of New Brunswick have waited long enough. They are becoming impatient with a government that has had more than enough time to find its way and establish its position.

Governing is making decisions, even when they are unpopular. Governing is having the courage to take those leaps of faith to move the province forward. Good governing is worrying less about political stripes and more about qualifications, and good governing is about working on the current mandate instead of building up your resources to win the next election.



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