For Blaine Higgs, a PC majority means stability and freedom to govern
PC leader defends calling election during pandemic and suggests the worst may be ahead
Premier Blaine Higgs says a majority Progressive Conservative government means stability for New Brunwickers during the pandemic.
While there are only four active cases of the COVID 19 virus in the province now, Higgs maintains that the worst part of the public health crisis could still be ahead.
If a second wave comes and a widely circulated vaccine isn't available, the province will need one party with the ability to govern effectively, he told CBC News on Wednesday.
"Do I have any confidence that the Liberals wouldn't pull the plug at that time? No, I do not … I want to avoid the games in the House. I want to get on a program to bring stability to our province. I want an economic program that doesn't get stalled because of politics."
Premier says he tried to keep government together
While the minority government seemed to be working, efforts among the parties to establish a longer-term, co-operative arrangement fell apart in mid-August.
Higgs called the election for Sept. 14, a short, four-week campaign that started in the middle of August and covers a time when many families are focused on putting children back in school with the novel coronavirus still a concern.
Higgs said he tried to keep the minority government together.
"Three weeks ago that's exactly what I tried to do," he said. "I tried to have the same setup as we have with the COVID cabinet. That's all I was asking for."
But the Liberal opposition pulled out of the four-party negotiations after a proposal from Higgs that would have allowed his government to stay in power until October 2022 or the end of the pandemic.
The Liberals said that would give Higgs too much power and urged the premier not to go to the polls until the pandemic is over.
Premier sees 'two prong path'
In the interview, Higgs did not appear to have moved much on the issue of a public inquiry into systemic racism in the justice system, despite persistent calls for one.
Calls for an independent provincial inquiry have increased since police officers shot and killed Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi in separate incidents earlier this summer and the person charged after the hit-and run death of Brady Francis was found not guilty in April.
Both the Green Party and the Liberals have committed to holding an inquiry if elected, but Indigenous leaders say nothing like that has materialized from the PCs or the People's Alliance. Chiefs have expressed frustration with Higgs's determination to do things his way on a serious issue in New Brunswick that he doesn't fully understand.
In August, chiefs representing the Mi'kmaq, Wolastoqiyik and Peskotomuhkati walked out after talks with Higgs reached a standstill.
Higgs said Wednesday that he's not opposed to an inquiry on principle, but he believes other solutions can address systemic racism.
The premier said similar inquiries have been conducted in other provinces, and New Brunswick should see what recommendations it can lift from those reports.
Higgs said this could address systematic racism problems plaguing the province more quickly.
If the province does launch an inquiry — which Higgs believes would need the support of the federal government and other provincial governments — he wants its goals to be well-defined and result-oriented.
"Let's start with what we know and what was already proven as a need for change in other provinces," he said.
"And let's build an inquiry that actually addresses new issues that they want to talk about that we can build on. And let's have a two-prong path forward."
Higgs talks abortion clinics
On another hot-button issue Higgs stood firm on was Clinic 554, the province's sole out-of-hospital abortion provider.
Recently, Liberal leader Kevin Vickers pledged his party would approve funding the Fredericton clinic through Medicare if elected. Green Leader David Coon also supports the clinic.
Abortions are only performed at hospitals in Moncton and Bathurst.
The also offers a wide range of health care, including services for the LGBTQ community.
Earlier this year the federal government found New Brunswick was violating the Canada Health Act because people were being charged for a service they're entitled to have covered.
On Wednesday, Higgs said he's been informed his government is following the requirements laid out by the Canada Health Act.
He said it's not his government's job to make changes to the current health-care system, saying such decisions are better addressed by health-care professionals.
"I'm not going to invent political changes in areas of expertise that we want to rely on professionals to help us make better decisions," he said.
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With files from Harry Forestell