New Brunswick 2019 Provincial Budget Analysis from a Femme Wonk

Show me your budget and I'll tell you what you value.png

Working in the Premier’s Office was sort of like being a turtle.

I started the role as an ambitious, outspoken change-maker ready to change the world. I dutifully updated my LinkedIn profile and almost immediately the trolling started — which is when I turned into a turtle. I was inside of a shell all the time — scared to put myself into the outside world, scared that I had been boiled down to a partisan without her own ideas. To be clear, it wasn't my coworkers or boss that made me feel this way. It was the internet.

Creating Femme Wonk has been a way to me to shed the shell and build back my confidence. It also provides an outlet for me to share my story and to pull back the curtains.

As a young woman working in politics, I had few role models. Role models matter and they matter more than just confirmation that women can hold the top job. A former Obama staffer, Alyssa Mastromonaco recently released her second book and like her first, it is such a cathartic read. It too pulls the curtains back in a way that is empowering for young women in politics. Check it out.

So… The budget — or the Super Bowl for policy wonks and political staff. How can we pull the curtain back on Budget 2019? I’ve had the privilege to be involved in the last three New Brunswick provincial budgets first as an advocate and second as a political staff. Now I’m watching from the side lines trying to provide an educated analysis for Femme Wonk listeners and clients.

Let’s start with some cheeky lessons and then I’ll give a deeper analysis of my thoughts.

Lesson 1 Budget lock-ups

So each budget day begins with a budget lock-up. The government of the day invites stakeholders and media to (typically separate) lock-in’s where they get a copy of the budget estimates, a briefing by the finance minister, and access to departmental staff. Basically, this allows folks to ask questions and get clarification before the budget is tabled in the legislature. For advocates this is when you find out if your advocacy efforts worked and if the budget will be funding the programs you’ve been asking for. This is also when you find out that you didn’t get the money you’ve been asking for.

Lesson 2: Budget ties

This was an odd lesson to learn…apparently some of the men in politics have a budget tie that they wear every year. I guess this makes sense in keeping with the sport metaphors — it’s game day. I decided to opt for a budget dress instead. I considered wearing it today, but I work from home now and I don’t think my Femme Wonk cactus cares what I look like.

Lesson 3: Themes

Although it seems like a budget would actually be a money exercise, it isn’t. Sure billions of taxpayer dollars are being allocated (or cut) to really important programs, but budgets are about setting the tone for the government’s mandate. Look no further than the colours used for the documents and the titles chosen. Governments use throne speeches to communicate important themes and budgets as the action plan to implement those themes.

Budget Analysis — New Brunswick

With a larger than anticipated equalization tranfer from the federal government, the New Brunswick government presented a balanced budget without having to make many cuts.

That being said — there are various positives and negatives in regards to gender equality.

Highlights

The money to maintain the investments in early childhood education will continue. This includes free childcare for families with a household income of $37,500 or less and a sliding scale moving up from there. It also includes an investment in early learning educators, and centres of excellence. We talk more about this program here.

Minimum wage will continue to go up on April 1, 2019

There will be an increase of $16 million for wages to home support workers which are almost entirely women, however there was no mention of enhancements to pay equity for New Brunswick women. You can learn more about pay equity here.

The Women’s Equality Branch is getting ~$250k more; however it looks like that is directly at the expense of the New Brunswick Women’s Council who will receive a cut of about that much. The New Brunswick Women’s Council is an independent advisory council that undertook the first of its kind public engagement exercise last year to highlight the lived experience of New Brunswick women.

Social Development will see money leaving its department through child welfare, disability support, income assistance, affordable housing, and wellness. Many would argue these programs were already over subscribed so a cut will undoubtedly hurt some of the most vulnerable populations in New Brunswick. Single mothers still make up the largest cohort of persons living in poverty in New Brunswick. These changes will inevitably have a larger impact on women.

Other observations

Opportunities New Brunswick will maintain its level of funding for financial aid which seems to be in danger of cuts. Tourism is losing out on about $7.5 million at a time when tourism is emerging as an industry. All legislative officers will receive increases in their budgets except the integrity commissioner which holds the responsibility of implementing MLAs’ conflict of interest, the lobby registry, and privacy and access to information.

What’s missing

Inclusion.

This budget lacks a real move towards equity. As has become the custom with this government, gender equality seems non-existent. Much of the changes to this budget would have benefited from a gender based analysis. It is unfortunate that forward momentum on gender equality seems to be off the table. Small steps like an increase in wages for home support workers are met with set backs like the lack of desire to discuss pay equity. Just because you are supporting one section of the population doesn't mean that others have to lose.

We also didn’t hear much about immigration and population growth. The budget maintains its funding for population growth, but welcoming communities is a critical part of this work.

The Office of the Official Language Commissioner saw a budget increase, but we didn’t hear much about a plan to reduce tension and promote bilingualism across the province.

We also missed mention of support for First Nations although this government appointed a stand alone ministry responsible.

We saw that poverty reduction and homelessness were left off the radar even though affordable housing continues to be a concern to many communities in New Brunswick.

And we saw nothing for folks living with a disability.

We cannot balance the budget on the backs of New Brunswickers. We cannot expect the province to grow and prosper when we leave people behind.