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Reply to the Speech from the Throne
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Reply to the Speech from the Throne

by Mr. Camille Thériault,
Leader of the Official Opposition

November 16, 2000

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.

I start today by giving you a bit of news from the front. I have just been handed a piece of paper, and I want to inform the House that, as of a few minutes ago, over 405 242 Canadians had signed a petition that Stockwell Day change his name to Doris. I don't know what the end result will be from this petition. I guess it is like they say: Que sera, sera . . .

I would like to begin today by acknowledging Hon. Marilyn Trenholme Counsell for her continued good work as Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick. I would especially commend her ongoing dedication to early childhood literacy initiatives.

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to extend my best wishes to you today. Yesterday was merely a preview of what a spirited session this will be. I know you will act in the interest of order and decorum in this Chamber, because of your great passion for this Chamber and for this democratic process.

I would like to acknowledge the Sergeant-At-Arms, the Clerk, Clerk Assistant, commissionaires and staff here at the Legislative Assembly, who keep this House running from early in the morning until late in the evening. This important democratic process could not continue without them.

I would also like to welcome the pages. I am glad to see that Renée, Billy, Tracy, and Leanne are back to brave another session. I am also pleased to see some new young faces as well. Welcome to the Legislative Assembly.

I also want to say a special thank you to the people of Kent South for their support over the past 13 years. I believe that the support MLAs receive from people in their own community is very important and, above all, deeply appreciated. I would also like to thank the New Brunswick civil servants. I have had the privilege to work with these very dedicated individuals and I am confident in saying they are the best civil service in Canada. We continue to receive their constant cooperation as we work for our constituents.

To the staff in our office, I say thank you. Like those of us who sit in this Chamber, the members of our team who work behind the scenes are there because they believe in New Brunswick, because they have hope for this province. They work tirelessly every day on behalf of our caucus and on behalf of New Brunswickers.

I want to acknowledge my friends and colleagues here by my side, for they are among the finest people I know. We are great in spirit and vast in experience. I want to thank each of you for the commitment you have made to your work. Each of you brings unique perspectives and talents to our caucus table, and I am very proud to have the honour to lead such a dedicated and passionate team.

Finally, I would like to recognize the people of this province. I have had the privilege of representing New Brunswickers in various capacities for 13 years. This is an important time for the people of this province.

Last time this House assembled, I know that the Premier was fond of answering questions by reminding us of the mandate that his party received in June 1999. I hope he will be as respectful of the mandate that each member of our caucus received as well, a mandate from the people of their ridings to speak up for the values we stand for—pride in our province, faith in our entrepreneurs, fairness in our social programs, and investments in our long-term well-being.

We are all proud to sit in this Chamber and continue our work for our beliefs and for our ridings. However, I would also like to remind my friends opposite of a truth each of us remembers as an MLA: No election victory carries on forever, no mandate is without limits. Each of us on this side of the Chamber understands that our personal victories in the past are just that—in the past. Our mandate was not a mandate to pat ourselves on the back; it was to work even harder for the future. So I hope MLAs from all parties will join us in our resolve not to use our wins in 1999 to absolve us of the need to explain what we have done in November 2000. There are no Liberal, Tory, or NDP voters today, but just New Brunswickers and those who must work for them each and every day.

It is of those days ahead, and to those New Brunswickers, that I speak today.

We are nearly one year into the 21st century. We are standing at a crossroads. We are beginning to see that there are those who want to chip away at what it means to be Canadian, what it means to be a New Brunswicker, and those who have a far different vision of the future of Canada than many of us.

At a time when certain forces would like to polarize and radically transform our nation, we have been forced to reflect on our national identity, on what we are and in what we believe.

There have probably been few internal events throughout our nation's history that have caused Canadians from coast to coast to coast to reflect on what it means to live in our great country. Political historians hasten to say that Canada has lacked these defining moments that allow a people to shape its national character. Yet, for one week in October, our nation became consumed with our national identity. The passing of Pierre Elliott Trudeau on September 28 sent our country into a time of mourning and, more importantly, a time of reflection.

Like others, I took the opportunity to reflect upon why the passing of a Prime Minister 16 years out of office should bring the nation to a virtual standstill. My own personal reflections on Pierre Elliott Trudeau didn't really centre on his accomplishments, although his introduction of bilingualism and the repatriation of the Constitution have been defining achievements in Canadian history. No, Mr. Trudeau was far greater than a checklist of political accomplishments.

I thought back to 1968, sitting in my living room in our family's house in Baie-Sainte-Anne and watching the Liberal convention that chose Pierre Elliott Trudeau. I thought it was exciting, almost as exciting as watching a hockey game. I remember that that Saturday evening was very important, and this charismatic new leader definitely made a lasting impression on me.

As I said, I was only 13 at the time, so you can imagine that I was pretty impressed to see that our Prime Minister drove a sports car and slid down bannisters. However, I was also taken with the depth of his intelligence and especially—especially—his love for our great country.

When I was 24 years old, I had the opportunity to come face to face with this political icon, and that is something I will never forget. In my community of Baie-Sainte-Anne, where they were having an evening for my father, Pierre Trudeau, believe it or not, flew from China to Chatham. He was a little jet-lagged. He was sitting in our living room in Baie-Sainte-Anne while we were waiting to go to the supper. During those days, there was not much security around prime ministers. It was not like today. Trudeau decided to go for a walk. We lived not too far from the water in Baie-Sainte-Anne. All by himself, he went. About five minutes later, the phone rang at home. Mum picked it up and got all excited because the lady on the other end of the phone was all excited. She said, "Josée, Josée, I think I am losing my head." Mum said, "What is wrong, Tinto?" In Baie-Sainte-Anne, everyone has a nickname. "What is wrong, Tinto?" She said: "Josée, I think I am losing my head. A guy just passed right next to my house, and he really looked like Trudeau." In fact, it was—Pierre Elliott Trudeau, and my first face-to-face. That is something I will never forget.

Mr. Trudeau wasn't just an image. Behind the style and flair was a man of enormous intellect, a man who had spent his entire life, since his years in Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, forming his vision, first for himself and then for the country.

Whether you agreed or not with Mr. Trudeau really became irrelevant. Many of those who disagreed with him respected and even admired him.

For Mr. Trudeau, it was imperative that his actions and decisions be consistent with his vision. Because his decisions were borne out of his deep personal convictions, he was never afraid to face his detractors and challenge them to test the strength of their own ideas in an arena of political debate. More than anything else, I will remember his deep and abiding passion for Canada—his dream of a strong, caring, and compassionate nation.

If Mr. Trudeau taught me what it meant to be a Canadian, then Louis J. Robichaud taught many of us what it meant to be a New Brunswicker. Former Premier and Senator Robichaud turned 75 last month, and so he retired from the Canadian Senate, ending a long and productive career of service to the people of his province and his country.

Aside from a few meetings, Mr. Trudeau existed as a faraway leader, a face on the television or in the morning papers.

However, Louis Robichaud was a much more tangible presence in my life.

Growing up in Baie-Ste-Anne in the sixties in a pretty political family, I became very well versed in the policies of Louis Robichaud. Certainly, his vision for New Brunswick—the vision of a progressive and bilingual province—was one that shaped my own political thinking.

His greatest legacy was, of course, Equal Opportunity. It is hard to believe now, just over 30 years since it was introduced, that this program was once viewed as radical. Equal Opportunity has become so tightly woven into the fabric of New Brunswick that we run the risk of taking it for granted. But I would caution each of us that if we start to take this for granted, someone will surely try to take it away from us.

Before Equal Opportunity, as some of us would remember, municipalities were responsible for health and education and the collection of taxes to pay for them. Wealthy counties could afford lower tax rates and still be able to pay for higher-quality services. Other counties simply could not afford these services, even if they raised their taxes to higher levels. By assuming all tax authority, the province lifted the burden of mammoth taxes from the shoulders of New Brunswickers in communities around our province. In doing so, New Brunswickers of all languages, in all parts of New Brunswick, received fair and equal treatment in health, education, and public works. Our province was transformed forever.

Louis Robichaud dreamed of a province where New Brunswickers would not be marginalized because of where they chose to make their home. So worthy was this dream, that it transcended partisan lines, and Progressive Conservative Premier Richard Hatfield endorsed the program.

New Brunswickers are by nature a fair and generous people, and the wisdom of Mr. Robichaud's plan was understood.

Today, Equal Opportunity is so ingrained in our provincial character that it long ago stopped being merely a policy and started to be a way of life.

The premise of Equal Opportunity is fairness, and it is an idea so fundamental that it is hard to imagine why anyone would attempt to dismantle it, but there are some who would like to. I believe that New Brunswickers will rise in the name of fairness and say no. And I can assure you that I will be standing with them fighting to preserve this important part of our provincial character.

I was fortunate, very fortunate, to grow up in a time of great political change in New Brunswick, a time when a young lawyer from Kent County was transforming the way we thought about ourselves and the way we thought about our province. Today, I think about another generation, including my own two children, Sophie and Sébastien, who also came of age in a province that was in a constant state of motion. During the nineties, New Brunswick was defined by a sense of vitality, energy, and optimism, and this time I had the opportunity to be involved firsthand.

Our provincial face was changing, both at home and across Canada. I watched this change take place. I saw New Brunswickers start to hold their heads higher. I saw others outside New Brunswick look at us with newfound respect and sometimes grudging admiration.

Led by another dynamic leader, Frank McKenna, New Brunswickers began to further reshape ourselves. We were the little province that could, and more importantly, we were the little province that did. We improved our quality of life. We became a force with which to be reckoned. New Brunswick was described as innovative, cutting-edge, and visionary. We made others sit up and take notice. We were small but smart—a savvy province with drive and determination.

We moved out of the shadows; we threw away our reputation as have-nots and we started to make a mark on the national and world stage. I am proud of this period in New Brunswick history as a politician, but I am also very, very pleased as a parent. Young people around the province have absorbed that can-do attitude. They know that just because they come from a province that is small doesn't mean they are less than. They know the value of hard work, the strength of innovation, and the power—the power—of a dream.

When I reflect upon these men and their visions today, it is not just nostalgia for the past that I feel. I also understand in a profound way how the vision and leadership at the head of a government can change the world around them.

When I am in my riding of Kent South, talking to families there who have been able to live in their home, in their own language and still realize their dreams, I know that Louis Robichaud's goal of Equal Opportunity guides us today. When I walk the streets of Moncton and see students at a great Acadian university using their love of two cultures to build a thriving bilingual economy at home, I know that the Just Society of Pierre Trudeau guides us today.

When I arrive in Fredericton and see the businesses in cutting-edge industries dotting the downtown streets, buildings empty at night, and the streets filled with young people working here at home, enjoying the lowest unemployment rate of any generation, crowding into the restaurants, bars, and stores that were only someone's dreams five years ago, I know that the can- do fervour of Frank McKenna has shaped another generation.

That's the thing about visions. You know, great leaders are not the sum of a million tiny decisions, of regulations tweaked, of committees struck, or even of elections won. Rather, visions set the tone for all those millions of decisions.

A clear direction from the top, expressed with passion, reason, and hard work, can rub off on Cabinets, caucuses, committees, and citizens, if the vision is right, if the leader can lead others to follow. If the government feels that it is being bogged down in small decisions, in tiny battles, maybe it is because those in government have not lifted up their eyes beyond the day-to-day issues to understand where they would lead us. We make decisions in this generation, but our vision is what we will give to the next generation.

When I look back at how the quality of government has shaped entire generations, I worry about the children of New Brunswick today. I am worried, because something has happened to New Brunswick over the past 16 months. Something has happened, and it is changing the face of our beloved province. There is a feeling of malaise trickling down from the top levels of government. It is bigger than that the headlines in the morning papers. The headlines are the symptoms of a much bigger crisis. It is not something that you can quantify, but it is very, very real. I know it is real, because many New Brunswickers have told me that they sense it. I sense it too, and I worry that it is contagious.

The Lord government has taken optimism and turned it into gloom. It has taken a hard-earned pride and turned it into resignation. It has taken a weekend "do-it-ourselves" and turned it into "someone else can do it for us". It has taken decisiveness and turned it into hesitation. How did this happen? More importantly, why did this happen?

We are a pretty patient lot in New Brunswick. In June 1999, we knew it would take a few months for the new government to find its footing, to settle into its new role. I truly believed that if they could just keep the momentum from the past 12 years going while they found their own way, while they set their own course, we would be okay.

It's a funny thing about momentum. It can take years of work to get it going, but it only takes a few months of indecision and inactivity to destroy it. Late last winter, I started to see signs that the momentum in the province was grinding to a halt. We all knew we were facing some difficult budget cuts here on the home front, but then I started to get calls from outside the province. "Camille," they asked, "what's going on in New Brunswick? Why are we not hearing anything? Where is the buzz, the energy, the presence?" I thought, "This is not good." I was really concerned that the government had taken down the "Open for Business" sign.

In the nineties, when you traveled and you told people you were a New Brunswicker, they usually had similar reactions. They talked about the great things that were happening here. They talked about how proud we should be with the progress being made in our province. Sadly, sadly, that doesn't happen anymore.

There is one other thing about visions. They are never really over. They don't end when you win an election. Pierre Trudeau did not set out to have a just society in 200 days and then rest. Louis Robichaud never had a 20-point checklist for Equal Opportunity. Frank McKenna was never happy with where he was on Day 201, Day 401, or Day 1 001. When I look at the lack of direction from this government, I worry. I worry that "good enough for now" has become the new governing mantra, that "It will do" has become the threshold for success. If we on this side of the House can do one thing during this session, it will be to banish the phrase, "good enough" from the political vocabulary. If the government cannot show New Brunswickers what could be, then we will. We know that our work did not end on June 7, 1999. Work did not end on Day 201. We will earn our seats in this great Chamber every day by talking about our future.

Throughout the spring and summer, I became increasingly concerned about the economy of our province. I thought back to the decision of the government to cut two small business loan programs, SECAP and Self-Start, programs that had helped businesses create thousands of jobs in New Brunswick. The government insisted this would not impact the development of small business, but it had not actually replaced the programs with anything.

I knew it would take some time before the cracks would begin to show. The economy would be strong for the time being, because of the massive projects going on in the private sector—the pipeline, the Irving refinery, the Fredericton-to-Moncton Highway. I was still concerned, however, about the thousands of New Brunswickers who weren't benefiting from these projects. Furthermore, what would happen when these activities finished up? What then? Where was the strategy for the information technology industry? Where was the strategy for the resource-based industries, for the tourism industry? Where was the strategy for small business in the province?

The government has talked a lot about sector-specific economic development strategies or regional economic development strategies. It has been long on terminology and short on specifics. There was little indication of what the plan was for the next year or 2, or 10. We have certainly been kept in the dark about this government's economic development strategy, but we were not the only ones.

This was darkness from a government that promised openness and transparency.

In early autumn, I discovered that, for the first time in 15 years, the provincial Cabinet had refused to meet with the Conseil économique du Nouveau-Brunswick. I later found out that the Conseil économique was not the only group denied a meeting with the government.

This floored me. These are the individuals, the men and women, who are involved on a daily basis with the economic pulse of New Brunswick. For a government to reject the input of New Brunswick's business experts seemed bizarre to me, to say the least. When I was Minister of Economic Development and Tourism, and later Premier, I found these sorts of meetings invaluable. I knew my files well. I had long had an interest in economic development and business, but that didn't mean I couldn't learn more from people getting the job done every day.

Everyone brought his or her own experience and perspective into those meetings. Listening to the opinions and concerns of those who keep the wheels of New Brunswick's economy turning was vital to developing the most suitable economic development strategy for the province.

For a government to close itself off from these individuals and organizations, from their knowledge and experience, would have been unthinkable. It would have been foolish then. It is foolish now, but it has happened.

It's not just the economic organizations that are facing closed doors. How ironic that in an age where information is imparted in a nanosecond, where knowledge is our currency, New Brunswickers are being shortchanged by a government that insists on living like hermits. This government has gone into the bunker. This government has gone into isolation.

I have had a number of different people say to me in recent weeks, "You know, Camille, you might not have agreed with us, but you were never afraid to meet with us." Meeting with New Brunswickers is part of the job of governing—not simply talking at them, but listening to them. Having discussions with New Brunswickers, exchanging ideas, looking at challenges from different perspectives was one of the most fulfilling aspects of my job over the years, and it still is.

Really, what we do here in this Chamber or in the boardroom is useless unless we spend our time away from this Chamber and away from the boardrooms with New Brunswickers. It is simply a matter of respect—respecting those who have given us the privilege of representing them. Sure, not everyone agrees with you all the time. Believe it or not, some people will never agree with you. That's what makes life interesting. Disagreement is never the problem, but how you handle it can be. A difference of opinion is not a personal affront. To see it as such is to make your life more difficult than it needs to be. If you insist on hiding from people who do not share your views, you are going to lead a very, very lonely life.

To govern is to look at the challenge from all angles, to be mindful of the needs of everyone involved, and then to make the decision that is best for society as a whole.

More than 225 years ago, Edmund Burke put it very plainly to the electors of Bristol in England, and I quote: "Your representative owes you not his industry only, but his judgment." Governing by referenda flies in the face of representative democracy. It is an abdication of the responsibility of elected representatives to make the tough decisions that best benefit the whole of society. Under the guise of increased local control, we see the government transferring the responsibility from itself to others by downloading decisions in health, education, and economic development. I want to be very, very clear. I do not trust this government on the issue of local control.

I saw the blame thrown on the regional health corporations when they were forced to consider massive cuts in order to live within the funding level set by their own government. Government members were vehement in their attacks on their own regional corporations.

Perhaps we should also look at municipalities. The Minister of Finance unilaterally disbanded a consultation process designed to review the issue of municipal taxation. Only after an onslaught of bad press did the Premier reconvene a process with our province's cities, towns, and villages.

Can the new councils and authorities expect the same sort of treatment? These two examples speak volumes about this government's true feelings about local control. This government is not transferring decision-making authority, it is transferring the responsibility for failure. It continues to look for someone to blame. It continues to look for ways to abdicate its sworn responsibility to govern this province.

Governing is difficult. Of course it's difficult. Whoever said it would be easy? Do you know what? Raising a family is difficult. Running a business is difficult. Many New Brunswickers have shared with me some of the difficult decisions they are faced with every day. In each of our lives, we try to make the most informed choices possible, so why should we expect less from our government?

This government is putting off decisions that affect thousands of New Brunswickers every day. Remember the promise about renewing health care. This government raised expectations for health care in New Brunswick, and it has failed miserably to meet these expectations. I hope New Brunswickers will ask themselves one simple question: Is health care better today than it was two years ago? I have asked that question of people around the province, and so far I have only heard one answer: Absolutely not. No, the system is not better, but it's not surprising. It's not surprising when you look around. For three months in a row doctors have shut down their offices for work days.

I was shocked that in the throne speech on Tuesday, a throne speech that made a great fuss about renewing health care, there was absolutely—absolutely—no mention of nurse practitioners. Our doctors are overworked, and clearly it is time to look at introducing nurse practitioners into our health care system. The time is right, and we on this side know that this can work. We know because our government took the preliminary steps. In January of 1998 we introduced shared care models in Grand Manan, Saint-Quentin, and Lamèque. The government worked hard with both the health care providers and the patients to put in place the best model for all parties. I am sure that the member for Fundy Isles would confirm that this approach to health care delivery could be a model for other communities in New Brunswick.

However, in order to expand the role of nurses, we must expand the number of nurses, and not create 300 positions on paper. Clearly, the conversion of 300 casual nurses to permanent status has done little to alleviate the pressure on our nurses around the province. I have spoken with nurses who are disappointed that this government has failed to act on any recommendation of the Nursing Resources Advisory Committee.

This fall, as we all know, New Brunswick nurses have come closer to taking strike action than ever before in our history. I applaud them for their willingness to talk these issues through, because I feel badly that it took threatened strike action to get the government to enhance its offer to them. Every year we are losing nurses to our neighbours in other provinces and in the United States. The time has come for this government to look at the underlying factors in our nursing shortage. It's time to address the working conditions of New Brunswick nurses.

Nowhere is the lack of vision more acute than in our health care system. We are paying for this government's inexperience. First, it told us the federal government would bail the system out. Then it tried to blame the hospital corporations. Now, before facing this House and after assuring us that the government would manage the system to make its plan work, the Minister of Health tells us that this government must pump another $46 million into the system, because of the very costs that the corporations had cautioned the government about eight months ago.

You know, this has cost us more than $46 million. It has cost us a golden opportunity to rebuild our health care system. We had new federal dollars available because of good economic times created in the past decade. Did we invest in new technologies to save time, money, and lives? Did we recruit doctors and nurses and buy the labour peace that would have let us reform primary care and overhaul the system? Did we invest now to save money in the long run? No. The government took all the money brought in by good times and bought only a reprise for itself. It bought 12 more months of stalling, stonewalling, and struggling. It bought 12 more months of a status quo that isn't working. It had the resources to lead, and instead, it purchased the right to shirk its responsibilities.

Let's begin now, planning while we still have the financial room to do so, improving access to primary care, working with communities to define what a hospital means in this new day and age, better integrating hospitals into all New Brunswick communities. The greatest threat to health care is if we stand still, and we on this side of the House pledge to remove that option from this government.

Health care is only one of the issues that my colleagues and I are going to bring to the floor of this House during this session. I know there are many issues that New Brunswickers are concerned about, and I want to thank those New Brunswickers who have written letters, made phone calls, or even stopped us on the street to share their concerns with us. Your input makes us more effective at our job.

Clearly, education is a top priority. I want to make sure that New Brunswick's children are being given the tools they need, not only to survive, but to flourish in the 21st century. However, my concern goes even beyond the curriculum. I want to ensure that our children have enough teachers, and I want to know that the teachers who are in the system are not overburdened, that they have the resources and time to spend opening the minds of our children.

We are facing a teacher shortage in coming years, and, as they are doing with nurses, our American neighbours are luring our young teachers south. It is time to look at what incentives other jurisdictions are offering and how New Brunswick can compete.

This government has talked about making education a priority, yet, as my colleague from Bathurst said in her "nonstatement" yesterday, in the whole throne speech, the government devoted only one paragraph to education.

You know, I recently read an editorial from the Victoria County Record, and I think it says a lot about the real priorities of this government. I quote:

At $6.5 million for a new middle school and a much needed gymnasium at Andover Elementary, a new middle school facility isn't cheap. But consider this, at $1.5 million a month in shadow tolls, that is less than five months of toll-free driving on the new Fredericton to Moncton highway, courtesy of the province. Don't our children deserve the same courtesy?

I want you to think about this just for one moment. For what this government has paid in shadow tolls since April, 300 middle school students in Perth-Andover could have had a new, healthy school. Or think about this: The amount this province pays each day in shadow tolls—each day—could have added and paid for a nurse or a teacher for a year—each day and every day.

Last session, the Minister of Finance said, "The amount of shadow tolls is totally irrelevant." I am saying no to the Minister of Finance; the amount is completely relevant, and it becomes more relevant with every day that passes. Some have told me that the tolls cost us the last election, but I am telling you that shadow tolls will cost the people of New Brunswick far greater for generations to come.

There is now a new tollbooth in New Brunswick, erected with the compliments of the Bernard Lord government. It is a tollbooth blocking the road to opportunity, a tollbooth where each and every New Brunswicker must pay the price for this government's lack of vision. It is an "inexperience tax," and it is growing every day.

It is in the roads and schools we cannot afford, because of the shadow tolls, because of a promise made in cold political calculation and sustained only by ego and stubborn pride.

It is in the lost income tax cuts for the working families who will not see the full benefit of the federal government's tax relief, because of a government that, in its haste to win over voters with their own money, forgot to plan for tax cuts everyone knew were coming.


It is in the lack of financial room to move health care from beyond crisis management. It is what in the movie MASH, Hawkeye Pierce called "meatball surgery", where the newest crisis keeps us from being our best. It is in the lost opportunities we could provide to businesses through effective programs amputated by this government to pay for their promises. It is in the communities whose roads will not allow them to pursue economic growth.

It is in the spiraling debt of university students, still waiting for a plan for debt relief. It is in the $895-million deficit the books now show for the last fiscal year, and the broken promise to our young people that they would never again be saddled with the unpaid debts and shirked responsibilities of their predecessors.

The inexperience tax is now the most expensive job-training program in New Brunswick's history. Sadly, it does not seem that the lessons are being learned or that the student is even listening.

This inexperience tax is growing every day, as this tollbooth on the road to opportunity grows more and more impassable. We are few on this side of the House, but we will whittle away at this inexperience tax, and we will not let further government inaction add to the bill for working New Brunswick families.

There is not a lack of issues to talk about during this session. Every time I stop at the local gas station, I am reminded of what a difficult winter this is going to be for the low- and fixed-income families who will be faced with staggering heating oil bills. My colleagues and I will be insisting that this government look at ways to lighten this financial burden for those who will be hardest hit.

The official opposition looks forward to the amendments to the Employment Standards Act. The other day, I was talking to a young couple who are expecting their first child in a couple months, and I am reminded that in the midst of all their excitement, they are faced with some pretty major decisions. That is why it is so important that this government make the decision on parental leave public as soon as possible.

There are other decisions that need to be taken—on NB Power, for example. We have learned that the province will release an energy policy but that NB Power's future will be omitted from the plan. New Brunswickers want to know what to expect when they open their power bills in coming months and years.

We in the opposition have a number of concerns for the energy sector, and we are very, very eager to debate this important issue.

Of course, everyone knows that contracts affecting nearly 27 000 public servants will be negotiated in the coming year, and the opposition will be watching the government's treatment of our public employees very closely.

It is my sincere hope that the ongoing strike by court stenographers will soon be resolved. To that end, I reiterate the suggestion made by the Finance Critic—and approved, of course, by the court stenographers—that the time has come for this government to consider binding arbitration to end this issue.

While we are discussing the court system, I must say that I was disturbed by the recent announcement of raises for judges. When I was Premier, our government received the recommendations of the Judicial Remuneration Commission. While we agreed to a first salary increase, we refused to accept the subsequent increases. We believed this to be a fair compromise for all parties, and we were prepared to defend our stance.

I remember at the time that the then Leader of the Opposition suggested that this compromise was too substantial. He basically suggested that our government was out of touch with New Brunswickers. Yet, less than two years later, out of the blue, the Premier agreed to give the judges a far more generous salary increase than the one we initially offered because, he said, "Denying the judges would have led to court action."

With Bill C-68, you knew you did not have a chance to win, but you wanted to have some political gain. You went to court, and you lost in court. This time, because it was the judges, you did not have the courage of your convictions. You said:"We will pay. We will give you retroactive pay." This is at a time when 65 women in New Brunswick are basically being shut out of their jobs by your government.

We are also concerned about highway safety and improvement. Last year we saw the least amount of money in the history of capital transportation budgets, so we certainly hope to see more dollars when the new budget is brought down in a few weeks. I find it rather ironic when I hear the Premier of New Brunswick stand up and say that he is on his way to Ottawa to ask for more money to build the four-lane highway across New Brunswick. I also talk to some people in Ottawa, and the reaction I get there is, "Why do they want more money?" I say, "There is a need to build more roads." The reaction is: "They have a pot of $92 million of federal money in their bank account right now that they are not using. Why are they coming to us for more money when they have close to $100 million not being used as we speak?"

I also hope that the time line for the new bridge to replace the Gunningsville Bridge will not set a precedent for transportation infrastructure in New Brunswick. I cannot understand why it will take five years to build a bridge across the Petitcodiac River when the Confederation Bridge across the Northumberland Strait was built in three years. Something is wrong with this picture. I have traveled across both bridges, and unless it is an optical illusion, I think the distance from Prince Edward Island to New Brunswick is greater than the distance between Moncton and Riverview. I only hope that construction of any other infrastructure can proceed in a more timely fashion.

New Brunswick's mayors and councillors are worried. They are preparing to bring down budgets with 10% less money in unconditional grants this year. There is not much room to cut services; so, they are faced with raising taxes.

I understand that the Premier has mandated the Minister of Finance and the Minister of the Environment and Local Government to proceed with a yearlong consultation process on a wide range of municipal issues.

These are very complex issues. I certainly hope this consultation will be completed and that it will not be met with the same fate as the consultation on municipal taxation. Yes, there will be a lot to debate during this session.

In recent weeks, people have asked me: "What are your plans, Camille? What are you going to do?" The most important decisions any elected official makes are when to run and when to leave.

I am reminded why I made the first decision, every time I see this government trying to unravel a decade of New Brunswick's good work, every time I see this government shutting the door on New Brunswickers, every time I see this government failing to give New Brunswickers the government they deserve.

I decided to seek public office because I love New Brunswick.

I ran in order to fight for all that New Brunswick is, but more importantly, in all I believe it can be. I am not about to stop fighting now. Builders start with a strong foundation. In New Brunswick, much of this foundation was laid by three men, Louis Robichaud, Richard Hatfield and Frank McKenna. All of them were also builders and they had the wisdom to add to those pieces laid by their predecessor. In doing so, they recognized that neither a province nor a people can move forward if the foundations are hacked and torn apart. You cannot move forward if you are perpetually starting over.

That is not my vision for New Brunswick. Nor is my vision one where the very structure and underpinnings, and the values associated with them, are questioned and are under stress for the mere sake of doing something different.

This is not building, it is demolition; at the very best, it is housekeeping. By nature, I am a builder. I have derived most of my satisfaction in my personal and political life from seeing things moved ahead. I believe New Brunswick needs builders, someone who believes that we can become more than we are today, rather than someone who runs the serious risk of making us less than we are by dismantling the strong foundations built over the last 30 years.

Together, I ask, all of us, let's build a better New Brunswick.

Thank you.

Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick
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