New Brunswick throne speech will delay mandatory vaccination bill
A new session of the legislature opens in November, which means the bill will die on the order paper
The Higgs government has confirmed that a new session of the legislature will open next month with a new speech from the throne, casting doubt over the future of a controversial bill on mandatory vaccinations.
The legislature will prorogue the old session the morning of Nov. 19 and start a new one in the afternoon, a procedural reboot that kills all legislation that hasn't been passed.
That includes Education Minister Dominic Cardy's bill to eliminate religious and philosophical exemptions to the mandatory vaccination policy for school children.
A committee of MLAs held three days of contentious hearings on the bill in August. Several MLAs from all four parties said they weren't sure they'd be able to support it.
The committee has yet to draft a report, which could endorse the bill as written, recommend against it or propose amendments.
"The vaccinations bill remains with the law amendments committee at this time," said Paul Bradley, a spokesperson for Justice Minister Andrea Anderson-Mason, who chairs the committee.
"There is no set timeframe for when the committee's work on the bill will be completed."
Bill's future unclear
With the bill set to expire, the committee will likely still issue a report on the issue of exemptions to the mandatory vaccination policy.
After the bill expires on Nov. 19, the government can reintroduce it in the new session. But it's not clear whether it would come back in identical form or would be softened to accommodate the concerns of some MLAs.
The Department of Education "awaits direction from the law amendments committee which would, if necessary, inform any changes to Bill 39," said spokesperson Danielle Elliot.
Both Progressive Conservative and Liberal governments have followed an annual practice of proroguing one session each fall and then starting a new one.
But it's not legislatively necessary, and some other assemblies, including the federal Parliament, don't do it each year.
In the spring there was speculation that Premier Blaine Higgs might skip the practice this fall. It would allow his minority government to avoid a throne speech debate and vote that is considered a confidence vote.
Another possibility floated by PC House leader Glen Savoie was that MLAs might sit for a week this fall ahead of the reboot to pass bills that didn't get approved in June.
But the government's legislative calendar shows no such sitting days before the prorogation.
PC caucus torn
Anti-vaccination activists and other opponents of Cardy's bill dominated the three days of hearings held in August, causing many MLAs to question the merits of the legislation.
Sussex-Fundy-St. Martins PC MLA Bruce Northrup said he didn't like the idea of "telling my friends what they should be doing with their children" and called the issue "the biggest struggle I've had, personally" in 13 years as an elected member.
Anderson-Mason, a member of the cabinet that approved the bill before it went to the legislature, also said she wasn't sure how she'd vote.
Cardy said the next day that any minister not willing to support a government bill is obligated to resign.
Higgs said last month his caucus had "a diversity of opinions" on the bill and he would allow all PC MLAs, including ministers, to vote with their consciences on it. Liberal leader Kevin Vickers will also allow his party's MLAs a free vote.
Cardy argues it's vital to maintain a 95 percent vaccination rate among school children to create "herd immunity." That prevents the spread of diseases to a small number of children who can't be vaccinated for legitimate medical reasons.