PCs under fire for inconsistency on candidates who made transphobic posts
5 party leaders define their visions less than a week from election day
The leaders of the Liberal and People's Alliance parties say the Progressive Conservatives have been inconsistent in dealing with candidates who made transphobic comments on social media.
The PCs dropped Victoria-La Vallée candidate Roland Michaud on Monday after learning that he'd shared a Facebook post that incites violence against transgender people.
But the party said Wednesday that Restigouche-West candidate Louis Bérubé will remain on the ballot, despite derogatory comments he posted online in reference to federal Bill C-16, which enacted protections for the transgender community.
The issue arose at the end of the Leaders on the Record event, a forum in which the five political party leaders answered questions from voters and CBC journalists, when Higgs was questioned about the candidates.
WATCH: The 90-minute special covered an array of topics, including access to health-care, systemic racism, municipal reforms, the future of education and the province's economic recovery. You can watch the entire broadcast below.
The PC Leader said the party was "very direct, very prompt" in dismissing Michaud, who is running as an independent.
"The other situation was one that certainly was later in time. It was back in 2016," Higgs said, referring to Bérubé. "The candidate had expressed remorse. It was a personal opinion. I don't condone it in any way, shape or form."
The Michaud's post was timestamped Dec. 10, 2018.
Following Higgs's remarks, both Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers and Alliance Leader Kris Austin said they were troubled by the inconsistency.
"I commended Mr. Higgs, as the leader of the PC Party, for removing that candidate, but yet you had another candidate that came out and said something just as egregious or worse," Austin said.
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Both leaders failed to mention dismissed candidates of their own.
John Gardner, who was representing the Liberals in Saint Croix, was removed from the Liberal roster for homophobic comments two years ago in regards to use of the straight pride flag. Gardner, an openly gay man, said he was baffled by the decision and will run as an independent.
And hours before Austin took the forum stage in Moncton, he dismissed the Alliance candidate for Memramcook-Tantramar, Heather Collins, because she complained online about the number of Muslims immigrating to this country.
The discrepancy wasn't the only time Vickers went on the offensive Wednesday evening. The Liberal leader routinely spent part of his allotted response time attacking Higgs over what he called the PC leader's "secret plan" that would be deployed if handed a majority.
On the question of New Brunswick's post-pandemic economic recovery, Vickers said voters must choose between PC austerity measures and the Liberals' vision for growth, which focuses on technology, the green economy and putting Opportunities New Brunswick "on steroids."
Vickers also mentioned small modular reactors, a "passion" of his with a tremendous potential to, he said, create tens of thousands of direct and indirect jobs.
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Those reactors also happen to be a passion for Higgs, who touted their potential in his vision for the provincial economy. Higgs, who chose to stay above the fray and stick to his talking points, also pointed to boosting immigration and private-sector investment.
Green Leader David Coon disputed the potential of the reactors, saying they will require "truckloads of money … to actually get out of the computer and on the drawing board" and inevitably drive up power rates.
Coon, as he did on several occasions, highlighted in-province solutions to many issues, including the economy and health care. He touched on the need to support businesses and communities to address food security and clean energy.
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NDP Leader MacKenzie Thomason said his party would transform the economy by doing away with corporate welfare and trickle-down economics employed by successive PC and Liberal governments.
"When we talk about restructuring after COVID and when we talk about COVID recovery," Thomason said, "we really need to talk about the fact that there are companies in this province that receive millions upon millions upon millions of dollars worth tax break, worth of sweetheart deals, worth of special permissions from government that the people of New Brunswick do not get to enjoy."
Austin called for change to New Brunswick's "archaic and draconian" tax system to support businesses and ensure they have the capital to invest or reinvest in the province.
Access to health care
Attracting more doctors and reducing the load on primary-care providers are among the crucial steps needed to expand access to health-care in New Brunswick, according to the province's five political party leaders.
But the route each leader would take to reach those goals varies considerably, from hiring more nurse practitioners to improved ambulance response times and first responders for mental health.
Improving access to health care was among the first issues raised during a special, 90-minute CBC News program.
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Austin said his party is focused on doctor recruitment and the expansion of virtual care.
But Austin opened by continuing to extol the benefits of a minority government, touching on his party's role in supporting the elimination of billing numbers, ambulance response times and the backlash against the now-quashed plan to scale back emergency room hours in six rural hospitals.
Vickers was quick to attack Higgs, claiming he will push ahead with the controversial health reforms targeting rural hospitals. Without specifics, Vickers said he would develop a "concrete HR plan" and "double down" on efforts to attract more doctors and nurses.
Higgs said the province needs to be innovative since it's difficult to hire more doctors in New Brunswick.
"We hired 94 doctors in these past 15 months, but the rest of the story would be that we lost 104, either through retirement or moving or a number of reasons," Higgs said. "Every province is looking for doctors and medical professionals."
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Higgs said to reduce the strain on caregivers the province needs to continue increasing virtual care services, hiring more nurse practitioners and giving pharmacists more capability to handle routine matters.
Coon keyed in on mental health and addiction services, saying his party would turn mobile crisis units — personnel trained in handling mental health calls — into first responders who would be on call 24/7.
Thomason said the PC government hasn't done enough to encourage family doctors to open practices in the provinces, specifically mentioning its unwillingness to fund Clinic 554, a Fredericton-based health clinic that serves as the province's lone out-of-hospital abortion provider.
Thomason said the clinic, which also offers LGTBQ services, could serve as a model to be implemented around the province to ensure timely access for patients.
Questioned on what the appropriate access to abortions looks like, Higgs said he is not "a medical professional," and the province has health authorities and experts to "define what access means and should be."