With tens of thousands of New Brunswickers living in poverty, anti-poverty activists advocating to help improve wages, working and living conditions say the provincial election campaign is ignoring those issues
Jean-Claude Basque, provincial coordinator of the New Brunswick Common Front for Social Justice said few candidates are even talking about it.
"Not a lot, it's kind of unbelievable, but the whole issue of low income workers, poverty, even the question of women [living in poverty] is almost non-existent, especially in the four debates that we saw," said Basque.
He points out a third of the employees in New Brunswick are making less than $15 an hour, one in seven people are low income and half of the population are women.
"So it's quite disturbing to see that it's not really part of the debate right now."
While Basque said some of the parties platforms include specific proposals, the issue of poverty was almost nonexistent in the debates.
Regression from 2018
Frances LeBlanc, chair of the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity said not addressing these issues is a regression from the last provincial election in 2018 when they were discussed.
"It is especially glaring considering when we just are sort of in the tail end or maybe just at the start of a second wave, which has really disproportionately impacted women and those who are low income and really accentuated existing inequities.
So if there's any time to talk about these really important issues it would be now and we're really surprised that it is not a more prominent place during the debates and so forth."
Basque said both the Green Party and the New Democratic Party say in their platforms they want to incrementally increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour and change employment standards.
"We don't have any paid sick leave and we know with COVID-19, that was a big issue."
Party platforms needed early
The Green Party has also proposed a guaranteed livable income and the NDP proposed a 10 per cent increase in the basic rate, all concrete proposals, Basque said. He said third party platforms can push the Liberals and Conservatives to consider similar ideas.
Basque also took issue with the Progressive Conservative Party releasing its platform with just four days left in the campaign.
Basque said those platforms are needed early in the campaign so people can look at them and ask questions.
Impact on rural workers
LeBlanc said regardless of who forms the next government, she hopes the discussion around economic recovery addresses how women have been affected by the pandemic, and what that means for affordable childcare, paid sick leave and pay equity legislation.
Susan Machum, dean of social sciences at St. Thomas University, said expecting families living on minimum wages to buy laptops, even with a subsidy is a big cost. She points out the return to school plan adds an extra challenge on what low income families living in rural areas face with transportation issues, reorganizing of work schedules and more.
"So it again exacerbates the challenges that the rural poor have in terms of meeting expectations for responding to this crisis, the COVID-19 crisis."
Machum said rural Canadians have identified transportation as a huge issue in coping with the economic and social challenges. She'd like to see more discussion on that issue, as well as internet and cell phone connectivity.
"It's expensive, it's not very reliable and yet again there's a call for students to be working from home and working independently."
Basque said people living in poverty often are not engaged when there is an election campaign and some don't vote. He adds the political parties are not doing enough to reach them.
"It's a big issue for the democratic process. How do we reach out to people that are living in poverty or that are at a lower income?"
LeBlanc said trust among the electorate is relatively low right now.
"There is a growing apathy so certainly some of the partisan rhetoric that we're seeing, not addressing key issues that are important to the electorate, is not helping in the engagement of the population within the democratic process."
She added having a short electoral campaign also doesn't really give people the time to really grasp ideas and ask questions and engage with their candidates.
"Certainly COVID and and the lack of in-person events also sort of increases that apathy and that disengagement."