Courier opinion: Fairy Tale of New Brunswick; Higgs state of the province

**This editorial ran in the Tuesday, Feb. 16 edition of The Saint Croix Courier

Well, here we are, on another crummy weather Tuesday, and I feel like it’s been more than a week since we last spoke. So much has transpired since last week, I’m genuinely at a bit of a loss as to what to start with, and what I think I can be succinct (well, my version of succinct) about.

It all has to do with stories I’m working on for upcoming editions, and information I’ve only partially combed through, so I don’t have all the details I might like, and which stories converged with Premier Blaine Higgs state of the province speech last week.

I guess I’ll start with that. First, here are some things you need to know about me. I watch every, and I mean every, Government of New Brunswick live briefing, event, speech, what-have-you. And over the many months (11 now, to be precise) I have spent hour upon hour soaking in what our elected and appointed officials have to say, be it on COVID-19, petrol prices, Irving, the Milltown Dam (yep, I’m working on that, too) and I’ve learned two important things along the way. The first is that 2 to 3 p.m. in the afternoon is a bad time of day for me. I’m get up and function well early in the day, and am productive through lunch, and often in the evening. But that witching hour of 3 p.m. is when my brain likes to check out for an hour and reset.

The second is that I am a poor sleeper in general, and I’ve discovered my number one sleep aid; listening to Higgs speak. The man is the antithesis of oratory fireworks and when he’s talking at 3 p.m., I’m struggling to focus, and frankly remain awake.

So, when he gave his state of the province last week at 3 p.m., I knew I was doomed from the start. And although I made it through, I found the speech…tough to take. First, he had a very “the best – is yet – to come” camber to his delivery, and I found myself questioning many of his statements out loud as though he could hear me.

The $20 million investment in small nuclear reactors while local small businesses are having to close their doors due to the pandemic was a head scratcher for me, and his comments of having to wait to read the studies on the state of housing issues in the province also made me wonder how out of touch a premier can be.

One of the other stories I’m working on for next week is following up a housing study on our region done by the Southwest New Brunswick Service Commission, highlighting the housing issues we face here in our own region. And almost daily I receive emails from tenant associations who have already conducted studies and have statistics showing the issues of housing insecurity, rent hike issues and eviction problems facing New Brunswickers today.

How Higgs can say – with a straight face – that he needs to wait and read a study to decide what his opinion on the subject is reeks of putting his head in the sand to me. I also think it’s Higgs speak for “I won’t be doing anything about it.”

Where do I get my proof for such a comment? Based on the number of times I’ve heard Higgs say it about any number of other issues. Assisting small businesses during COVID-19 is one topic Higgs wants “the details” on before making amendments to the current Opportunities New Brunswick grant program, and if you want a bigger topic, how many times have we heard Higgs say he just wants to “see the numbers” or “see a detailed plan” or “talk with the stakeholders” in regards to the Campobello ferry?

I’m fairly certain he’s been towing that line since, lets be conservative and say May of 2020, and I’m here to tell you there has been no formal movement on the ferry issue and I would also go so far as to say island residents shouldn’t be betting much that there will be.

Our province, as are so many others, is hurting due to COVID-19. But we can’t forget we were hurting pretty badly prior to the pandemic as well. I haven’t looked today, but we were previously the poorest province in the country, and it’s not long ago Charlotte County was the poorest county in the poorest province in the country.

Higgs needs to stop talking about how great we’re doing and start focusing on the issues of housing, the ferry, employment, food security, helping small businesses and a litany of other issues (making Irving pay it’s fair share of taxes…) before telling us how great we’re doing.

At this point, the best is not what’s coming.

Krisi Marples