“Data My Ass”. That’s the phrase that will follow Premier Higgs for the rest of his political career. But who knew it’s wasn’t just a comment dropped in a specific heated discussion about health care, but rather, his motus operandi for how to govern.
Policy 713 is a high profile example of this. This was a policy developed after years of research and review, put together by experts in the field from child psychologists to teachers and guidance counsellors. The policy was carefully constructed, not an afterthought. But that didn’t matter to the Premier and his Education Minister Bill Hogan, who chose to ignore the data and the concerns raised by various organizations and experts, and even the government’s own Child Advocate, that the change would make an already vulnerable population even more at risk. As you know, the changes require teachers and guidance counsellors to inform the parents of any child under 16 who wants to be referred to by a different name or pronoun at school. The result is that the kids will probably not risk confiding in someone who in some cases may be the only adult they otherwise felt comfortable talking to.
It’s a terrible position to put a teacher in, and hopefully the courts will determine the government is out of line.
And now, thanks to Brunswick News filing a Right to Information request, we find out that when Education Minister Hogan said the policy change was the result of hundreds of complaints, he really meant one. But who among us hasn’t exaggerated a little bit on occasion, I mean really?
But back to the research, the Journal of Adolescent Health published a study that found transgender youth who are able to use their preferred names and pronouns had a 65 per cent decrease in suicide attempts.
But that’s data and when it comes to Higgs’ government decisions, that doesn’t matter because “data my ass”.
But the Premier isn’t stopping at health care or at Policy 713.
The latest change the Premier wants to make also ignores extensive research to target yet another vulnerable population – people addicted to drugs.
The plan now is to introduce legislation that will force some drug addicts into treatment. This despite reams of literature collected over many years that clearly shows that this is a really, really bad idea. The research shows that when someone is forced into rehab when they aren’t ready for it, they come out and back to being homeless. So they go for a fix, but now their body isn’t as used to it, and often they overdose and die. That’s the reality.
In ignoring the experts and defending this idea, Public Safety Minister Kris Austin said “What we’re doing now is not effective… so simply turning a blind eye to these issues or … throwing up our hands is not the answer.”
That implies it’s one or the other, and that’s not much of a defence for a program that experts say is flawed at its core. But he’s right that turning a blind eye is not the answer. But know what is, providing affordable housing and mental health supports. The research clearly shows that the best path to beating addiction starts with the stability of a place to live. The Housing First philosophy that first a person needs a safe place to stay, with the necessary social and medical supports, and from there they are in a position to beat addiction.
Hell, you don’t have to look any farther than the success stories right here in Fredericton from the John Howard Society housing projects and the 21 Communities tiny homes initiative to see evidence that housing first works. You will find no such success record for forced, involuntary drug treatment.
But this is data again, and this is New Brunswick so I fear “data my ass” will prevail.
As well as the Higgs government pursuing forced drug treatment that the research shows will not work, money that could go to the root of these problems like housing, food security and mental health supports, will instead be spent on a shiny new prison so more people can be locked up. And no I’m not a bleeding heart. Of course we need jails, but it’s about doing a better job with prioritizing how we spend the money. If we did this right, we’d reduce the need for jails, and we’d all be safer.
What is it about right wing governments that they are all about making it harder on vulnerable populations? Alberta and Saskatchewan are following New Brunswick’s lead on Policy 713. And federally, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre says if he becomes Prime Minister, he’ll close down safe injection sites. Given there is lots of research that shows they serve a purpose in saving lives, he too, it appears, is a “data my ass” guy.
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