When the knives, unsheathed, flash in the political moonlight they somehow sink deeper than those that plunge in the noonday sun.
And so it was last week that two, lifelong New Brunswick Liberals – Bernard Richard and Michael Murphy – sharpened their shivs and stuck them into the current, Grit provincial government over its decision to locate a youth treatment centre in Campbellton, rather than Moncton.
According to a CBC report last week, “Former child and youth advocate Bernard Richard says the decision to build a youth mental health facility in Campbellton is ‘the worst public policy decision’ he’s witnessed in a long time.
The new $12.6-million facility will be built in the same area as the Campbellton Regional Hospital, the province announced on Saturday. It will have 15 beds and offer outreach treatment to other areas in the province.
“Richard has wanted to see a youth mental health facility established for close to a decade and was excited last year when the government announced it would build one. But after learning the location would be in Campbellton, Richard says he was distraught because of its close proximity to Restigouche Hospital Centre, which is a psychiatric hospital.
“’After the youth detention centre in Miramichi, it’s probably the worst place due to the issues of stigmatization and institutionalization,’” says Richard. “In January, Richard and a colleague canvassed mental health professionals to see what they wanted for a new facility. They made recommendations to the government to build the facility in Moncton where access to two hospitals, in both languages would be available.”
Again, for the CBC, erstwhile Liberal MLA and once-contender to the provincial crown, Michael Murphy added: “As a former minister of health I can tell you how hard it is to get specialists to go to our urban centres versus Toronto – let alone Campbellton,” (he) wrote in one of a series of tweets that suggested the Gallant government was putting ‘politics first, kids second’ with the decision.”
Of course, both men are absolutely correct.
As politically convenient as this profoundly wrong-headed decision is, most people in this province don’t live and work in the north; they ply their trades, professions and economic opportunities in the south – in Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton.
What’s more, decades of deliberate government policy designed to build so-called “centres of private-sector excellence”, academic research institutes, and incubators of culture (for both French and English) in the southeast and southwest of this province have produced predictable results: a compelling influx of educated Francphones from the north into Dieppe; an equally persuasive wave of skilled Anglophones from the north into Moncton, Riverview, Saint John and even Fredericton.
Like it or not, southern New Brunswick is where it’s all happening (if “happening” is the correct word in a province that still nurses a debt-to-equity ratio that rivals Greece’s).
Now, more than ever before, we must build on what we’ve done right and locate critical, public, social services in those communities where most people reside.
Greater Moncton’s civic population now tops out at 138,000 people. That’s nearly as many who live in Prince Edward Island. That’s more than three times as many who reside in Edmundston, Bathurst and Campbellton, N.B., combined.
Forcing “youths at risk” to travel from their southern homes to their northern treatment centre, several times a week, as much as five hours per trip, to receive an hour or two of succour, seems to me cruel an unusual.
At the very least, it’s poor public policy, weakened even more by political gamesmanship.
This is, of course, what Messrs. Richard and Murphy are driving at.
Their knives may be sharp.
Still, their points are true.