In December, I pledged as my New Year’s resolutions to fight against child poverty and to be a strong voice for New Brunswick women. The New Democratic Party’s first platform plank gives me a running start towards meeting these pledges.
In November, the NDP announced that we would implement a $15 per hour minimum wage. Thirty-six percent of all workers in New Brunswick make less than $15 and typically 50% more women than men fall into this category. Raising the minimum wage will go a long way towards achieving pay equity for the women making the lowest wages and allowing them to live in dignity.
The Saint John Human Development Council released its report on child poverty in November called The Face of Child Poverty in New Brunswick. New Brunswick has some of the highest child poverty rates in Canada with Campbellton and Saint John having eye-popping 33.9% and 30% respectively in 2015. Saint John’s Wards 2 and 3 have child poverty rates of 41.4% and 45.3% and 49.4% of children belonging to single parent families live in poverty. Not surprisingly, one of the key recommendations in their report is to raise the minimum wage.
But it’s not just about fighting poverty, it’s good for the economy too. Many of the lowest paying jobs are in retail, tourism and service industries. When people work for larger corporations, the profits earned off their backs quickly leave this province. An extra dollar in the pocket of a low wage New Brunswicker will be re-spent and recycled into the local economy. People who buy services will likely not be deterred by a few extra cents on the cost of their meal or a dollar on the price of a service.
Some of the feedback we have received is about the burden this places on small businesses. The NDP would phase the increase in over four years and would look at ways to mitigate some of the more difficult transitions. However, when we look at other jurisdictions who raised base salaries, small and local businesses still flourish and the statistics do not support doom and gloom prophesies. As a former small business person, I know that a stable and motivated work force –where employees don’t have to work several jobs to make ends meet – is good for business.
The NDP is also taking a good hard look at the healthcare industry. We are increasingly concerned by the Gallant government’s tendency towards privatization. As the dollars flow from the federal health ministry, they are subject to the Canada Health Act and should be administered by the government. This legislation was enacted for good reason: public servants serve the public while private companies serve their shareholders. It is clear to us, as it was to medicare’s founder Tommy Douglas, that it’s worth fighting for a well administered and well managed public healthcare system.
The NDP also pledges to enact comprehensive reform to the property tax system. The continued mis-steps of the Gallant government hit property owners and small businesses first with outrageous increases and then finally passed through to a tax freeze on municipalities who have to balance their budgets making painful cuts to services.
Nowhere has this hit harder than in Saint John where starting with the hiring of an American firm to low ball Canaport LNG’s property taxes through to the property tax freeze, it is hard to imagine this file being managed worse.
I look forward to talking to you about your priorities in the coming months are we ramp up for September’s election.
Jennifer McKenzie, New Brunswick New Democratic Party Leader