New Brunswick

Higgs sees no problem with natural resources deputy doing top environment job too

Premier Blaine Higgs says the appointment of the same top civil servant to two seemingly distinct roles doesn’t create a conflict and shouldn’t pit two competing priorities against each other.

Premier says Tom MacFarlane's appointment 'a temporary or an interim position'

Tom MacFarlane, the current deputy minister in the energy department, told MLAs that staff lacked the scientific skills to provide advice about the NB Power-Joi pitch. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Premier Blaine Higgs says the appointment of the same top civil servant to two seemingly distinct roles doesn't create a conflict and shouldn't pit two competing priorities against each other.

The premier was responding Monday of criticism that Tom MacFarlane, the deputy minister at the Department of Natural Resources and Energy Development, is now also the deputy minister at the Department of Environment and Local Government.

"Environment is every department's responsibility," he said. "We feel it will work very well together."

Critics said last week that MacFarlane's two roles would be at odds with each other.

Green Leader David Coon said the Environment Department regulates the use of glyphosate, while Natural Resources support its use. The former decides on buffers around streams and lakes, which can collide with forestry operations overseen by the latter. 

But Higgs said Monday that all departments collaborate on environmental issues, so there's no reason MacFarlane can't play both roles. 

Premier Blaine Higgs said the appointment is temporary. (CBC)

He also said the new appointment is not a permanent posting.

"This is a temporary or an interim position at this point," he said.

No one from the province responded to questions Friday from CBC News on whether it was a permanent or temporary position, and the May 26 cabinet order making the appointment official doesn't describe it as an interim posting.

Higgs did not rule out keeping MacFarlane in both roles permanently. 

He said departments have shown during the COVID-19 pandemic how they can work together and, "we need to find ways to keep that going and improve on it," he said.

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