Susan Machum says rural communities are targeted because they have less political clout. ((Courtesy of St. Thomas University))

Rural New Brunswickers are being bullied in the provincial government's attempt to cut spending, according to a sociology professor.

Susan Machum, of St. Thomas University, contends recently announced reductions in health services and snow plowing have the greatest effect on small communities because they don't have much political clout.

"The group that is getting disproportionately targeted for cost-cutting does tend to be the rural communities in large part because they are less densely populated and you have fewer disgruntled voters," she said.

It's a form of bullying that leaves rural New Brunswickers caught in a vicious circle, said Machum, who is also the Canada Research Chair in Rural Social Justice.

The government cuts their services because their communities are small, which results in many people leaving for urban centres, which makes rural areas even more susceptible to further cuts, she explained.

"They're going to continue leading an exodus if there are no schools, no roads that are passable in and out in the winter months, and also the shutting down of health care and so on."

It's a short-sighted philosophy since rural New Brunswick has many of the resources that fuel the provincial economy, Machum added.

Cuts coming

Last month, Horizon Health Network announced it was reducing costs by about $4 million annually in response to a request by the provincial government to find savings.

Under the changes, clinics in the villages of Harvey, McAdam and Plaster Rock will lose 24-hour and weekend service..

Tobique Valley and Queens North community health centres will also lose testing of all specimens, which will now be completed at the nearest regional hospital.

Last week, the provincial government announced New Brunswick will employ fewer people and plows this winter to clean up the roads after storms as part of the province's effort to reduce the deficit.

Transportation Minister Claude Williams said the number of staff in the snowplow program will be reduced by 28, mostly through attrition.

In addition, 21 old snowplows — five per cent of the fleet — will be retired.

Under the plan, more than 200 private roads would be ineligible for government plowing.

The changes are expected to cut spending by $5 million a year.

Depending on the weather, the provincial government spends between $55 million and $75 million a year on winter road maintenance.