OPINION: Bruce Fitch - First Legislative Session a Big Disappointment

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The first session of the 58th legislature has now concluded. Premier Brian Gallant has termed it “a big success”.

Everyday New Brunswickers would disagree.

On the day the legislative session concluded, we received the latest job numbers for our province. They were not encouraging. Our economy lost 5300 full-time jobs.

The Premier’s response was to ignore the issue and pivot to a new, freshly rehearsed platitude about developing a skilled workforce and the most “work-ready generation we’ve ever seen”. The narrative has gone from Brian Gallant’s promise “to create 5000 jobs in year one…. that’s the guarantee…” to a new rhetoric about a “work ready generation”. If the Premier would look around him, he would see that this generation is ready to go to work but they need jobs, here, now.

From September 23rd until the release of his first budget there were many warning signs that Brian Gallant had neither the ability nor the inclination to turn his pre-election words into post-election actions. In fact what transpired was considerably worse, as the Premier showed us time and again that what he says and what he does are two different things. The release of the budget on March 31st provided several concrete examples.

The Gallant promise to “keep our promises by making promises we can keep” has turned into the Gallant broken promise to seniors that their assets would not be touched, the Gallant broken promise to those caring for seniors or special needs dependents that they would have tax relief, the Gallant broken promise to low-income New Brunswickers that they would get help paying for daycare, and the Gallant broken promise to double daycare subsidies. Instead, Brian Gallant has cut funding to daycare owners for professional development.

The Gallant government claim that “job creation is our number one priority” has turned into his ban on a shale gas industry, higher business property taxes and an increase in the cost of doing business.

“Getting our fiscal house in order” Gallant style has meant doubling the deficit, increasing the debt, and decreasing our credit worthiness.

The Gallant government promise to help families who are struggling has turned into higher gasoline taxes, no prescription drug plan, and no help with the cost of daycare.

The Gallant government promise to invest in literacy and education has turned into cuts of teachers, education assistants, closures of schools, and reductions in literacy funding. They even took away the bookmobile from rural children.

The Gallant promise of a retirement filled with dignity and respect has turned into higher drug premiums, higher nursing home costs - 55% higher, in fact - and the now infamous senior’s asset grab.

The promise to invest in literacy and education took quite an insult last week with the revelation of cuts to community college student support programs. The Gallant government cut funding by $3.7 million to NBCC that would help students who need learning support. We got this information only through a leaked email. The government claimed during estimates that there were no cuts. This is another leaked email that has caught the government out. The first was from the assistant to Social Development Minister Cathy Rogers which alluded to Liberal patronage for the $900 million in road work, which is a large part of the nearly $2 billion in election promises that the Gallant government refuses to cut.

The fiscal challenges that New Brunswick faces are in fact caused by these massive spending promises. The Gallant government has a spending problem that they must address.

Our Progressive Conservative plan for a balanced budget in 2017 did not have any of the cuts or tax increases that New Brunswickers are suffering through with this government.

During question period the Premier has frequently called for our help, suggestions and guidance and the Official Opposition has been only too glad to comply.

Bill 15 regarding PTSD workers’ compensation for our first responders has been moved to the law amendments committee with a promise from government that it will be considered this month.

Also, as the result of an opposition motion we now have designated the third Saturday in August as Emergency Services Day. This will be a biennial celebration and will be held the day before Peace Officers Memorial Day.

During question period, we made the Premier admit that the forestry strategy would be going ahead. All that remains to resolve is the matter of protected natural areas.

We also compelled the government to get moving with its promise for a youth employment fund, and at the same time got the Premier to commit that the One Job Pledge program would continue.

We were, however, unsuccessful in compelling the Premier to apologize to seniors for his refusal to acknowledge his broken promise not to touch their assets. Despite having over 100 witnesses, the Premier is still demanding recorded evidence of his promise

Throughout this legislative session, I have been humbled by the constant support and encouragement I have received from people all across our province. I am grateful for the phone calls and emails urging me to keep pressing the government about the poor choices they are making. As leader of the Official Opposition, I feel lucky to have such a dedicated and experienced team of MLAs surrounding me. Please reach out to us and let us know your concerns. It is only through continuous public pressure on government MLAs that we might curtail the damage of Brian Gallant and his Liberal government.

R. Bruce Fitch is the MLA for Riverview and the Leader of the Official Opposition

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