New Brunswick, Opinion, Politics

Open Letter to Premier Brian Gallant

22 February 2015

Premier Brian Gallant:

I would like to begin by congratulating you on your new position in the New Brunswick legislature. I am hopeful that a new party in office will bring great, progressive change within this little province, and I look forward to seeing how you take advantage of the opportunities.

Particularly, I am writing to you today to address one of your most recent decisions. It is my understanding that you plan to cut the salaries of each cabinet member, including yourself, by 15%. At a first thought, because there has been a debate over the amount of money that politicians make for decades, I saw this as a very liberal and sensible effort. It seemed fair and gracious to me that this change be made with the citizens of New Brunswick in mind (in order to get rid of the province’s deficit and create jobs).

With that said, the more I thought about it, the less generous this idea seemed to me. “What’s the point?” I thought. Need I remind you, Mr. Gallant, that you currently receive two separate paychecks? CTV News stated that, as of February 9, you make $79 000 per year as MLA of Shediac Bay-Dieppe, and another $85 000 per year as the premier of New Brunswick – this adds up to a whopping $164 000 per year. Please accept my condolences – that pending 15% cut, which will only reduce your less-endowed paycheck, must be such a setback for your bachelor lifestyle outside of politics.

As somebody who is not of your stature – specifically a first-year university student who is currently unemployed as I focus on my studies, living in rural New Brunswick with my parents who live paycheck-to-paycheck, barely making more than 40-50 thousand dollars combined during a good, prosperous, steady year – I must admit that I am insulted by this proposal. Do you know what it’s like, Mr. Gallant, to have your power shut off in the middle of winter because you needed groceries that week? Or maybe you’ve gone an entire summer without the luxury of internet or satellite TV because you were behind on some bills? I am outraged and disheartened that you might assume that the façade of money could shadow the harsh, empty reality of our province’s economic state.

To tell the people of New Brunswick – the vast majority of which is either unemployed, struggling to keep or find a job within this economy, or forced to leave the province altogether in order to provide for themselves and their families (something, thankfully, you don’t have to worry about) – that this salary decrease is directly beneficial to them is a blatant lie. The reality is that the reason for these salary cut-backs is due to the fact that you plan to ward off criticism when your government makes future cuts to civil service jobs and other similar services. This will undoubtedly have a ripple effect throughout the economy: not only will this put the people who are currently in those job positions, but it will be hellish for small rural jobs that are struggling as it is.

The people who devote their lives to these small jobs that nobody else wants to do are the heart of this province. They work hours upon hours every single day to provide for themselves and their families in a province that doesn’t make any promises, and they don’t complain. The dignity of the work that the lower and middle class people in New Brunswick pour their blood, swear, and tears into is astounding, though often shadowed by the money signs in the eyes of the powers that be. These people deserve to be able to provide a dignified livelihood for themselves and their family all on levels – material, social, whatever. No one in this province should be denied access to maintaining their values and quality of life when they work for it on their own terms.

So, as I write to you today, I beg you to forget about the money, Mr. Gallant. Forget about hiding behind dollar signs (or supposed lack-thereof), and take a moment to think: the economy must serve the people, not vice versa. It is not about a balance sheet; it’s about people working and being able to do that to make whatever life they want for themselves. That 15% cut you’re so concerned about doesn’t compared in the slightest to people living in fear of losing their job or being laid off because of some silly deficit. If you love this province as much as you should, you will create ways to keep it alive yourself rather than sitting back and waiting to see what happens.

I wish you luck, Mr. Gallant. Even more, I beg you to prove me wrong.

Sincerely,

Sarah Betts

Originally written for a class at St. Thomas University.

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New Brunswick, News, Politics, Profile, St. Thomas University

The Powers that Be: Diversifying the Conversation with David Coon

David Coon, NB Green Party leader, told a class at St. Thomas University on Tuesday afternoon that he is confident in his ability to contribute to change in the province.

“I can make a change – I believe that. I can certainly make a change in the discourse that’s going on, and I think we’ll have some influence on at least the government’s side.”

Coon won the vote in the provincial election as the first Green Party seat to ever be elected into the legislature in September. He has kicked off his role as MLA for Fredericton South by proposing a bill to lower the voting age to 16.

“By lowering the voting age to 16, you get a much higher level of youth engagement,” he said. “When you’re 16/17, you’re still in a much more stable environment: you’re at home, you’re in high school, so you’ve got the family… the evidence does suggest that if you begin voting at 16/17, it does lead to much more of a life-long engagement than if you don’t.”

“I think it’s possible,” Coon confirmed, but added that it depends partly on the amount of pressure that’s brought to bear from outside the legislature on the government.

The bill, if passed, would see 16-year olds given the right to cast a ballot in the next provincial election, which will be held in 2018.

Coon also spoke on Tuesday about his first experiences in the legislature, comparing the offices to high school.

“Trying to get an office,” he laughed. “With the others parties saying ‘Well, we don’t want him here, we don’t want him there,’ for this reason, that reason – it was just crazy! In fact, high school’s better than that.”

“The first day I sat there on the floor of the legislature – that was pretty cool. And then quickly realizing I was by myself. So, I sat in the front row being a leader of the third party, and the Conservatives here and the Liberals across, and I thought, ‘Boy… if there was ever an incentive to ensure more Green MLAs are elected next time, it’s this!’”

Coon’s ironic feelings of being back in high school and being alienated among the powers that be have an interesting relation in terms of who his target audience is with this new bill proposal. One might wonder if he feels as though he can now identify more with the youth in the province – a group who so many consider to be ignored. Either way, Coon and the Green Party are making a number of initiatives to get them involved and change the conversation, such as posting notes and videos on social media.

“It’s using it effectively to do that,” he stressed. “I think you have to be clever about that, but it’s not sufficient or a substitute. It doesn’t replace everything else.”

Coon says his plan is to get to them directly by going out and actually speaking to them and integrating his plans within their own communities.

“I’m trying to be present and engaged in our middle schools, high schools, and university campuses routinely. The MLA should not be special guest, but should be a regular landscape.”

Coon wants to work towards this as he believes youth engagement would be fundamental for creating change, transformative change. “When you’re younger, you’re more wide open, you’re in a stage of life where you’re thinking about things, thinking about learning things, and I think there’s an openness to talk about anything. We have to start talking that way if we want to make the kinds of changes we need to deal.”

Diversifying the narrative of the political realm in NB is something that Coon aims to do, even in a system he sees as dangerously broken. He believes this to be an alienating disenchantment of the province, one that is no longer engaged or contributing to solutions. He wants to be a new voice, and he’s more than ready to make a change.

Though he’s weary as to whether the change wants to make will be fundamental or not, he is hopeful that it will be a step in that direction – perhaps creating an interesting election for 2018. But for now, Coon just wants to focus on the present.

“Other fundamental change can happen politically outside of elections around engagement. Our democracy needs to function every day, not just every four years.”

Originally written for a class at St. Thomas University.

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