Urgent Concerns Ignored in Premier Higgs’s State of the Province Address

Fredericton, NB – Today, CUPE NB and provincial local leadership held a press conference in response to Premier Blaine Higgs’s State of the Province address, which was delivered Thursday night in Fredericton.

CUPE NB Press Conference – Friday, January 26, 2024

“Despite record surpluses, the PC government’s negligent policies have created a perfect storm, leaving workers, seniors, rural residents, young families, and numerous others grappling with substantial challenges’” said Stephen Drost, President of CUPE NB, which represents over 27,000 unionized workers. “We expected the Premier to come clean and admit that he has much to do to help residents, communities, and workers. That did not happen,” said Drost. “Instead, he thinks he can buy working families’ votes by mailing them a one-time $300 cheque. This barely scratches the surface of the damage he has done to low-income families, from his insistence on low wages in bargaining to his removal of rent protections,” said Drost.

Healthcare was among the pressing issues the Premier mentioned, yet, he has not said he would end his reliance on private agencies like Medavie and travel nurses. “He thinks the number one priority is the digitization of medical files, while we have critical understaffing and underpayment in care, particularly the nursing home sector, which worsens the healthcare crisis,” said Drost. “The province must first stop the bleeding. This requires direct funds to help workers and improve the public services all residents need,” he added.

Education and child welfare, essential pillars of our society, are also in jeopardy. The slow progress in building new school spaces, coupled with staff shortages affecting cleanliness and transportation, reveals a lack of commitment to our children’s future. “Social services, including child protection units, are understaffed, compromising the care for our most vulnerable citizens,” said Drost.

Workers’ rights and wages are consistently disrespected, with below-inflation wage growth for the majority. Premier Higgs’s government’s approach of imposing contract changes through legislation erodes collective bargaining rights, as seen in the glaring example of Bill 17.

CUPE NB notes how the lack of rent protection intensifies the struggle for affordable housing, affecting workers across the income spectrum. Let’s not forget how NB has one of the lowest minimum wages and among the weakest consumer rights protections in Canada. “This all compounds the challenges faced by residents,” said Drost. “More than ever, we need a government ready to invest in the well-being of those contributing to the province’s prosperity: working people,” he concluded.