New Brunswick Tories grab for power in snap election call

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By Caleb Thompson

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs has called a snap election for September 14, well in advance of the 2022 date established by the provincial Legislative Assembly Act, which mandates that a general election be held every four years on the third Monday in October.

This election comes after the Liberals refused Blaine Higgs’ ludicrous “deal” to keep his minority Conservative government in power until 2022 or until the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, while removing the ability of the opposition to raise criticism – an attempt by Higgs to subvert democracy. In spite of the pandemic, public health and the public interest, Higgs and the Tories are opportunistically vying to seize power at a time when the federal Liberals are at their weakest due to the WE Charity scandal. The Tories are aiming for a majority government, which would free them to continue inflicting their campaign of austerity on New Brunswickers. Higgs is running on a campaign of stability while taking full credit for New Brunswick’s success with the pandemic, despite the major contributions from the other three parties in the minority government.

Higgs’ history, however, states the obvious – he is neither for working people, nor for their health.

After refusing to rescind regulations blocking Medicare coverage for out-of-hospital abortions, Higgs failed to fund Clinic 554, a primary health care family practice that serves 3000 patients, offers a safe space for 2S/LGBTiQ+ and provides abortion services. Clinic 554 will be forced to close at the end of September, placing thousands of people on the province’s ever-growing waitlist for general practitioners. The federal government withheld $140,216 from the annual health transfer payment because Higgs’ failure to provide accessible abortion services was a violation of the Canada Health Act. As COVID-19 hit, the federal government reimbursed that amount, allowing the Higgs’ government to continue ignoring federal legislation.

On August 22, Flip Saint John, Grassroots NB, Resist NB and Black Lives Matter – Fredericton collaborated to hold a popular event titled “Thank You For Nothing, Premier Blaine Higgs.” This event comes as Clinic 554 is slated to close and as residents of New Brunswick become increasingly frustrated with Higgs’ inaction on healthcare.

Back in February, Higgs announced the impending closure of six emergency departments between midnight and 8 am – affecting hospitals in Sussex, Sackville, Sainte-Anne-de-Kent, Caraquet, Grand Falls and Perth-Andover – cutting access to healthcare service in rural communities. Only after angry protests and intense opposition did the Tories back down.

In March 2019, the Higgs’ government illegally barred long-term care (LTC) home workers from striking, after refusing their demands for higher wages and better working conditions. Chronic understaffing and burnout are major concerns across LTC homes in New Brunswick, and they affect the quality of care and health of residents. The Canadian Medical Association Journal recently reported that residents in long-term care homes account for over 80 percent of deaths caused by COVID-19 in Canada. This same study found that, compared to non-profit and municipal homes, for-profit LTC homes had the highest numbers of deaths. Higgs’ refusal to address the needs of workers in long-term care homes and the lack of funding for nonprofit, publicly-owned LTC is putting New Brunswick’s elderly at risk.

It is becoming increasingly clear that residents of New Brunswick do not want this election. On August 9, Narrative Research asked 1115 residents, “Do you support New Brunswick holding an election this Fall?” Only 33 percent supported the election, while a majority, 52 percent, were opposed. On August 17, Cam Holstrum for Magpie Brûlé ( wrote that “an election is unnecessary” and brings “obvious risks to public health.”

Although a Tory government would be horrific for working people, a People’s Alliance government would do worse. Built on a campaign of austerity and anti-French policies, People’s Alliance is New Brunswick’s most right-wing party. However, the Liberals are little better, with Kevin Vickers, leader of the New Brunswick Liberals, calling on July 2 for “the Premier to make economic recovery and supporting business his top priority.” To these parties, economic recovery means recovery for the business owners of New Brunswick, and this recovery will happen on the backs of working people.

With the NDP shattered in New Brunswick, the Green Party is positioned as the only progressive option in the legislature. However, while the Greens were “skeptical” of Higgs’ four-party deal, they did not outright reject it. The Greens offer no viable alternative to capitalism, but rather embrace it. Without dismantling the profit model, the Greens campaign for reforms and subsidies, which only act as “band-aids” to decades of austerity.

The Communist Party of Canada is a voice of anti-capitalism and socialism in New Brunswick. The Fredericton club of the Party recently announced they are “not running any candidates” but also stated “the fight for socialism does not stop there.” In their analysis “the federal government and opposition only care about two things: businesses and profitability. Billions in subsidies have been given to corporations and landlords with almost none of that trickling back down to the working class.” The Fredericton club suggests that New Brunswick’s provincial politicians only echo that sentiment, stating that “this [election] only means more austerity for the working class, and more subsidies and tax breaks to New Brunswick’s big businesses and big families of capital.”

In Canada’s fight for socialism, the Fredericton club has its focus on recruitment, stating “what we need right now is more members” to grow the socialist presence in the province.

[Photo of union rally: CUPE New Brunswick]

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