New Brunswick

Liberals support decision to keep schools open in red zone

New Brunswick’s Liberal opposition says it supports the decision to let schools stay open during the red phase of COVID-19 restrictions.

'It's in a controlled environment for the kids to be able to be in school in a safe way,' says Roger Melanson

Liberal Opposition Leader Roger Melanson says he agrees with Education Minister Dominic Cardy about the classroom being a safer place for students than potentially uncontrolled gatherings outside school. (Jacques Poitras/CBC file photo)

New Brunswick's Liberal opposition says it supports the decision to let schools stay open during the red phase of COVID-19 restrictions.

Liberal Leader Roger Melanson is backing up Education Minister Dominic Cardy's assertion that Public Health officials recommended the change to the red-phase guidelines. 

"That's what Public Health recommended," said Melanson, who sits with other political party leaders on an all-party COVID-19 committee with Premier Blaine Higgs and key cabinet ministers. 

The province announced the abrupt change to the red-zone rules for schools on Sunday, the same day it put Zone 4 into the red phase.

Melanson said he agrees with Cardy's rationale that schools, where rigid COVID policies are in place, are safer places for children than potentially uncontrolled gatherings outside school.

Most of transmission "happen in an environment where it's in private sessions, in social gatherings, where people are unfortunately not respecting the guidelines," Melanson said.

"The data that I received from Public Health is that it's a safer environment. It's in a controlled environment for the kids to be able to be in school in a safe way." 

'Making up plans as they go'

On Monday Liberal MLA Guy Arseneault, a former president of the New Brunswick Teachers' Association, accused the Higgs government in a tweet of "making up plans as they go." 

Arseneault questioned the decision to allow schools to open in the red phase, a decision also criticized by the teachers' association.

"People are asking who's calling the shots?" he said in another tweet.

Cardy said Tuesday morning in a series of interviews that changes to red-phase rules, based on Public Health data, had been in the works for some time and should have been ready before Sunday's Zone 4 decision.

"My apologies for this coming at the last minute," he said. "I did not want it to be this way."

Melanson said he had not heard about possible changes to red guidelines until the last few days.

"That's the issue here," he said, arguing Arseneault's tweets did not risk confusing the public on the credibility of Public Health decisions. 

"I think what MLA Arseneault questioned was the process of how the stakeholders were informed or not informed." 

Minister should've contacted teacher organizations sooner 

Melanson said Cardy should have done better at contacting people affected by the changes, including teacher organizations, as soon as he could. 

"The dialogue is important here," he said. "People want to be part of the solution." 

Arseneault refused an interview request Tuesday.

"Mr. Arseneault is comfortable leaving the leader [to] speak on behalf of caucus on this issue, so he will not be doing an interview today," said Liberal spokesperson Ashley Beaudin.

Last November, before a spike in COVID-19 cases, Liberal education critic Benoit Bourque said New Brunswick high school students, who attend classes in two groups on alternating days, should be in school full-time to help them avoid mental-health issues. 

At the time, Cardy said the alternate-days system for high school had been endorsed by the all-party COVID committee before the start of the school year.


Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. He grew up in Moncton and covered Parliament in Ottawa for the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. He has reported on every New Brunswick election since 1995 and won awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association, the National Newspaper Awards and Amnesty International. He is also the author of five non-fiction books about New Brunswick politics and history.