The first rule of politics: don’t ever waste a good crisis! In exercising the need to continue to cultivate voter support, times of crisis present a magnificent opportunity to curry favor with voters and potential voters. The longer the “crisis period”, the more opportunity for elected officials to raise the level of their political capital or spend it.
Such has been the case with the Covid-19 pandemic. In Canada we have been spared the drama that seems to play out in some jurisdictions; in some of these situations the stakes are enormous and competition for air time and influence is beyond anything we can fathom in New Brunswick.
But clearly, as the Canadian version of pandemic drama unfolds we see where “the ship is leaking” and the best that can be done now is to mitigate the risk and damage. In Canada, the eyes are clearly on Long Term Care. Covid-19 has brought deaths amongst seniors and residents of long-term care facilities to the fore. Thankfully, New Brunswick has been spared this drama in long term care.
In May 2021 we will go to the polls to elect our municipal council leaders in New Brunswick. I have great admiration for all who are putting their hats in the ring; serving in municipal leadership is not as glamorous as other highly visible appointments might seem but the issues are serious, particularly in these days of social and political change and unrest.
Following a career spanning 50 years in health care leadership in three provinces and now with the added exposure of multiple post-retirement assignments, including writing columns for Brunswick News, a few have suggested that I run for a seat on the health authority board. That was from the few who actually are aware that some health authority board members are actually elected in the Municipal election process. Some say that my columns and book help them to understand issues that otherwise are dealt with in brief news articles or video clips.
I did think about it……I actually got the nomination papers and had enough people to sign to make it legal.
Minister Shepard was quoted in Savannah Awde’s article on March 23rd as suggesting perhaps a correlation between outbreaks in long term care facilities and learning curve. By that, I expect she was suggesting that staff had to learn about proper use of PPE and other elements in mitigating spread of infection in care facilities.
She made a good point. Everyone in the health and long-term care systems and their regulators, the Departments of Health and Social Development, the learning curve has been long, steep, and difficult. Going back to the early days of pandemic, mid-March 2020, all that the world knew for sure, including WHO, Centres for Disease Control, Dr. Fauci, Dr. Tam and thousands of other “experts”, was that there was a virus on the loose, originating in Wuhan, China where the that government’s official line was: “Not contagious between people; it’s controllable and preventable.”
There is a strong body of opinion amongst fiscal conservatives in New Brunswick that the provincial budget should be balanced and the debt should be reduced if not eliminated. I have had that discussion with several strong advocates of that position and the logic is clear. The overwhelming interest on debt could build nursing homes, it could free us from fiscal bondage, it is just the prudent business strategy for government. These same advocates point out, correctly, that any business that carries debt at the level carried by the province would be in deep trouble if not bordering on insolvency.
However, Government has the responsibility for a health and long-term care system, education system, provincial infrastructure, post-secondary education and much, much more. In each of those sectors, Health and Social Services representing nearly 50% of budget expenditures, structural cost growth happens year after year at 3-4 times inflation despite the best intentions of policy makers. To slow down the growth of debt or reduce it, government needs to find a way to generate operating surpluses year over year for quite a few years! Mr. Higgs was elected on his promise to get to fiscal stability and responsibility which meant trimming the debt and interest payments.
Ken McGeorge, BS,DHA,CHE is a career health care executive based in Fredericton, NB, Canada.