Blaine Higgs promises to try to scrap Medavie deal if elected premier

New Brunswick's Opposition leader says he'll try to get out of the new extramural contract with Medavie if he becomes premier next year.

PC leader concerned airtight contract may be hard to get out of

Opposition Leader Blaine Higgs, right, spent much of Question Period asking Premier Brian Gallant if the province had signed the contract with Medavie to run the extramural program. (CBC)

New Brunswick's Opposition leader says he'll try to get out of the new extramural contract with Medavie if he becomes premier next year.

But Blaine Higgs says the yet-to-be-signed agreement may be so airtight that he won't be able to.

"I guess it depends on the contract," Higgs said Thursday after grilling the Liberal government on the deal in Question Period. "It may be locked up so that you can't."

The controversial agreement will see the province transfer management of the extramural program, which delivers care in patients' homes, to Medavie, a private not-for-profit company.

Critics call that privatization, but the Liberal government says that's not accurate because Medicare will still fund the program and the employees will work for the province.

Exit clause?

The Progressive Conservative leader told reporters that the only way to undo the deal would be if it had "exit clauses in it based on real performance targets."

"Our only thing left would be to define if those targets are being met or not, and given the fact that they weren't, we would be in a position to move away from the contract and break it," he said.

"But if in fact they've got such soft targets that really it means nothing, but it locks the contract down, you have very limited options. You may be stuck with it, and that's wrong."

Higgs spent most of Question Period trying to get Premier Brian Gallant to say whether the contract has been signed.

Health Minister Benoit Bourque told a newspaper reporter Wednesday it has not been signed, but Higgs spent a large part of the 30-minute Question Period demanding that Gallant confirm it.

Gallant did at least twice, but he skated around the question several others times, which Higgs called "another clear indication of the contempt the premier has for our democratic institutions and for the people of New Brunswick."

Fine details

At the end of Question Period, Gallant said there is a memorandum of understanding between the province and Medavie, and officials are working out the final details of the contract.

Bourque also mocked the PC leader's insistence on getting an answer that had appeared in a newspaper Thursday morning.

"We have a literacy problem in the province but I thought the leader of the Opposition knew how to read," Bourque said.

Bourque and government officials have been holding public meetings around the province to reassure people about the Medavie contract. Tuesday night in Miramichi, they faced many skeptical questions from the public.

"Like in any contract, there is always an escape clause," Bourque told one woman who asked if the province could pull out of the deal if it wasn't satisfied.

"Let's escape now," one man shouted in response.

Medavie is expected to take over management of the program Jan. 1.


Gallant said in Question Period that people are alarmed because Higgs keeps saying that the Liberals are "privatizing" health care, a phrase the PC leader used again in the legislature.

Health Minister Benoit Bourque has said the contract has not been signed. (CBC)

"The fear-mongering from the leader of the Opposition literally has people across this province thinking that extramural will actually be cut under this program, which is completely not the case."

He also said Higgs was at one of the public sessions in Saint John, where the contract's performance targets were explained.

"Despite the fact that he went to that, he still comes into the legislature to say things that aren't the case," Gallant said.

But Higgs told reporters the public session didn't get into the details and challenged the government to let the public see and debate the contract before it is signed.

"Rather than just words, let's have details," he said. "There's a huge outcry against this contract. The signals are all there. Let's stop this thing and work together to a higher standard."


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