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‘I don’t feel the need to rush’ to call byelections: Premier Higgs

Year-end interview with Premier Blaine Higgs
WATCH: In a wide-ranging interview with anchor Sarah Ritchie, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs reflects on the year that was.

People in Saint Croix and Shediac Bay-Dieppe won’t see byelections called before March, according to the premier.

In a wide-ranging year-end interview with Global News, Premier Blaine Higgs acknowledged those two seats could make the difference in whether the PCs hold onto power in the minority legislature, and said that is why he has no immediate plans to set dates.

“It could make the difference, whether we’re there or not, so I guess if it’s going to have that sort of potential you don’t necessarily rush out and call it to find out that answer sooner than later,” Higgs said.

Intergovernmental affairs minister and PC MLA Greg Thompson died in September, leaving a vacancy in his riding of Saint Croix. Former premier and former Liberal leader Brian Gallant stepped down from his seat in Shediac Bay-Dieppe in October. The premier has to call byelections within six months of a vacancy being certified.

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READ MORE: N.B. Liberal Leader Vickers mulls byelection run

Higgs says his MLAs are making sure people in the area have their voices heard.

“We’re in both of those ridings, we’ve had our neighbouring ridings understand what the needs are,” he said. “Anyone from anywhere can come to us, ministers or MLAs, or myself even, for particular riding issues.”

The seats were left empty throughout a contentious sitting of the legislature in December, during which the PC government introduced 22 pieces of legislation and held a confidence vote.

The Essential Services in Nursing Homes Act is now law. The bill was ordered by the courts following a protracted labour dispute with nursing home workers.

READ MORE: N.B. election averted as amended nursing home bill passes through marathon committee meeting

“This was the first one that I have put forward as something that was critical to our long-term, sustainable path forward,” Higgs said. “I don’t have any other plans in that regard at this point, I’m working well with the People’s Alliance in terms of understanding what challenges we have. And where we can agree, we discuss and agree.”

The PCs have an informal agreement with the People’s Alliance Party that secures their three votes on confidence motions. Alliance leader Kris Austin has said that would be in place for 18 months, or until May 2020. That will likely allow Higgs to pass a budget this spring, which he’s already said will contain health-care reform.

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But don’t expect to see the PCs working across the aisle with the Liberals anytime soon.

“They basically are just looking across over at the government and saying, ‘What have I got to do in order to get back in government?'” Higgs said. “And it’s unfortunate because we have some huge challenges in our province, that (can be overcome) but they need to be addressed together and dealt with by adults.”

The tight standings in the legislature – 21 seats for the PCs, 20 for the Liberals, and three each for the Green Party and People’s Alliance, with two vacancies – has the premier envious of the federal minority government.

“He and I actually talked about that, and I said, ‘Well, prime minister, I wish I was in the same minority situation that you’re in. That seems a lot more comfortable than the one I’m in.'”

Premier Higgs also spoke about how his relationship with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has changed now that he’s changed his stance on carbon pricing.

“I saw the (prime minister) come forward with Chrystia Freeland, going across the country, interested and being very sincere about addressing issues in each province,” he said. “With us, it’s the softwood lumber issue, it’s a huge issue. Our demographic and the cost of health care, huge issues. But I see a genuine interest that I don’t think I witnessed previously.

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“So you know, it takes two people to be part of a success story, and so I’m doing my part and I’m encouraged that the prime minister is going to do his part as well.”

Editor’s note: this interview was recorded on Dec. 19, 2019.