New Brunswick

Higgs would give Medavie a week to propose fix for ambulance service

Finding a solution to the paramedics shortage and ambulance delays will be the first priority for a Progressive Conservative government, Blaine Higgs said Thursday while trying to convince the legislative assembly to kick the Liberals out of power.

Tory leader talks tough in reply to throne speech

Progressive Leader Leader Blaine Higgs delivered his reply to the Liberal throne speech on Thursday. (CBC)

Finding a solution to the paramedics shortage and ambulance delays will be the first priority for a Progressive Conservative government, Blaine Higgs said Thursday while trying to persuade the legislative assembly to kick the Liberals out of power.

In his reply to the speech from the throne, the PC leader outlined the first steps he would take as premier, while also introducing a motion that's effectively a non-confidence vote ahead of next Friday's vote on the Liberal speech.

Higgs spent much of his 25-minute address criticizing how the Brian Gallant Liberals governed over the past four years, how he'd go about it differently and how a Tory throne speech would be a more concise "action list" instead of the far-reaching "shopping list" read to the assembly earlier this week.

"To have 85 priorities is to have none," Higgs said.

Top of list for the Tory leader is the thorny issue of bilingual ambulance services. Higgs pledged, if he were to assume power, to bring in Medavie Health Services, the company that runs Ambulance New Brunswick, on Day 1 and give it a  week to put forth solutions.

Higgs said he will prioritize the paramedics shortage and ambulance delays if he takes power. (CBC)

"Time for talk is done," Higgs said in a media scrum.

"We've got reams of recommendations from paramedics, from the association, from Medavie. So it's time to put those recommendations in the same room with bright people, and that includes political leaders, and hammer this out."

The Liberals promised in their speech to send the issue to an all-party committee of MLAs for recommendations and report back by Dec. 15, but both Higgs and People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin said directing it to a committee will further delay a fix.

We do have solutions from the paramedics' association,  Medavie  has kicked out a few ideas, let's get it done. - People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin

Even Higgs's seven-day timeline appears to be too long for Austin's taste. He doesn't believe more consultation is necessary.

"I think we all know what the problem is here. We do have solutions from the paramedics' association, Medavie has kicked out a few ideas, let's get it done," Austin told reporters.

Liberal Environment Minister Andrew Harvey said Higgss' deadline for Medavie is at odds with the collaborative tone parcelled out through his speech.

Liberal MLA Andrew Harvey said the all-party committee will deliver recommendations on the ambulance delays issue that government can on "immediately" after Dec. 15. (CBC)

"There's no collaboration there," Harvey said. "All four parties need to work together, and that's why we believe these committee structures are the best way."

Harvey said once the committee reports back in six weeks, the government can act "immediately."

Motion of non-confidence

Higgs's reply to the throne speech underscored the precarious tenure of the Liberal government. He finished with a proposed amendment that would tell the lieutenant-governor the "present government does not have the confidence of this House."

A vote on his motion won't happen until late next week. If passed, it would amend the main Liberal motion supporting the throne speech. Passage of the amended main motion would bring down the government.

The Liberals will go back and run this executive branch the same way and the opposition  MLAs  can go study a few of their ideas in committee. - PC Leader Blaine Higgs

The Tory motion is similar to what the NDP in British Columbia introduced to oust the Liberals.

The Liberals, reduced to just 20 votes in the 49-seat legislature after MLA Daniel Guitard was acclaimed Speaker on Tuesday, need at least four opposition MLAs to break ranks and support the speech.

Higgs has already said his 22 MLAs will vote against it, leaving the Liberals' fate in the hands of three Green and three Alliance members.

The Tories would also need help from the other parties to pass a throne speech.

A new way of governing

Higgs attacked the Gallant Liberals for their governing style, saying power was centralized through the premier's office and the legislature sittings were just "an annoyance." He said the throne speech offered no signs that would change.

"The Liberals will go back and run this executive branch the same way and the opposition MLAs can go study a few of their ideas in committee and the Liberals will decide if any of those ideas go forward," Higgs said in his reply.

The PC Leader has sent the other parties a list of proposals to change how the legislature operates. He didn't go into detail about the proposal but hinted in his speech about a new committee structure and new policy that would give MLAs more agency and bring power back to the House.

Green Party Leader David Coon said there was a 'huge gap' in Higgs's speech — action on climate change. (CBC)

Green Leader David Coon was torn on Higgs's speech Thursday, saying he liked the notion of bring democracy and independence back to the legislature.

Higgs's lack of a firm stance on climate change troubled Coon, however. The PC Leader said he was willing to hear ideas to build up the provincial economy, be it through the blue economy or green economy.

Coon said that's "disconcerting."

With files from Catherine Harrop and Jacques Poitras

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