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New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative party members who want Premier Blaine Higgs to step down as leader say they’ve taken the first step to oust him.

Marc Savoie, president of the Progressive Conservative riding association in Moncton East, said the dissenting party members, which include 26 riding presidents, have the necessary paperwork to start the process to remove Higgs. The PC constitution says 50 members of the party – including at least 20 riding presidents – can trigger a leadership review.

“The party doesn’t have to issue an answer at the moment,” Mr. Savoie said in an interview Friday.

“All it’s obligated to do is put this on the agenda for next provincial council meeting, which will happen at some point in September.”

A two-thirds majority of the council is needed to officially launch the review vote by PC party members. If the vote is defeated, Mr. Savoie said, Mr. Higgs is free to continue as leader of the New Brunswick Tories and premier of the province. If Mr. Higgs loses, however, he’s welcome to contest again as party leader, Mr. Savoie added.

Dissenting party members have numerous problems with Mr. Higgs’ leadership, Mr. Savoie said. These include Mr. Higgs’ changes to the policy on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools; his attempted cuts to the French immersion program for anglophone students; his decision to close six rural hospital emergency rooms; and his elimination of elected representatives from regional health authorities and the anglophone education system.

Mr. Higgs’ condescension and neglect toward the francophone and Indigenous communities have led to drastically reduced participation in the party’s northern riding associations, Mr. Savoie added.

He said the premier has been claiming that dissenting presidents want to bring about a leadership review because of changes to the LGBTQ policy. The changes include making it no longer mandatory for teachers to use the preferred pronouns and names of transgender and nonbinary students under 16.

Mr. Savoie, however, says changes to Policy 713 are “the tip of the iceberg.”

“That’s just the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said. “It’s the prime example of how he is ruling the party in relation to the people.”

“He listens to the people who say what he wants them to say. And that’s how he bases his decisions.”

Earlier this month, two ministers resigned from Mr. Higgs’ cabinet, citing his leadership style, leading to a shuffle during which the premier named five new people to portfolios. After the cabinet shuffle Tuesday, Mr. Higgs told reporters he needed to rebuild relationships with dissenting riding presidents.

“I think we have some building to do,” he said. “There’s no question about that, and I need to play a key role in that – reaching out to the membership, to the executives throughout the province, and be able to sit down and have some very good discussions.”

Mr. Higgs’ office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Mr. Savoie said he is not sure about the premier’s intentions on healing the divisions in the party.

“He’s been saying that for years now. He’s been saying that he wants to work together with people. He’s done the exact opposite. He’s alienated his caucus members, party members. He goes ahead and makes decisions without listening to his close allies, to his ministers, to his (members of legislative assembly),” he said.

“He did nothing to nobody but himself. So for those reasons, we strongly believe that when he says those words, it is just to try to stop the discussion that we’re having at the moment.”

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