Higgs threatens election over Policy 713 as 8 PCs break ranks

Higgs threatens election over Policy 713 as 8 PCs break ranks
Higgs threatens election over Policy 713 as 8 PCs break ranks

Arabnews24.ca:Thursday 8 June 2023 01:07 PM: New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said he was willing to call an election over changes to Policy 713, on protecting LGBTQ students, as he faced a rebellion from several of his top cabinet ministers Thursday.

Six ministers and two backbench MLAs refused to attend the morning sitting of the legislature "as a way to express our extreme disappointment in a lack of process and transparency," they said in a statement.

It was signed by ministers Dororthy Shephard, Trevor Holder, Daniel Allain, Arlene Dunn, Jeff Carr, Jill Green, and backbenchers Ross Wetmore and Andrea Anderson-Mason.

The eight Tories stayed away from question period less than an hour after Education Minister Bill Hogan announced the results of his review of Policy 713.

Hogan's news conference laid out changes to three elements of the three-year-old policy, including no longer making it mandatory for teachers and staff to respect the chosen names and pronouns of children under 16 without parental consent. 

Another change removes mention of gender identity when it comes to sports and other activities, saying only that students will be able to take part in safe and welcoming activities. A third change affirms students' rights to use  washrooms that align with their gender identify and requires each school to have a general-neutral washroom.

In two cases, Hogan's descriptions of the changes didn't match the wording of the new document given to reporters, and the minister promised to make further changes to it.

But that wasn't enough to end the blooming PC rebellion by more than a quarter of Higgs's caucus.

"It could potentially force an election," the premier told reporters moments after the dissidents released their statement.

He'd been asked whether he might be forced to step down but instead raised the idea of triggering a campaign.

"Would I do that? It's not without the realm of possibility. I believe that strongly in the case of finding a solution here where we do not exclude parents in their child's life."

The prospect of the PCs losing a vote in the house was real.

Green's bill to ban shale gas up for vote

A Green Party bill to ban shale gas development was due for a second reading debate and mid-afternoon vote.

The statement by the eight PC dissidents did not say if they'd take part in that vote, but the government would need them in the house to stop the Green legislation from advancing.

Green Leader David Coon said the extraordinary move by those Tories means Higgs must resign.

"He clearly has lost the confidence of a sizeable part of his cabinet. He needs to go."

Green Party Leader David Coon and MLAs Kevin Arseneau and Megan Mitton say Higgs has clearly lost the confidence of his caucus and should resign. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Liberal Leader Susan Holt said her party was ready for an election and her MLAs would support any no-confidence vote against the government.

"I think what we've seen today is this government is not up to the challenge of leading our education system, and not up to the challenge of leading a cabinet or a caucus," she said.

Another PC caucus member could take over, Cardy says

Former education minister Dominic Cardy, who resigned last October and was ejected from the PC caucus, said an election isn't necessary to remove Higgs from office.

He told reporters that if the premier visits Lt.-Gov. Brenda Murphy and asked her to dissolve the house, she should instead ask the PC caucus if another of its members could take over and lead a government with majority support in the legislature.

Cardy acknowledged that move, while possible in the parliamentary system, is rare but not out of the question.

"The lieutenant-governor's job is to ascertain whether there's anybody else who can command the majority of the house," he said.

"I'm saying there are very clearly people who could do that job. The premier has shown today he can't even command his own caucus, his own cabinet."

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