Why does Universality matter?

Twenty years ago, my children went to an inner city elementary school that served some the the lowest income communities in Ottawa.  While sitting with an old friend under a tree in Fundy National Park, I was convinced to become co-chair of the parent council.  Not long afterwards, we were caught up in a province-wide school closure campaign that created a massive protest that eventually brought down the provincial government.  I learned about the importance of universal social programs first hand.

For social programs to be of high quality and to endure, they must be universally accessible by rich and poor alike.  That is why the Gallant government’s approach to providing “free” childcare and “free” post-secondary tuition to some and not to others is doomed to fail, if not now, the next time the austerity knives are sharpened.  Hence we will be doomed to continue the revolving door of building and tearing down, building and tearing down.

Universal programs are free, or at least affordable, to all people of all income levels. Healthcare and public education are two examples in Canada; universal low cost childcare in Quebec is another.  These programs are of high quality because we all feel a sense of ownership and there is widespread concern when standards slip or when schools or hospitals are threatened with closure.  All people who use universal programs advocate for improvements based on the latest advances in medicine or education and hold our public institutions to account.

In my case, I ran for the school board and used my engineering management and marketing experience to bring forward reforms to the public education system that gave us some of the highest quality, most accessible, and financially sound programs around, all within a budget that was not far off that of New Brunswick’s Ministry of Education.  We received international attention for many of our reforms and education experts from Finland, Norway and Britain came to find out what we were up to.

Non-universal programs by contrast do not have the same degree of pressure to perform.  Families who do not receive subsidies may choose to attend separate non-publicly run programs. Eventually these become of perceived higher quality, like private schools or private health clinics.  This undermines the public systems, hires away qualified staff, and can eventually lead to the demise of well-intended programs.

A second flaw in Gallant’s childcare program design is lack of accessibility, both through physical location and capped enrolment.  If a family lives too far or does not have a car or access to public transit, they may as well not have free access to childcare.  Public programs should be placed where they are easily accessible to people on limited income.  When programs have limited enrolment, only people who are well-connected and well-rooted in the community have the means and opportunity to know where and when to apply and how to get through the long waiting lists.

Well-designed universal and accessible programs have the important added benefit of integrating people from widely varying backgrounds both to attend the programs and to unite in common cause.  As someone deeply concerned about influencing societal trends towards tolerance and understanding and away from mistrust and blame, this is one of the most important aspects of universal social programs to me.

As the NDP platform is released, we will keep in mind the fundamental principles of universality and accessibility for our day cares, post-secondary education and other social programs so that as many New Brunswick families as possible can benefit from the highest quality most affordable social programs possible.


Jennifer McKenzie,
Leader, NB-NDP

NB-NDP EI “Black Hole” Response

Jennifer McKenzie, Leader of the NBNDP today welcomed the announcement by the Liberal government that it will provide temporary and partial relief to the thousands of New Brunswickers caught by the so called “black hole” in Employment Insurance benefits.


In responding to the announced  income assistance from now until the start of seasonal work in June, McKenzie says, “This is just a temporary fix.  What we really need is for the federal government to return the EI program to its intended purpose as they promised in the last federal election. The Trudeau government has been too slow to reform an EI program that was gutted by the Harper Conservatives.  In particular Ms McKenzie said, “The  announcement today will not do anything for pregnant women from  Restigouche County down to Albert County and across New Brunswick who work in seasonal and other industries and  can’t  get enough weeks work to qualify for maternity leave benefits.”


The announcement is just temporary and does not provide a permanent fix as was proposed by the federal NDP in the last election.  Once the two years of funding has run dry, it is unlikely that the Liberals will fix the underlying problems in EI Fund as they rely on the surplus in the Fund for other programs.  It will not become a priority for them until the next time their political survival depends upon it.  They are simply throwing New Brunswick workers a proverbial bone.


“Today’s announcement is in no small part because of the brave work of the Comittee for Action on Employment Insurance and they must be commended for the work they have done to insure the provincial and federal government  responded to the needs of these workers.”

NB Forestry

Why do we manage our Crown forests so bizarrely?

Last Wednesday I was invited to speak at the Annual General Meeting for the Woodlot Owners Association. They have been in the news lately as they are in a lawsuit with JD Irving who is challenging their marketing board’s legislated right to negotiate and sell wood from private woodlot owners in their area. The New Brunswick government has been silent during this attempt to circumvent their own legislation.

This is the latest twist in a long standing dispute that has arisen from a long line of bizarre decisions made by our government under success Liberal and Conservative parties. The consequences of these decisions are being felt mainly by woodlot owners – in their pocket book. They are completely ham-tied trying to jump through the hoops of large industrial players and the government’s mismanagement of the forestry file.

If you read my last column on Governance, you would know that I took issue with the first strategic objectives listed at the top of every report submitted by ministries to the Public Accounts Committee. The first objective listed on all reports is More Jobs. So perhaps that explains the way that we have managed and continue to manage our forests and Crown Land? In fact, by Statistics Canada’s figures, the number of jobs created by the forest sector over the past fifteen years is on a decline. Since a high of almost 20,000 jobs in 2004, we have lost over 30% of our forestry jobs, many of them gone from the Pulp and Paper industry. So what then explains this Gordian knot of a problem?

From the government’s own private forest task force report in 2012: “Over the past decade, forest policy innovation in New Brunswick has withered” “Important provisions of the Crown Lands and Forest Act (1982) and the Natural Products Act (1999) have been neglected” and “Proportional source of supply provisions have not been effectively implemented, and despite its legislated authority, the New Brunwick Forest Products Commission does not arrive at an equitable price for purchased primary forest products” “Conflicts among private woodlot owners, the government and parts of the forestry industry remain unresolved.” Why hasn’t this been resolved five years later on?

An NDP government would implement a new forestry strategy. After consultation with all stakeholders, we would allow a variety of woodcutters to have access to Crown forest while encouraging older growth forests, stopping the clearcutting that is detrimental to forest and soil ecology; and stopping spraying of glyphosates and other sprays harmful to forest health and perhaps human health.

Most of the best forestry practices of the world agree that a diverse forest is a healthy forest and that creating a monoculture or a forest with less diversity is an unhealthy way to manage our woods. Indeed, why then do we spray our forests with glyphosate, allow clearcutting only to replant and cultivate a few select species over most of it?

An NDP government would review best practices from around the world and find a made in New Brunswick solution to provide fair access, while being environmentally and socially responsible and providing the best economic advantage possible to as many people as possible. We would take back the management of our forests from large corporations.

Under an NDP government, our Crown land would be managed to support emerging value-added industries in the province for the benefit and jobs of many New Brunswickers. We would encourage innovation and high value products for here and around the world.

New Brunswickers know the woods. We have many highly trained and highly skilled craftspeople across this province either unemployed or under-employed. Let’s allow their creativity to shine through and let’s become an example of how a province can use it’s abundant resources to create a variety of jobs while preserving the natural beauty, health and vitality of our forests.

A New Approach to Home Care in New Brunswick

The Gallant government has just announced – with great fanfare – the building of ten new nursing homes and the creation of 1000 new beds. These may be needed but how can it take this momentous step without first addressing Home Care? Wasn’t the strategy supposed to be keeping people in their own homes first?

The New Brunswick NDP has announced a six step plan for Home Care that we will implement when we become government:

First, with regards to the new funding announced by the federal government of $230 Million over ten years, we will invest all of the funding earmarked for Home Care to the expansion of the Extra Mural Program to provide medical needs and home services supports to seniors and other New Brunswickers needing care. This will allow more patients to receive health care sevices in their own homes.

Second, We will end privatization in our health care system. We will return Ambulance New Brunswick, the Extra Mural Program and Tele-Care to the province to be run as a public institutions. We will end the contracting out of all management of services in our hospitals and end discussions with Sodexo.

Third, we will create immediately a new government agency, Home Care Service, to provide home support services that will allow seniors and others requiring support in their home to have access in a reasonable and affordable manner. All personal support workers and other personnel will be public servants and paid government wages and benefits. Where it makes sense, we will transition by integration of existing non profit services and staff into the new public agency.

Fourth, we will expand Tele-Care to complement the Home Care Service and to provide advocacy to assist New Brunswickers needing multiple services to navigate our health care and social services and direct them to the support they need.

Fifth, we will study the best way to create a Community Care public agency to replace the myriad of agencies that currently exist so that it that gives the province the accountability and transparency we need, creates uniform standards, and allows the workers in this industry to become public servants and earn living wages. We will implement such a public agency within our first mandate as government.

Finally, upon election we will apply pay equity legislation to this important sector so that, along with the announced introduction of an increase to a $15 minimum wage, the wages of those providing home care and community care services will be improved.

The New Brunswick government’s approach to the delivery of seniors and community care is to rely on patch work quilt of hundreds of agencies , some non- profit, some for- profit but all delivering services with inadequate standards and almost invariably at low wages with no benefits. This industry is plagued by high turnover and shortages.

It is perhaps not surprising that women are in the large majority in this sector.
This is in stark contrast to the excellent service provided by the government Extra Mural program which provides for medical needs of clients in their homes, and up until last year was run by our health care authorities as a public institution with union wages and benefits.

It is well understood that the key to reducing preventable hospital visits and the number of patients occupying hospital beds unnecessarily is an effective and coordinated transition process. This s is particularly important for seniors and people with disabilities who have the capacity for independence but still require attentive care. A continuum of care for New Brunswickers requires partnership, communication and oversight – all sorely missing and only made worse by the transfer of Extra Mural to Medavie.

Jennifer McKenzie,
Leader, NB-NDP

Elizabeth Weir Fund

Elizabeth Weir, Leader of the NB New Democratic Party for seventeen years, was the first elected female leader of a political party in New Brunswick and served in the legislature of New Brunswick from 1991 until 2005. She was a champion of women’s rights and a role model for women in politics. Today, she continues to advance this work through training of women parliamentarians throughout the world.

The Elizabeth Weir Fund has been established to support women candidates in the New Brunswick NDP. The first $5,000 raised in 2018 will be matched by a contribution from the NB-NDP. Donations will be pooled and distributed equally between all nominated women candidates.

Donations to this fund can be made by individuals in Canada (up to a $3,000 maximum) and NB residents will be eligible for a NB Provincial Tax Credit. Donations can be made online from the NB-NDP website, and cheques should be payable to “NB-NDP”, with “Elizabeth Weir Fund” in the Memo, or on the donation slip.

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