Friday, March 12, 2021

Instead of thanks, we want action

Public sector unions are coming together in solidarity to urge the provincial government to lead New Brunswick’s economic recovery by investing to improve public services. Together, our organizations represent 1 in 6 New Brunswick workers.
Over the past year, we have witnessed what was once unimaginable. For instance, who could have imagined that New Brunswick schools would be closed from March to June? Who could have imagined that sporting arenas, hotels, and convention centres would be converted into makeshift Covid-19 testing facilities and hospitals? Who could have imagined deploying rapid response teams to New Brunswick nursing homes and the Canadian military in nursing homes in some provinces?
The pandemic quickly turned into a global crisis. It has been relentlessly stress-testing public services and infrastructure all over the world, exposing cracks and gaps. And New Brunswick has not been immune.
The pandemic has reminded New Brunswickers of the importance of our public sector, and the cracks and gaps come as no surprise to those working in the system. For many years, workers have been calling attention to these weaknesses and vulnerabilities. These same people have demonstrated a willingness to work with government to help make the necessary improvements.
Yet governments, both past and present, have ignored ideas for improvements, opting instead to privatize many public services. This is a cost to taxpayers in the long run, often reducing the quality of services. How often do we witness private investors cutting corners in an effort to turn a profit?
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, public sector workers across the province stepped up. They risked their health in order to keep the province running. Some took on jobs completely different than what they were hired to do because the province and our citizens needed it.
As the pandemic continues, so do the sacrifices of workers. What government has offered thus far in return is thanks for a job well done.
While our workers appreciate the thanks, what they would rather see is real action. No more clichés, no more plans that won’t start for another 5 to 10 years, no more giving away taxpayer money to corporate entities and their ideas which may or may not work.
Real change means acting on the ideas brought forward by public sector workers to improve services. It also means maintaining control of our public investments and not off-loading public services to the private sector. Finally, it means making significant investments in the public services to fix the cracks and gaps that are now apparent for all to see.
Real action starts with the upcoming provincial budget. Instead of asking public sector workers to do more with less and further cutting already bare-bone services, we are collectively requesting our Premier to heed the advice of economists and experts by making significant investments in our public services.
In the Jan. 20, 2021 edition of the Telegraph-Journal, economist Richard Saillant wrote: “The key to a better tomorrow is not to achieve fiscal balance at all times, but to maintain sustainable public finances while making the investments that will underpin the future prosperity and well-being of all New Brunswickers.”
Saillant continues by saying in his January 20th column: “Although it should avoid profligacy – and with Premier Higgs at the helm, it certainly will – the government should recognize that it does have the fiscal flexibility to respond much better to the current crisis. Racing to balance the books in today’s context of acute need and extreme uncertainty runs counter to the global consensus and threatens our recovery.”
For too long governments have made cuts and expected workers to do more with less. Over time this has severely weakened our public services. And although New Brunswick has experienced some significant setbacks, we’ve managed to get through because our workers know how to persevere and are determined to maintain services even in the most challenging times.
Our public system has been holding firm in the face of immense pressure because of our workers – people who put New Brunswickers first. Yet, reports have pegged New Brunswick as the province who spent the least to help its citizens during the pandemic. Let’s hope that frugality was to set up strong investments in public services that will help our province recover and attract more people to our beautiful province.
New Brunswick workers are keeping this province going in unbelievably trying times. But at what cost to their own mental, emotional, and physical health? And how much longer can they continue without the support they need? If our decision makers truly want to say thanks for a job well done, then they must provide our public sector workers with the tools and resources that will help preserve, sustain, and improve the services New Brunswickers need.

Susie Proulx-Daigle
President, New Brunswick Union
Daniel Legere
President, New Brunswick Federation of Labour
Paula Doucet
President, New Brunswick Nurses Union
Brien Watson
President, CUPE New Brunswick
Colleen Coffey
Atlantic Regional Vice-President, Public Service Alliance of Canada
Rick Cuming
Co-President, New Brunswick Teacher’s Federation
Gérald Arseneault
Co-président, Fédération des enseignants du Nouveau-Brunswick
Debi Daviau
President, The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada
Ross Galbraith
Business Manager, IBEW Local 37