New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative government promised in a throne speech Tuesday that measures are coming to improve health care and education as the legislature begins a new session.
In a speech delivered by Lt.-Gov. Brenda Murphy, the government of Premier Blaine Higgs also said it recognizes the “importance of New Brunswick as Canada’s only officially bilingual province.”
The comment came nearly two weeks after Dominic Cardy resigned as education minister and accused Higgs of wanting to “dangerously accelerate” the end of French immersion in schools across the province.
The speech provided few specifics but included a pledge to ensure there is a program that will see all students graduate with a “conversational level of French.”
The government also said it would provide a response during the legislative session to recommendations submitted by two commissioners on the Official Languages Act.
“The (commissioners’) review has been comprehensive with recommendations that impact the day-to-day lives of New Brunswickers in workplaces, schools and municipal operations,” Murphy said.
On the economic front, the speech said that with the province’s debt now lowered to $12.4 billion, New Brunswick is better positioned to continue “prudent” spending in priority areas.
The government said the province’s total public and private capital investment is anticipated to grow by 7.2 per cent this year to almost $4.2 billion.
Murphy said the province’s improved financial position would allow the government to introduce further reductions to personal income and property taxes during the legislative session.
Part of the government’s plan is to push for “responsible development” of the province’s untapped shale gas resources to feed a proposed liquefied natural gas export facility.
“As governments seek to transition off coal, our natural gas supply could provide an excellent clean and reliable alternative,” the speech said. “Your government is eager to work with Indigenous and other stakeholders to make this a reality.”
In health care, the government said it will work to provide people without a family doctor greater access to primary care through NB Health Link, which provides in-person, telephone and online appointments while they wait for a permanent physician.
With an increase in immigration to the province, the government said it will also work to eliminate the backlog for newcomers registering for medicare coverage. It said the goal is to be issuing health cards within 60 days of receiving applications by February.
There is also a pledge to increase access to surgery through a new electronic referral program that will connect patients to the first available surgeon or will allow them to wait for a specific surgeon.
Other legislative changes would expand service delivery in community clinics in order to improve access to services such as blood sample collection and cataract surgeries, while there is also a commitment to increase the public reporting of data on service levels and outcomes.
In education, the government is planning legislative changes to “clarify language” around strike votes, strikes, lockouts and designated workers to ensure continuity of school services.
There are also planned changes to the Education Act in order to modernize the governance of the anglophone school system.
“Your government will review any required changes to the francophone sector in the year ahead,” Murphy said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 25, 2022.
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