Is Premier Gallant crazy like a fox? A look at the communications around the seniors and nursing homes issue
Is Premier Gallant crazy like a fox, really doesn’t know, or is he simply bad at communications? Either way, he’s got seniors worried about their futures, over his budget measure of removing the cap of $113 a day for residing in a nursing home.
The government says the vulnerable will continue to be protected but that they want those who can afford to pay a little more to do so. But the lack of any kind of substantive response in the face of questions, from the Opposition and from organizations that represent seniors, has done nothing to alleviate these concerns.
The government accuses the Opposition of fear mongering, and no question the rhetoric on this is in overdrive.
Interim Opposition leader Bruce Fitch calls it an “attack on seniors”. That’s mild compared to comments from the NDP’s Dominic Cardy who calls it an attack on the most vulnerable, adding “New Brunswick seniors have worked hard their whole lives to build up their own contingency funds and are now having them stolen by the Liberal government”.
That may be a gross exaggeration, but it is consistent with what is being said on social media by the hundreds.
In Question Period, the Opposition has been pushing – asking exactly how much money does the government want to collect from seniors through this policy change? Responses range from the Premier saying that will all come out when the legislature reviews the department’s estimates, to Social Development Minister Kathy Rogers saying those policies haven’t been developed yet.
Again, nothing there to put seniors worries over this to rest.
There was an interesting back and forth during Question Period between the Premier and Fitch yesterday on this business of the details being held back until Estimates. Here’s an abbreviated version:
Gallant: We will be glad to go into detail about the costs during estimates
Fitch: He is hiding secret numbers that he cannot or will not give today. It is a general question that should be answered here in question period.
Gallant: I have been the Leader of the Opposition, and I have asked questions that would be similar, to get the numbers during question period. I can tell you that I was told I would have to wait for estimates.
Fitch: When the Premier was in Opposition, he continued to say: I will do government differently. If he is accusing us of hiding behind the estimates, he is doing exactly the same, and we expected more.
So what we have here is the Opposition saying – you are as bad as we were, and that we expected you to be better. Really?
Not sure who wins that little bit of sparing. But back to the more important point.
The government’s explanation is that all this amounts to, is asking those who can afford it to pay a bit more for nursing home care to do so. That idea isn’t flying. In the absence of solid information, middle class seniors are wondering if they will be considered capable of paying more and if so, how much will the government take, and will all their savings eventually be depleted?
There are only a couple of reasons why the government would make this budget announcement and then let seniors spin in the wind while waiting to see whether they will be spared. It’s either because they haven’t worked out those details yet, as the Minister suggests, or because the Premier’s strategy is to allow them to continue to think the worst, and then when the hit isn’t that bad they will feel relieved. It’s an old Premier McKenna trick. For what it's worth, I doubt this is the case, but it's hard to fathom why the government wouldn't do more to alleviate seniors' worries, and silence the critics.
Whatever the reason, what’s lost amid the angst is the government’s message that it is being fair and transparent.
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