Common Front for Social Justice

For Immediate Publication

No Difference between the previous and current government in fighting poverty

The current Liberal government was elected in September 2006. NB citizens expected it would bring improvement to social conditions. One year later, we’re still waiting for progress.

From the perspective of the Common Front, there has been no significant change in the transition from a Conservative to a Liberal government, for the simple reason that both parties (and the governments they form) adhere equally to the neo-liberal ideology, and so their thinking is strongly influenced by the American right.

Since the current government has come to power, citizen groups have constantly been asking for measures to protect the most deprived in our province. Social justice groups are feeling the need to mobilize.

In the area of social rights, nothing has been done. The Common Front is calling for a province-wide consultation that will lead to an in-depth reform and the enhanced funding of social programs, so that poor people can regain their status as honourable members of society.

Income support measures are perpetuating insecurity. A measly 3% increase in social assistance rates doesn’t mean much when increases in the price of electricity, gas, and insurance as well as service charges for all kinds of permits, are grabbing back so much more than that. Overall, buying power has decreased. Repeated calls to index the benefits to the cost of living have been entirely ignored.

Governments, this one as well as the previous one, continue to refuse to bring fundamental modifications to the structure and delivery of NB’s major social programs, and the province’s fight against poverty therefore remains a superficial effort.

The concept of “work for food”, inspired by the McKenna regime, was widely promoted by the subsequent Conservative government and now by the present government. The belief continues to be strongly held that everyone is theoretically able to work, and that an ever-so-slight increase in income will convince recipients to get a job. On the contrary, these insignificant measures serve to make people even more insecure, because former recipients end up working at minimum wage while losing the few benefits that were previously guaranteed to them, medical coverage in particular.

Since the current government was elected, conditions have not improved for people with various disabilities, other than physical or emotional. These people are classified in a category that is ironically called “transitional” when it is obvious that they will be on social assistance until they turn 65.

The threat to privatize parts of the public service has never loomed as dangerously as it does now. The Common Front is currently warning the general population of the perverse effects of privatization. The private sector, as we know, has absolutely no moral responsibility to serve citizens adequately. Its bottom line is its rule of order and there is no flexibility to be expected, no matter what happens in the community. Private interests are impervious to lobbying and are in no way committed to offer services of comparable quality to the whole population.

The current government is as insensitive as the previous one to the injustice created by its policies, such as the one that reduces benefits to those who wish to share accommodations to save on expenses. Because all they have done is to pursue the preceding government’s policies, our elected representatives have brought practically no change to NB’s unfair social policies.

This government is as unyielding as its predecessors in such areas as risk prevention, wider promotion of its social services and establishment of fair policies for the whole province. Files are closed abruptly, on a report by an informer, leaving people without any income; emergency assistance is tight-fisted, exceptional cases are not assessed on their merits, appeal procedures violate the principles of natural justice and policies are incomprehensible to common folk because they lack transparency and clarity.

No enhancement has been brought to services for young children with learning difficulties. Because of the scarcity of professional services, the academic progress of these children is compromised. Other social programs such as suicide prevention, literacy programs and home repair plans are still embryonic and under-funded.

The former Conservative government had opened the door to out-sourcing and the current government is choosing the same orientation. By thus following its policy of not replacing civil servants who have reached retirement age (attrition), it is weakening our public services.

Despite the current government’s numerous consultations, rural communities are still left to their own, same as before. Government has not proposed any economic intervention that would help stem depopulation and promote regional development. The socio-economic gap between some regions and the provincial average is as marked as it ever was, as can be seen in the areas of income security, school drop-out rates, level of protection for women and children at risk, number of suicides, number of unstable jobs and percentage of under-educated people, all these in themselves being a prime source of inequity.

All measures currently being pursued run counter to a long-awaited reform that would improve the social protection offered to individuals and reduce poverty in this province. Governing in the wake of their predecessors, members of the current government are reluctant to respond to urgent demands by social groups for policies that respond to the special needs of people across the province.

Linda McCaustlin, co-chair of the Common Front for Social Justice

John Gagnon, co-chair of the Common Front for Social Justice