Courier opinion: To our provincial leaders: Do better

Our provincial government, lauded for it’s “handling” of the pandemic (that veil is thin, lemme tell you), isn’t our saviour. Rather, it is utterly and completely failing us.

I have two main points this week, one to segue into another, both dismal, one tragic. Both to be laid at the feet of a provincial government who seem to have catastrophically failed to understand the crux of both issues, and that has done nothing to truly address either.

I’ll start with the dismal. Last week the province announce the provincial minimum wage would be going from $11.70 to $11.75 per hour.

Once I got over the incredulous laughter, I let the information digest, and the fact is what the Higgs government has done is offer nothing more than a slap in the face to those who exist on minimum wage jobs. A $0.o5 increase over a 37.5 hour week equates to, before taxes, $1.88. In what world is that $1.88 nothing other than an insult to the working poor in the province who have kept our grocery stores functioning, our petrol stations, our box stores…the list goes on.

The workers who are paid minimum wage are the very people Higgs referred to as “heroes” and “essential workers” early on in the pandemic, as they put themselves in harms way to ensure we could shop. Which is funny, because they didn’t do it to be heroes, they did it because as working poor, they had no choice but to continue showing up every day, despite having little intel at the time as to exactly how contagious, virulent, devastating etc. COVID-19 could, or would, be.

And if you are labouring under the false pretense minimum wage jobs are the bastion of the part-time, student held position, then you have no comprehension of the economic and employment state of this province.

Minimum wage jobs are held largely by adults who are working full-time, trying to make ends meet in a province where they pay some of the highest property tax, income tax, and power rates in the country.

A quick check shows only Saskatchewan has a lower hourly rate…but also far lower residential property tax rates.

Another quick, and rudimentary check shows your $11.75 per hour earns you $22,912 annually, before any taxes. In New Brunswick, you will pay $1,408 income tax on that number, and in Saskatchewan, the same annual income would lose $926.

So yes, Saskatchewan may have a lower minimum wage, but you will keep more of it, and still come out ahead. It is a lack of fundamental understanding on the part of our provincial government of it’s residents, and where to put it’s funding. It’s not good enough.

Which brings me to the segue of tragedy. Last week, New Brunswick lost a beautiful 16-year-old girl, Lexi Daken. I can’t tell her whole story here, but the crux is Lexi was suffering with mental health issues. She was taken to the emergency room of a New Brunswick hospital (does it matter which one? This would repeat across the province) by her guidance counsellor who was concerned for Lexi’s mental health (side note – her father intended to relieve the teacher and sit with his daughter, but COVID protocols at that hospital didn’t allow the switch out between people).

After an eight hour wait, having seen no one, not had a mental health evaluation (every doctor, during their residency, does a psychiatric rotation…there’s no excuse for not having someone available to perform a cursory evaluation), a nurse essentially asked if Lexi and her teacher really required staff to call someone from psychiatry in, and that it would be another two hour wait, but here’s a phone number and you can talk to someone in a couple of weeks.

Her hospital visit happened on a Thursday. The following Tuesday, Lexi was gone. Feeling like a burden, and that there was no alternative, this beautiful girl took her own life. For those who don’t comprehend where a person has to be mentally to commit suicide, well, have good luck traversing the world in your blinkered bubble.

Lexi was failed. Failed by our provincial government who prioritize funds for nuclear reactors over mental health programs. And yes, I am aware Health Minister Dorothy Shephard announced a new mental health plan for the province that will roll out over the next five years and to that I say two things: I’ll believe it when I see it, and too little, too late.

I know from discussions with friends who have lived in New Brunswick all their lives (yes, I am a recent transplant) and have attempted to access mental health support services that this province has been woefully lacking for decades. Adult friends today have had to jump through hoops and beg for access to mental health care in the province, and the begging for one resulted in being given the phone number for a psychology student in Moncton – a student to whom this person was to have little access and who was ill-equipped to help her.

Our government today and our governments of the past have failed us on an epic level. This current Higgs government utterly failed Lexi. I put her loss at their feet. We spend tens of millions of tax dollars supporting two distinct healthcare authorities – and yet there wasn’t anyone available over an eight hour span of time to talk to a 16-year-old child in crisis?

To our provincial leaders; shame on you. My heart breaks for Lexi and her family. It also breaks for those who are being failed by a callous system that in 2021 has neglected to prioritize mental health services in this province.

You failed this girl, and you are failing this province.

We don’t want your empty “thoughts and prayers”. We want your action. Do better.

Krisi Marples