New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs has bounced two ministers from cabinet and added some new faces as he confronts turmoil within his Progressive Conservative caucus.
The new cabinet sworn in Tuesday follows the recent resignations of two ministers who objected to the premier’s leadership style, and to his changes to school policy on LGBTQ students.
Daniel Allain, who was minister of local government, and Jeff Carr, who was transport minister, were dropped Tuesday and now join their two colleagues who had left earlier in June.
“I think when you have cabinet ministers that take a position against the government in the legislature, voting against (it) in the legislature, it’s very significant. I think if you look at the parliamentary system we operate under, cabinet support is paramount, and that speaks for itself,” Higgs told reporters.
Allain and Carr both signed a letter this month expressing their “extreme disappointment in a lack of process and transparency” after the premier made controversial changes to the province’s policy on sexual orientation in schools.
They also voted with the Liberal Opposition in favour of a motion on June 15 that pushed back against the government’s changes to the LGBTQ policy, known as Policy 713. Under the revised policy, teachers aren’t required to use the preferred pronouns or names of transgender or non-binary students under the age of 16.
Dorothy Shephard, who served as social development minister, and Trevor Holder, who had been labour minister, also voted against the government over the issue, and both resigned before Tuesday’s shuffle.
Higgs has replaced Allain in the local government portfolio with Glen Savoie, while Carr was replaced by Richard Ames as minister of transport.
The premier said it should have been clear to the cabinet ministers what would happen if they voted against the government.
“I think the very oath they take speaks for itself in that regard To not address the situation is putting the government in a very vulnerable situation,” Higgs said. “So, we have to respect the parliamentary system we’re in, in the cabinet you have to have solidarity.”
Five new ministers were named to the 18-person cabinet, and eight positions were changed in the shuffle.
Jill Green is taking over the social development portfolio from Shephard, and Arlene Dunn will take over Holder’s job as minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, as well as being named minister of aboriginal affairs and minister of immigration.
Dunn had signed the letter expressing disappointment in the changes to Policy 713 but she was absent for the June 15 vote where Shephard and Holder sided with the Opposition calling for a review of the changes by the province’s child and youth advocate.
When asked whether Higgs listens to those with differing views, Dunn said, it can take convincing. “And sometimes you don’t necessarily walk away getting everything that you want or maybe agreeing with respect to what your position is,” she said. “But I think that’s part of the political process.”
She said her “issue” is with changes made to Policy 713. “I didn’t think that we should have touched that,” she said.
Higgs said he realizes that he needs to reach out to riding presidents who have written letters to the party’s provincial council calling for a leadership review.
“I think we have some building to do,” he said. “There’s no question about that. I need to play a key role in that, reaching out to the (party) membership and the executives throughout the province.”
Carr published a letter on social media thanking Higgs for “removing me from a situation” where he felt he could no longer contribute. He said in an interview that he felt he wasn’t able to get his views across to Higgs.
“That’s just the premier’s style. That’s his leadership style,” he said. “And that just became very frustrating at the end of the day.”
While Higgs has his detractors in caucus, the new ministers spoke of their dedication to the premier.
Mary Wilson, the new minister of Service New Brunswick, said Higgs didn’t have to question her loyalty. “I have no problem with our premier,” she said. “I think he does a great job.”
J.P. Lewis, political science professor at the University of New Brunswick Saint John, said the show of support from incoming ministers bodes well for Higgs, who a few weeks ago was musing about fighting an election on the Policy 713 issue.
“Unless there was another challenge around the corner, it would appear that this government will survive,” Lewis said.
Still, the degree of inner turmoil in the party is unusual. “You have more than just a handful of former ministers in your backbench now,” he said. “So, where does that go? I just think there’s so much unpredictability to it.”