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Higgs promises new, one-time affordability benefit for low-income New Brunswickers in state of the province speech

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New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs delivered an upbeat state of the province speech to a crowd of 1,000 business and political leaders in Fredericton Thursday, full of figures he says shows the province is “stronger than ever.”

He began by mentioning the budget this year is “$2.3 billion higher than when we put forth our first budget five years ago.” Higgs said health is up 27 per cent, education 29 per cent, and social development 35 per cent.

He recognized the pros and cons to a growing population, identifying the strain on housing and health care. But he did mention some new programs and additions, including a one-time “affordability measure” of $300 that could benefit up to 265,000 low-income households with a net income of $70,000 or less in the province, with a price tag of $79.5 million.

“There's things I would like to see changed that's causing this affordability problem, and I guess the point I wanted to raise is that we recognize and are sympathetic to what people, especially working families, that's why it's $70,000 a year, and that's why we did the same thing with the heat pumps, it was at that threshold, trying to make it cheaper for working families to live in the province,” he told reporters after the speech.

Higgs said he’s aiming for the cheque to be in most New Brunswickers’ pockets by the end of this quarter.

There were two new promises for the health-care sector, including the expansion of the MyHealthNB app. The app was developed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic so people could show their vaccination status. Now, people will be able to see test results and all vaccination records, and Higgs promised it will soon show emergency department and diagnostic imaging wait times.

He also said they are preparing to double capacity for adult addiction rehabilitation, and they will be introducing a new program that will offer four-to-six month rehabilitation programming. That will start with 50 new beds and, over the long-term, will treat 100 to 140 people a year, depending on length of stays. He promised more details in the spring.

Higgs told reporters after his speech that he wants to be able to guarantee New Brunswickers have access to critical care within national benchmarks – although, to achieve that, they may have to travel to a different place in the province.

“The point is that we accept substandard performance on critical care and we shouldn’t. I can't define the critical care items, but I would like to work with medical professionals that can. And, if in a particular region, because a lot of what I talked about is a disjointed network,” he said. “If we can't get a certain procedure done here in Fredericton, then OK, can we get it done in Bathurst? Can we get it done in Woodstock, or Moncton, or wherever? But let’s not just look at our own silo.”

The province launched its 12-year energy strategy in December, but the premier said a new “hydrogen roadmap” will also be released next Tuesday, outlining how New Brunswick will become home to this “new energy source,” promising hydrogen hubs in Belledune and Saint John.

“Port of Belledune is now negotiating a lease agreement with Cross River and NextEra for a multi-billion hydrogen facility to begin production in 2028. We expect to see a comprehensive plan submitted for environmental approval and their project office is expected to open its doors this spring,” he said.

He named NB Power and its future as one of his five priorities, saying Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station needs some attention to ensure it’s operating consistently.

Higgs noted his other four priorities included fixing classroom composition within New Brunswick schools and creating a safer learning environment for teachers and students. He also said there’s a need to make gains in basic reading and math scores.

Number three was economic opportunity, where he promised to focus on opportunities that help New Brunswickers share in profits from natural resources.

His fourth priority was in mental health, pledging to create programs that will address addition and homelessness.

And finally, finding a patient-first approach to health care, one that “utilizes all of our resources, not a patchwork by community.”

Liberal Leader Susan Holt said Higgs painted a rosy picture of New Brunswick, “when New Brunswickers aren’t smelling the roses.”

“New Brunswickers are struggling and they want better health care and better education and we have a premier talking about an app as opposed to real solutions to address the challenges we’re facing,” she said.  

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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