Reply to the Speech from the Throne December 9, 2014 David Coon, MLA, Fredericton South Leader of the Green Party of NB Contact: Margot Malenfant, Legislative Assistant (506) 478-7781
Mr. Speaker, before I begin my response to the Speech from the Throne, I want to thank the people of Fredericton South for electing me to represent them in this Legislative Assembly. It is an honour and a tremendous responsibility to serve the community of Fredericton South in this House. I want to thank the many young women and men, some who voted for the first time in their lives, who put their faith in me. I also want to acknowledge all of the children and youth, too young to vote, who seemed galvanized by my candidacy and cheered me on during the campaign and celebrated my election. I will be forever thankful for their enthusiasm and I will be respectful of the trust they have put in me to give a voice to their hopes and dreams.
Change we must, for everything around us is in motion. Maintaining a death grip on the way we have always done things will surely rob our children of their futures. Things we could count on in the past – the predictability of our seasons, the conviction that the power will come back on in hours, the assurance that sea level will remain at sea level, the availability of work in the woods when all else dried up, the certainty of economic growth, the faith that great wealth for some will ensure a decent livelihood for many – are gone. As our footing has become uncertain, some have taken advantage of our anxiety and spread fear to benefit themselves. They have been successful, as we have become fearful. We are fearful about the economy, fearful about our debts, even fearful of each other – francophone and Anglophone, First Nation and newcomer – thanks to those who would rather divide our people to serve their interests, rather than unite them to transform New Brunswick and ensure our children have a decent future in our province. As Plato said, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”
Mr. Speaker, the hopes and dreams of young people are what I will keep at the forefront of my mind over the next four years. I will seek the views of youth, as much as I seek the views of the adults in my riding, and bring those views to our deliberations on the floor of this Legislative Assembly. Young people are hungry for change, even desperate for change. Youth want to play a role in transforming New Brunswick into a fairer and greener society. Youth want in. One way to let youth in is to lower the voting age to 16. This is something we can make possible as legislators.
Mr. Speaker, a recent Report from the Human Development Council reported that 21% of New Brunswick children lived below the poverty line in 2012, an increase from 19.8% in 1989, despite a 40% increase in New Brunswick’s per capita GDP over that period. Between 1989 and 2012 we saw the construction of not one, but two pipelines across our province, a massive expansion of the Irving Oil Refinery and a 61.5% increase in J.D. Irving’s allowable cut of softwood over the same period. Clearly, a growing economy has not reduced child poverty. In fact, it has increased, with the child poverty rate in Saint John, our most industrialized city, at 30.4%. If we want to reduce child poverty, parents need access to affordable childcare so they can afford to work. Parents need access to reliable public transportation so they can afford travel to work. While the government is committed to increasing the minimum wage, it’s not enough. Parents earning minimum wage should not have to pay the provincial portion of income tax, so they can better cope with their week-to-week expenses. Mr. Speaker, children need access to early childhood education to help equip them with the skills they need to break out of the poverty trap. UNB’s Early Childhood Research Centre has created impressive curriculum for early learning, but those children who need access to early learning the most cannot take advantage of it. It has been estimated that universal access to low-fee childcare in Quebec led to nearly 70,000 more mothers holding jobs than if the program had not existed, representing a 3.8% increase in women’s employment. The resulting increase in tax revenue exceeds the costs of the childcare program. We need to look at ways of ensuring universal access to childcare and early learning. Children need access to meal programs in their schools so they can learn optimally, and they need greater access to our alternative education system operated by our school districts for those who cannot function within the regular system. It is overcharged and the waiting lists are long.
Mr. Speaker, two weeks ago the Child and Youth Advocate released his State of the Child report. It shows that the New Brunswick rate of hospital admissions for children and youth struggling with mental diseases and disorder is 80% higher than the national rate. It is estimated that 22% of youth from Grade Six to Twelve have low mental fitness. There is an urgent need to guarantee rapid access to mental health care for our children and youth. The State of the Child report also indicates that New Brunswick has a rate of children and youths who are victims of family violence that is 37% higher than the national average. It is well established that boys who witness violence in the home are at a higher risk of committing violence against women in adulthood. Sixty-five percent of women seeking shelter in Transition Houses were witnesses to domestic violence as children. There is a pressing need for therapeutic treatment for these children, which is not something Transition House staff are able to provide. According to the State of the Child Report, the rate of persons charged with sexual violations against children in New Brunswick is 63% higher than the national rate, which the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate describes as cause for alarm.
Mr. Speaker, I want to draw special attention to the difficulties faced by youth between the ages of 16 and 18 in finding a safe place to live when escaping violence, sexual abuse, neglect, or reaching the age where they are too old for foster care. The youth residences such as Chrysalis House in Fredericton and the Miramichi Youth House have long waiting lists, leaving youth at tremendous risk by lacking the ability to accommodate youth in emergency situations. Frankly, I was appalled that the Telegraph Journal, in its editorial commenting on findings of the State of the Child Report, chose to limits its focus to child obesity. I was also disappointed to see so little attention given to advancing the rights and well-being of children and youth in the Speech from the Throne, given the findings of the State of the Child Report. Parents will sacrifice much to ensure the health and well-being of their children. A similar priority must permeate our policy and budget priorities. We need to build an infrastructure of midwifery to provide the continuity of care for invents and support for Moms. We must invest in strengthening the infrastructure of childcare and early learning. We must invest in providing preventative mental health care and rapid access to diagnosis and treatment. We must invest in safeguarding women from domestic violence and that means investing in treating children who have been witness to violence in the home to break the chain of violence.
As the Leader of the Third Party in this House, the criticisms I make regarding government policy and priorities are not to condemn, but to highlight our challenges so we can work together as legislators to better serve the common good. My arguments will be based on reason, on evidence, and on principles. Mr. Speaker, you have my word that my critiques will be directed toward ideas, not individual personalities on the other side of this House. Mr. Speaker, we can and must afford to build a just society based on fairness and equality. We can and must afford to build a sustainable society based on living within ecological constraints, reducing our fossil fuel use to safe levels, and living within our financial means. I will support, or work to improve those policies, budget commitments and legislation brought forward by government that are consistent with these goals.