Tory MLA wants Blaine Higgs to promise the PCs will abolish Medavie deal

A Progressive Conservative MLA says he wants to see his party take a more aggressive position against the Liberal government's contract with Medavie.

Jake Stewart wants to tear up the agreement, a different stance from that of Tory Leader Blaine Higgs

Progressive Conservative MLA Jake Stewart wants his party to investigate how the Medavie contract was initially negotiated. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

A Progressive Conservative MLA says he wants to see his party take a more aggressive position against the Liberal government's contract with Medavie.

Jake Stewart says he wants a future PC government to tear up the agreement and appoint an inquiry to investigate how it was negotiated.

It's a stance that doesn't match that of his leader, Blaine Higgs, who says he will not commit to cancelling the contract until he sees how it's working.

Stewart says he will push Higgs to go further after the Sept. 24 provincial election.

"All of this talk about looking at the documents, and reading about it, and studying about it, and looking at the contract and later weighing it to see if it works, I don't think that's any good," Stewart told CBC News.

"I don't want to read it. I don't want to look at it. I want to get rid of it."

My thing is to get rid of it. So he will hear from me. He will from others in caucus as well. And as a leader, he will have to deal with his caucus.-Jake Stewart, PC MLA

The agreement, effective Jan. 1, will see management of extramural care taken over by Medavie, a Moncton-based, not-for-profit, private company.

Stewart says the Liberal government process of negotiating the contract was "compromised" and he wants a royal commission or investigation to look into it. The same goes for the government's nursing-home contracts with Shannex, he said.

"Once we did a thorough investigation by the auditor general or an ethics board or commission on these two projects, I think we'd have to get rid of it, because it would come out that it's completely compromised and corrupted."

Higgs says he welcomes Stewart's comments and his passion for representing his constituents.

"We have varied opinions throughout our group and I encourage that, actually," he said.

"I want to know what people are thinking and also want to hear what they're hearing in the ridings."

Party can only have 1 position 

But he added, "we can't have us all having different positions as a party. The official position of the party is the position I have taken and the position we will take going into the election."

Higgs said last fall he would not commit to tearing up the deal, signed Dec. 31, until he saw its performance targets and its cancellation penalties.

Opposition leader Blaine Higgs, says he will not commit to cancelling the contract until he sees how it's working. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Now that it's been made public, Higgs says he'll want to analyze if the deal is getting results before promising to terminate it.

"We will analyze this completely, and if it does not deliver better results … we will deal with it," Higgs said.

"But our decisions will be based on facts, not emotion."

He said he's not convinced the baseline numbers in the contract — the figures that performance will be measured against — are credible.

Higgs has said repeatedly he is not going to make popular promises just for the sake of winning votes in September. He has also refused to promise to roll back the two-point Liberal increase in the Harmonized Sales Tax.

"We've seen the promise of one government is to simply undo what the [previous] government did," he said.

"While that may be necessary in some cases, it can't be done without analysis of what impact that has."

Stewart will remind Higgs of position

The NDP, Green Party, and People's Alliance have all promised to tear up the Medavie agreement but none of those parties are likely to take power this fall.

The Medavie contract includes a $1 million penalty to be paid by the province if it cancels the agreement. Stewart said that's less expensive than the cancellation clauses of many other government contracts.

The second-term MLA, who ran against Higgs for the party leadership, said the Medavie and Shannex contracts are both unpopular in his riding of Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin.

Former Health Minister Victor Boudreau and former New Brunswick premier Bernard Lord, the CEO of Medavie, made the announcement in Moncton in September. (Kate Letterick/CBC)

"I haven't found a single constituent who supports the Medavie deal and I have found basically none that support the Shannex deal," he said.

"I will never, ever, ever, ever sit in this job and not do it for the people I represent. That's never happened. It doesn't matter who my leader is. It doesn't matter who sits beside me. It doesn't matter where I sit in that legislature."

Shannex runs nursing homes in five New Brunswick communities and recently signed a contract to build a new one in Miramichi.

Green Party Leader David Coon is asking a Court of Queen's Bench judge to force the full release of the province's contracts with Shannex, a move Stewart says he supports.

He refused to predict what a PC government led by Higgs would do if it wins power in September. He said he will promise voters in his riding he will "stay in his ear" on the Medavie and Shannex agreements.

"My thing is to get rid of it. So he will hear from me. He will from others in caucus as well. And as a leader, he will have to deal with his caucus."

About the Author

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.

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