Higgs, Cardy agree to disagree on Confucius Institute future
Education minister described China-related curriculum as 'propaganda'
Premier Blaine Higgs has tried to smooth over a potential difference of opinion with his education minister, arguing that comments by the two men about a Chinese education program reflects a healthy "diversity" of views within the government.
Higgs made the comments after Dominic Cardy adopted a blunter approach to ending a deal with the Confucius Institute, which operates in 28 New Brunswick schools and receives funding from the Chinese government.
After Higgs said this week that the province would respect the agreement, which runs until 2022, Cardy told CBC that his views "remain exactly as they were and I look forward to them no longer being in our schools come June."
Higgs said Thursday that the comments reflect that his Progressive Conservative government respects a diversity of views.
"We're built on diversity in our country," he said. "We're built on each other's opinions."
Cardy also said the seeming contradiction was a sign of the PC government's openness.
"This team respects democracy, respects internal debate, and there's nothing wrong with disagreement," he said.
But Higgs also made clear that his more cautious approach to the issue would carry the day.
"The plan is to work through the mechanisms within the contract to understand … what is the process through which we would move away from the contract," he told reporters.
The Confucius Institute teaches New Brunswick students about Chinese language and culture but avoids discussions of the country's authoritarian, one-party system and its human rights violations.
Cardy has labelled the curriculum "propaganda."
Higgs said earlier this week he hoped the criticism of the program would not jeopardize New Brunswick's exports to the lucrative Chinese market.
He said Thursday in the legislature that even with the Confucius Institute on the way out, he wants to maintain the links to China.
"I believe the future in any area is built on relationships and we will continue this one," he said.
Later, he brushed off reporters' questions about who was speaking for the government, saying Cardy's comments represent "a personal view" and "you should very clearly understand that he is the minister of education and I am the premier of the province."
He referred to when he was finance minister in David Alward's PC government and refused to endorse the appointment of his colleague Margaret-Ann Blaney as the CEO of a Crown corporation.
"I'm used to differences of opinion and having differences of opinion," he said. "I respect people with opinions."