Pre-Budget Consultations Presentation to NB Finance Minister

Text of FAPO presentation to the Department of Finance, Pre-Budget Consultations made in Fredericton, NB, February 3, 2011

I am Dan Weston, coordinator and founding member of the Fredericton Anti-Poverty Organization (FAPO). FAPO has been in existence since 1983: that was the year that the government of Richard Hatfield initiated the first government-wide systemic cuts that we have now come to accept and expect with each successive Liberal and Conservative government.

In our view, budget cuts should be viewed as bad management and 28 years of them should be viewed as bankruptcy.

There is a symbiotic relationship between the people and the economy that must be upheld for the economic model to make any sense in a sustainable way, and it goes like this: it’s not only what you can do for the economy, it’s what the economy can do for you.

It is on the latter side of the axiom that the problem lies. What has this economic model done for New Brunswickers but give away their resources and mire the people and their government in debt and poverty?

FAPO is a member of the New Brunswick Common Front For Social Justice, which has similarly made presentations to this pre-budget consultation in Moncton and Bathurst. The Common Front’s presentation begins by placing New Brunswick’s debt in a people-first context. It then confronts the previous government’s idiotic income tax give-aways and stresses the importance of better social policies to meet the needs of the unemployed and those on state assistance, as well as the need for pay equity in the private sector. The Common Front’s presentation closes with a plea that if this new government is going to cut again, as have all other governments before it, please try to make the cuts fair.

So for those who were not at the Moncton and Bathurst meetings, I will reiterate the Common Front’s recommendations to Finance Minister Biggs just so that we’re all on the same page:

1- Don't cut the services and programs which help poor people

2- Keep raising the minimum wage

3- Put money in the next budget for increases to welfare rates

4- Discontinue the income tax cuts for individuals and corporation which were voted in 2009

5- Don’t raise the HST

But as far as the Fredericton Anti-Poverty Organization is concerned, we shouldn’t even be talking about cuts. We should be laying the groundwork to change the economic model. There is no economic security in the present model. There is no security in filling the shelves with products and food from outside the country while producing nothing here at home.

We are hostage to an international financial situation that is out of our control. We should be here today talking about building a core economy for New Brunswickers, instead of talking cutbacks driven by our slavery to an export-dependent economy.

There is certainly an economic challenge to be faced here in New Brunswick, but it is bigger than the debt problem: it is the very idea of financing the present by borrowing from the future. The practice is equivalent to lemmings heading for the cliff. In our case, the people of New Brunswick and the future generations who will be stuck paying the bills are the lemmings. They – WE - seem to exist for the benefit of the economy rather than the economy existing for the benefit of the people.

We need a government and a political party that will help the people instead of the corporations, We need a government and a political party that gives us the strength of a home economy rather than being hostage to other countries.

There is no strength in economic dependency whether you are a person on welfare or a government in hock up to its 9.2 billion dollar eyeballs. This debt is not the fault of the people who have accepted 28 years of cut backs. It is the fault of the two political parties and the economic model they have supported all these years. It is the model that is bankrupt and it is bankrupting our people.

I would also like to speak very briefly about the connection between the economy and the environment. In 2010, New Brunswick experienced several unprecedented weather incidents. Only two months ago, our family cottage on the province’s north shore nearly floated out to sea when the rising tide came within inches of picking it up off its supports. We were lucky. The neighbours lost their breakwater. Nobody in the area can recall seeing such widespread devastation caused by flooding. This same situation manifested itself throughout the province’s north-eastern coastal areas and in southern New Brunswick, St. George, especially, where the damage has yet to be caculated.

What is the connection between the economy and these disturbing weather patterns? Global warming. I am very afraid that if this government does not act now we will see more and more of these frightening incidents and their effect on our economy will be far more devastating than washed out bridges and cottages knocked off their foundations. It will be the end of the way of life that has been based for more than a hundred years, and especially so in the last 60 years since the beginning of the post-war baby boom, on a “borrow till you sink, shop till you drop” economic model.

IT’s TIME the short term fixes were dependent on a long term view that is not smothered by debt and that takes the economy and ecology together - because one of the inconvenient truths is that the ecology trumps the economy, not the other way around.

IT’s TIME we have a government that approaches from a position of strength because it knows what to do to strengthen our economy - rather than from a position of weakness because they don’t know what else to do except cut back because they are hostage to international finance.