Finance Minister Blaine Higgs repeatedly refused to endorse Premier David Alward's decision to appoint Margaret-Ann Blaney as the new president of Efficiency New Brunswick.
The Alward Tories have come under fire in recent weeks about Blaney’s appointment, which has been blasted as patronage by the Opposition Liberals.
Higgs, who has earned a reputation as a straight-talking cabinet minister, refused to support Blaney’s appointment in question period on Wednesday.
The finance minister said the appointment was made by the premier and he said "let’s not spend time going down that trail that has no real value."
'I wouldn’t be surprised if the premier was throwing a minister under the bus. But to see a minister throw the premier under the bus on an issue like this is quite surprising.' — Opposition Leader Victor Boudreau
Instead, he called on the Liberals to help him end the controversial practice of patronage appointments.
"I don’t think we have any moral ground to complain on each other in how we do that or how we can improve. I think we can both be challenged on how we can do things better," Higgs said.
"We both need to be part of that improvement process because we can’t look across the floor and criticize things that each of us do and none of us feel good about it."
Blaney resigned last month as the province's energy minister and Progressive Conservative MLA for Rothesay.
Denis Caron, the province's deputy minister of environment and local government, had been the president of Efficiency NB. But Blaney is replacing Caron in the position.
A deputy minister's salary ranges between $150,000 to $175,000 a year.
Alward has called a byelection for the southern New Brunswick riding for June 25.
Higgs threw 'the premier under the bus'
The Liberals promptly seized on the finance minister’s comments and tried to emphasize the separation between Alward and Higgs on the Blaney appointment.
"I wouldn’t be surprised if the premier was throwing a minister under the bus. But to see a minister throw the premier under the bus on an issue like this is quite surprising," Opposition Leader Victor Boudreau said.
"He is the minister responsible for the Office of Human Resources, he is the minister who decides if competitions go out or not."
Boudreau repeatedly tried to pin down Higgs on the contentious appointment.
"I want to know his opinion on the appointment of Margaret-Ann Blaney as CEO of Efficiency NB, is it a want or a need as he so eloquently described during the various budget consultation processes that he went through," he said.
Higgs has created headlines on several occasions by his blunt assessment of politics.
During his pre-budget tour, the finance minister criticized how political parties make costly promises.
"If I had to say what's the biggest problem with the system and why are we digging deeper and deeper into holes it has to do with the election process," Higgs said in January.
In an interview in December, Higgs acknowledged some of the Progressive Conservative election promises were too costly.
"It becomes like an auction. You know, what are you going to promise me? What are you going to promise me? And it just ramps up so after it's all over and the dust clears you start to look at what these things really cost," he said in December.
In that interview, Higgs also pointedly said that New Brunswickers needed to "want less" as the provincial government tried to control its budget.
The day he was appointed finance minister, Higgs delivered a very direct assessment of how the financial mess would be cleaned up.
"We will need everybody to consider what's needed versus what's wanted, because we've all got to be part of the solution," he said in October 2010.