New Brunswick

Wellness Branch not being eliminated following reports of cuts, says province

Two politicians familiar with the situation told CBC News the province plans to eliminate the government branch that has a sprawling mandate to promote healthy living. The government now says that's not the case.

Regional wellness networks support poverty reduction, literacy and healthy eating

Youth recreation is one of many initiatives supported by the province's Wellness Branch. But the branch's future is in doubt after reports it will be disbanded by the government. (Shutterstock/matimix)

The New Brunswick government now says it will not be eliminating the Wellness Branch, but changes are on the way.

Two politicians familiar with the situation told CBC News the province plans to eliminate the government branch that has a sprawling mandate to promote healthy living.

The Wellness Branch uses a variety of means to achieve its goals including education and awareness, resources and funding, and building a network of communities and organizations.

When asked earlier this week about the future of the branch in the light of the reports, the department that oversees the Wellness Branch would not confirm the cuts.

"The Department of Social Development is constantly reviewing its operations to ensure it is providing the appropriate programs and services for New Brunswickers who need them and that includes wellness," the department said in a statement.

"We look for ways to avoid duplication and align with programs and services offered by other partners," the department added.

But a department spokesperson said in an emailed statement Thursday after the story was published the branch will not be eliminated.

"A review of the branch was completed in December," said Jean Bertin. "We are finalizing the next steps in the process and will have more to share in the coming weeks."

Bertin added that wellness staff will either retain their positions or be offered another position within government.

'We need the Wellness Network'

Theresa Blackburn, a Woodstock town councillor, said she learned from a government official the branch was being "disbanded" and decentralized within government and that some employees will lose their jobs. 

Beyond the Wellness Branch's broad mandate are many local programs with tangible impacts on the community, said Blackburn, who volunteers for the Western Valley Wellness Network.

"We are the fattest, the most unhealthy population in the country," Blackburn said. "We need the Wellness Network."

Theresa Blackburn says eliminating the Wellness Branch will hurt rural New Brunswick. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

For more than a decade, regional networks across the province have supported food security programs, youth recreation, loneliness in seniors, literacy, housing and poverty reduction, among other initiatives, according to the town councillor.

She said she's worried about the impact losing the network will have on her town and smaller, rural communities in the area.

Green Party Leader David Coon echoed Blackburn, saying he's been told the branch will be "eliminated" and its budget distributed through the Department of Health for wellness activities.

The history

New Brunswick's Wellness Strategy was first established in 2006 and enhanced in 2009 to focus on priorities including healthy eating, physical activity, tobacco-free living and mental fitness.

In October 2012, David Alward's PC government created an entire department based on promoting wellness — the Department of Healthy and Inclusive Communities — and the provincial strategy was revised again in 2014 with a long-term plan stretching until 2021.

The government document laying out the strategy cited an evaluation that "revealed evidence of progress and positive impact."

David Coon, New Brunswick's Green Party Leader, says preventative health-care measures like the wellness movement are often seen as 'optional' by provincial governments. (CBC)

The department was later eliminated and the Wellness Branch was shifted under Social Development during Brian Gallant's Liberal government.

Coon said wellness doesn't get the support it needs from government, even though it strives to reduce pressure on the health-care system and associated costs.

"Preventative health-care, which wellness would fit into, is seen as something that is optional and not really worthy of a lot of investment when the complete opposite should be true," Coon said.

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