MLAs set to return to N.B. legislature following break, release of provincial budget

WATCH: New Brunswick MLAs are set to return to the provincial legislature on Tuesday, the first since debate closed on the province's $9.8-billion budget. Morganne Campbell brings us the latest.

MLAs will gather at the New Brunswick legislature on Tuesday for a regular house sitting, the first since debate closed on the province’s $9.8-billion budget — which projects a $23-million surplus — back in March.

Since then, the labour dispute between unionized nursing home workers and the province has ramped up.

Just last week, executive members of the union representing nursing home workers camped out at Social Development Minister Dorothy Shephard’s office.

READ MORE: New Brunswick nursing home workers protest turns physical

On Monday, they were back at it, this time holding a demonstration in Moncton outside the office of Finance Minister Ernie Steeves.

“We’re just hoping that they do actually come to the table with an enhanced offer and we can get this resolved,” explained Amy Johnson, president of CUPE Local 3982 out of Sackville.

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Both sides will be back at the bargaining table on Thursday, having been unable to ink a new collective agreement for several months.

The official Opposition party has joined the union in its efforts to raise awareness about the wage dispute, and it’s vowed to start its line of questioning during question period on Tuesday.

“Premier Higgs, sit down with this group in good faith at the bargaining table and get this resolved,” said Roger Melanson, Liberal MLA for Dieppe Centre-Lewisville.

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There’s also been another story snagging headlines: the widespread flooding in the province and the New Brunswick Disaster Relief Program.

Kris Austin, leader of the People’s Alliance, says the province needs to provide more assistance to homeowners who want to mitigate flood damage.

Right now, to qualify for federal-provincial partnership funding, a home must have structural damage that surpasses 80 per cent of its value.

“There has to be a government program out there, and again, I think it will be mostly sponsored by the federal government just because of the amount that I am sure it would cost just to give these folks the option to get out or to mitigate it and sign off on any future damages,” explained Austin.

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Finding the answers to those questions may prove harder than one might want to accept. The legislature resumes for just two weeks before taking yet another break. The schedule has been a contentious issue, with fewer sitting days this year over last.

READ MORE: New Brunswick Tory government budget offers surplus, debt reduction

The Green Party says it has two bills to be debated and eight motions on the table and, simply put, not enough time to deal with opposition business.

“We’re only going to sit for maybe five weeks between Christmas and summer, which, historically, would be 15 weeks. Now, 15 weeks we can get our work done — five weeks (is) not possible,” said David Coon, leader of the Green Party.

No one from the Progressive Conservative Party was made available to weigh in on these files in front of the government.

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