New Brunswick

Higgs government cancels throne speech, but rules out back-to-work bill Tuesday

The Higgs government has cancelled a planned speech from the throne that would have kicked off a new session of the legislature Tuesday. The move would make it easier for the province to introduce and quickly pass back-to-work legislation to end the strike by the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

Move could allow government to bring in back-to-work legislation quicker

The planned throne speech will not happen on Tuesday, a move that would allow the government to introduce and debate back-to-work legislation more quickly. (Marco LeBlanc/Submitted)

The Higgs government has cancelled a planned speech from the throne that would have kicked off a new session of the legislature Tuesday.

The move would make it easier for the province to introduce and quickly pass back-to-work legislation to end the strike by the Canadian Union of Public Employees, something Premier Blaine Higgs has been talking about for days. 

"Clearly the government is improvising in trying to get this back-to-work legislation as quick as possible," said Green Party house leader Kevin Arseneau. "What it signals is there's absolutely no willingness to get back to the table." 

Higgs told reporters Monday afternoon that a bill would not come Tuesday but could happen at any time, depending on how the strike affects health-care services.

"It's going to be a day-by-day thing, but … not having a throne speech does give us additional flexibility that allows us to move quicker as needed." 

Speaker Bill Oliver notified MLAs on Monday afternoon that he was cancelling an 11 a.m. sitting that would have prorogued the existing session, a necessary step before the new session could start with the throne speech.

The speech drafted by the government and delivered by Lt.-Gov. Brenda Murphy had been scheduled for 1 p.m.

But Oliver's notice says MLAs will convene instead at 1 p.m. "for the purpose of resuming" the existing session.

Under house rules, no legislation can be introduced on a day set aside for a throne speech or for the Official Opposition's reply to the speech, which would have taken place Thursday.

Now Tuesday and Thursday are both freed up for regular sitting days, which shortens the time required to get urgent legislation passed.

Any bill before the legislature must be read and voted on three times and must also go through a committee review.

Each of the four steps must happen on separate sitting days unless all MLAs consent unanimously to waive that rule, something Arseneau said Monday his party will not agree to.

"Absolutely not," he said. "There will be no unanimous consent for back-to-work legislation. Absolutely not."

Some COVID-19 vaccination clinics and testing centres have been closed as a result of the strike.

More than 20,000 unionized public-sector workers in 10 different CUPE locals have been without contracts for years. The first workers walked off the job on Friday, with others joining them on the weekend.

Higgs said on the weekend that the COVID impact was a possible trigger for back-to-work legislation or an emergency order.

"CUPE is saying, 'It's all right for New Brunswickers to go without screening during a pandemic,'" he said. "They're saying they're willing to allow potential symptomatic and positive individuals to go into vulnerable locations and cause further infections. 

"I don't think that is right, and I don't think New Brunswickers think it is right either."

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