Dec. 20, 2006
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following op-ed article was issued today by Premier Shawn Graham. MEDIA CONTACT: Marie-Andrée Bolduc, communications, Office of the Premier, 506-444-2286.
FREDERICTON (CNB) - As 2006 draws to a close, it's a time to reflect on the past year. And what a year it has been. Since it would take more space to recap the entire year than any editor would allow me, I want to focus on the past few months that I've had the privilege to serve as Premier of New Brunswick.
When we were sworn in on Oct. 3, I committed to lead a government built by hope and hard work; a government driven by a strong sense of purpose and a bold vision of a self-sufficient New Brunswick. It was important that our first weeks and months set the stage for how we intended to proceed throughout our mandate.
Beginning on day one we fulfilled a number of significant commitments. We reduced the provincial gas tax by 3.8 cents. We created $2,000 grants for first-year university students and eliminated the parental and spousal contribution requirements for student loans. We removed seniors' homes, assets and life savings from the calculation of nursing-home fees. And we delivered a memorandum of understanding to the mayor of Saint John on harbour clean-up.
We began with a strong sense of purpose and vision, and we have continued in that way. We have been very active in fulfilling our commitments to our most vulnerable residents.
Our seniors in nursing homes have seen their hours of care increase to three hours per day per resident. Most recently, we have reduced the daily rates in nursing homes to $70 per day to reflect room, board and assisted-living services only. As well, we have increased hours of home care to a maximum of 215 hours a month.
On Oct. 26 we appointed the province's first child and youth advocate, Bernard Richard, who is an excellent champion for children in New Brunswick. Recently, our government mandated the Department of Family and Community Services to significantly reform our child protection system.
In order to truly succeed as a province, we must all move forward together. That is why we have asked NB Power to implement a winter no-disconnect policy for New Brunswickers with economic needs. As well, we have committed to two minimum wage increases in the coming year. The minimum wage will increase to $7 on Jan. 1, and to $7.25 on July 1.
On Dec. 4 we announced an agreement with the insurance industry to reduce New Brunswick auto insurance rates by an average of 13.5 per cent by March 1. We have also eliminated discrimination based on gender and existing territories. As well, we are implementing measures to ensure that New Brunswickers are protected from the kind of rate shock they experienced in recent years.
The past three months have seen our government take significant first steps in forging new partnerships and opening new lines of communication. We have undertaken important meetings with First Nations leaders. A process for regular meetings with representatives of the public- and private-sector unions is underway. The Community Non-Profit Task Force has been established under the leadership of Claudette Bradshaw to strengthen relationships between government and the non-profit sector. And we have brought together stakeholders to urge the federal government to address the issue of fiscal imbalance.
I have also taken numerous opportunities to promote New Brunswick outside the province. Four weeks after taking office, I had my first meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, outlining the potential for our government to partner in building the foundation for New Brunswick's self-sufficiency. Two weeks later, I went to Bay Street to promote investment opportunities in New Brunswick. I am optimistic that these initial meetings will bring results in the new year. Earlier this month, I attended my first meeting of the Council of Atlantic Premiers, where I encouraged greater co-operation among the four Atlantic provinces to strengthen our region.
I am proud of the achievements of our government in these early days. I have been blessed with a strong team of MLAs and ministers. I am very grateful to the public service and the many New Brunswickers who have come together to help us fulfil our commitments. Together, we have done important work, but there is still much to do. That's why in the new year, our government will be launching a task force on self-sufficiency similar to the Byrne Commission in the 1960s, from which premiers Louis Robichaud and Richard Hatfield transformed our province.
As a new year stretches out before us, New Brunswick stands at a crossroads. I hope and believe that when we look back on 2006, we will remember it as a turning point in New Brunswick history: a year in which we, as a province, took important steps in our journey on the road to self-sufficiency.
The road will not always be smooth. There will be challenges, tough choices and difficult days. But there will also be opportunities and possibilities that we have not yet imagined. Most importantly, we are travelling this road together. I have great confidence in New Brunswickers and great optimism for our province. So as we prepare to ring out the old year and welcome the new, I am filled with gratitude for the year that has passed, and hope for the year that awaits us.