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An Open Letter to Cathy Bennett Concerning Anxiety

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Dear Minister Bennett,

You stood up in the house on Thursday, and among other things, accused the two opposition parties of fostering anxiety in the people of Newfoundland and Labrador by publicly criticizing your budget. Your criticism seemed to be based on the idea that you had factored in the well-being of the poor and vulnerable in the province (I’m assuming that you are referring to The Newfoundland and Labrador Income Supplement that gives some of the levy you’re taking, that one where you’ll be paying $900 and I’ll be paying $​30​​0​)​. You suggested​ that the PCs and NDP were lying by cherry-picking particular items of the budget and using those out of context items to suggest that this budget is a mean-spirited attack on the poor of this province while protecting the rich. Do I have that right? Because if so, may I humbly exercise my still existing right to an opinion to voice disagreement with two elements of your criticism.

First, let’s talk about anxiety. You are suggesting that the opposition parties are creating anxiety. Respectfully, Minister Bennett, the anxiety that you are currently witnessing pre-exists this budget. Your budget has inflamed it.

Minister Bennett, do you know about the anxiety of getting hit with severe tooth pain and going up to Health Sciences to find out that they have no dental procedures whatsoever, and you’ve got no insurance?

Minister Bennett, do you know about the anxiety of trying to work a minimum wage job as a student and still racking up debt in a program that looks increasingly like it won’t lead to any jobs when you get out?

Minister Bennett, do you know about the anxiety of having to work that minimum wage job at the wrong end of Kenmount Road and having to get the bus up to the mall and then having to climb over the ice-mountain sidewalk​ every day,​ with cars clipping along twenty over the speed limit​,​ six inches from your precariously balanced head?

Minister Bennett, do you know about the anxiety of trying to keep a vehicle on the road because you can’t handle that day to day death-defying walk?

Minister Bennett, do you know about the anxiety of trying to get on your feet by working two minimum wage jobs, with zero benefits for overtime work, to try and keep that vehicle on the road?

Minister Bennett, do you know about the anxiety of seeing yourself start to slide deeper and deeper into mental illness knowing that you need help, but also knowing what that help looks like in this province, and having to make a decision about whether or not you’ll get better or worse at a hospital that’s over a hundred years old, and that death might be an outcome and you’re being forced to weigh that in your list of pros and cons?

Minister Bennett, do you know about the anxiety of working a job that will not protect you if you slide deeper and deeper into that illness?

Minister Bennett, do you know about the anxiety of self-medicating to try and cope with those anxieties to try and hang on to that job that doesn’t protect you​,​ until ​self-medication​ becomes another problem, and then finding that there are no resources to help you with any of those problems?

Minister Bennett, do you know about the anxiety of trying to help a family member who is dealing with any of those issues?

Minister Bennett, do you know about the anxiety of not being able to afford groceries as all of those problems get worse?

​Minister Bennett, do you know about the anxiety of being in a situation like that, of which there are so many kinds all over the province, and then seeing this budget get released?​

I’ll tell you about my current anxiety. I teach in a program that aims to help students who are the most likely to drop out​,​ by giving them the tools they need to access their right to a university education, a make or break moment for each and every one of them in an effort for them to get control of their lives and seek some kind of economic stability​.​ I’m looking at another $14 million cut to Memorial University’s budget​,​ and I’m worried that this program is going to get cut. And I’m worried about what’s going to happen to all those students who come through who get a​n opportunity​, and my anxiety grows for what’s going to happen to them.​ This is not an anxiety from a cherry-picked line item, it’s anxiety straight from your budget.​

 How making a fortune off of a fleet of minimum wage workers to peddle Big Macs to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador makes someone​ ​qualified to make decisions concerning the public good of this provinc​e is something I fully do not understand​.

Minister Bennett, I would respectfully suggest that you know as much about the anxieties of the poor as I do about​ your business. Because​ how making a fortune off of a fleet of minimum wage workers to peddle Big Macs to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador makes someone​ ​qualified to make decisions concerning the public good of this provinc​e is something I fully do not understand​. The ​current ​anxieties of this province have not been produced by the criticisms of the opposition parties, but I would suggest rather pre-existing anxieties have been inflamed to their breaking point by a government that is asking more from people who don’t have anything left to give. And it does nothing but give me further anxiety to witness your comments in the House, because it suggests to me that you do not understand the plight of the people of this province, and I am very, very worried for what that’s going to mean going forward. That’s anxiety. And if you understood our anxiety, Minister Bennett, I’d submit that you at least would have left our smokes alone.

Which brings us to our (mercifully) shorter second point. Your comments suggested that you don’t think the opposition parties should be criticizing the budget the way that they are criticizing it. This gives me another kind of anxiety, a kind of anxiety about how much control this current government would like to have, to the point that they are asking silence from the opposition ​regarding​ informing citizens about issues that concern them.

Minister Bennett, when you delivered the budget you said we are all in this together. Though your cuts are going to be coming out of the grocery budget of many​ (​not yours I’m sure​)​ while cutting the services we desperately need, let’s agree for the sake of it that we’re all in this together in the same way. Surely you’d agree that low-income workers now have it worse than they did before the budget, and surely you’d agree that it would be prudent for low-income workers to make a plan so that they are able to make a go of it. So surely you wouldn’t object to the workers of your eight McDonald’s restaurants forming a union so that they are able to collectively bargain for a living wage and basic benefits that will be required to come from employers now that the government has cut so much. Surely that would be in the best interest of the workers of your restaurants, because hey, we’re all in this together.

Or is worker empowerment​, like informed citizens, the kind of thing that​ give​s​ you anxiety?

To everyone else, now is the time to to stay informed. The news doesn’t do it justice; you can tune in to the House of Assembly Monday to Thursday, 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., to find out what your representatives are doing for you, here.

You can phone or email your representative to tell them how you feel, here.

​Lastly, a healthy diet is much better than fast food for anxiety​​. H​ere’s a free cookbook designed for people to be able to eat well on $4 a day.​ ​

Your humble serf,

Iain McCurdy / St. John’s

If you would like to share your story about how the provincial government’s austerity budget will affect you and/or your family, send your letter to justin@localhost.

Read The Independent’s ongoing coverage of austerity and the 2016 budget:

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