Troubles for New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs worsened Friday as Labour Minister Trevor Holder reportedly resigned from cabinet, and four past Progressive Conservative party presidents joined the chorus calling on the premier to step down.
In the letter released Friday to several media organizations, Holder said Higgs lacks empathy and cannot work collaboratively with members of the caucus.
“Under the leadership of Premier Higgs, caucus has been less about consensus and more about him getting his own way,” Holder said in the letter.
Holder, whose portfolios also included post-secondary education and training, is the second minister to resign this month citing Higgs’s leadership style. Dorothy Shephard resigned June 15 as social development minister.
Shephard has accused the premier of not trusting his cabinet and criticized him for the decision to change the sexual orientation policy in schools, known as Policy 713. The main change to the policy is that it will no longer be mandatory for teachers to use the preferred pronouns or names of transgender or nonbinary students under the age of 16, starting July 1.
On Thursday, Higgs repeated in a statement that the vast majority of caucus had supported the changes and added “it is extremely unfortunate that all of this gets lost with the strategically planned political drama that is now unfolding.”
Holder, who will remain in office as member for Portland-Simonds, said he tried talking to Higgs about the need to work collaboratively, and offered to help the premier in any way he could.
“Unfortunately, this offer to help has simply been met with nothing but more frequent caucus meetings where he simply tells us his position and that if we don’t agree with him then we don’t have the resolve needed for the job,” he said in his resignation letter.
Holder said Higgs demonstrated a lack of empathy and an inability to lead the province because the premier is unable to listen to valid concerns from caucus members.
“No one has a monopoly on wisdom,” Holder said. “The party is greater than any one person.”
Calls and emails to Holder’s office were not immediately returned, and Higgs’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.
Also Friday, a two-page letter from ex-party presidents Claude Williams, Jason Stephen, Lester Young and Brian Harquail, obtained by The Canadian Press, says despite the premier’s achievements there have been significant missteps that stem from Higgs’s top-down, authoritarian style of leadership. They say Higgs ignores input from his cabinet, caucus, the party and civil servants.
“The members of the party have never had a say in the direction of the party under his leadership. That is not how democracy works,” the four past presidents say in the letter.
“Instead, the premier depends on an echo chamber of confidantes who do not seem to understand the nuances of New Brunswick society and the delicate balance required to govern this province effectively.”
Changes made to the province’s policy on sexual orientation in schools, they said, was just the tipping point in a long line of disrespect Higgs has shown to the party.
“Premier Higgs would have you believe this deep dissatisfaction with his leadership is about Policy 713,” the presidents’ letter says. “Nothing could be further from the truth, the dissatisfaction stems from the one-man rule he has imposed on our party and the province.”
On Wednesday, 26 out of 49 current riding presidents signed letters asking for Higgs to step down, claiming his leadership has divided the party.