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N.B. prof says Tory backtrack on hospital closures could prompt early election

Click to play video 'Liberal leader Kevin Vickers heads to Perth-Andover for meeting on emergency room closures' Liberal leader Kevin Vickers heads to Perth-Andover for meeting on emergency room closures
WATCH: New Brunswick Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers attended a town hall meeting in Perth-Andover about the back and forth on emergency room closures. As Megan Yamoah reports, the meeting was packed with people saying they are losing faith in the PCs.

The New Brunswick government’s backtrack this week on health-care reforms has damaged the image of Premier Blaine Higgs and his minority Tory government, a local political scientist says.

Donald Wright with the University of New Brunswick said Tuesday that Higgs’s reputation as a “steady, competent fiscal manager” is at risk and an early election could be coming.

“Suddenly this has blown up in his face. He has retreated in the face of politics, and he looks weak,” Wright said.

Higgs announced late Sunday that he was cancelling next month’s planned overnight closures of emergency departments in six community hospitals. The move was part of a plan to address a shortage of human resources in the province’s health-care system, as well as its aging population.

READ MORE: N.B. premier says roll-out of now-cancelled health-care reforms ‘not well thought out’

But Higgs said there were too many gaps in the proposal and the two regional health authorities advised him to put it on hold.

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Instead, Higgs will visit the six communities and convene a health summit in June.

Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers said Tuesday he would vote against next month’s provincial budget and try to defeat the minority government.

“We will not support this budget, given the gross incompetence shown by this government in the last week,” Vickers said.

Vickers said Higgs is blaming others and throwing top bureaucrats “under the bus.”

He said he’d recall Liberal member Daniel Guitard from his role as Speaker, if needed, to have the numbers to defeat the government on the budget vote expected March 20.

Even with Guitard back on the Liberal benches, the outcome would hinge on the votes of three Green members, three People’s Alliance members and one Independent.

Wright said all the parties will be staking their positions ahead of the budget, which is set to be unveiled March 10.

Click to play video 'N.B. premier needs opposition leaders to let him continue to govern' N.B. premier needs opposition leaders to let him continue to govern
N.B. premier needs opposition leaders to let him continue to govern

READ MORE: New Brunswick reverses plans to close ERs amid backlash

“Everybody will be retreating into their caucuses trying to read the tea leaves and trying to make the best situation possible for their electoral success,” Wright said.

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Green Leader David Coon issued a statement Tuesday, saying it is a defining moment for health care in New Brunswick and calling on both major party leaders to release detailed proposals.

“The system is in crisis. Instead of playing politics, Mr. Vickers needs to show us his plan. Premier Higgs needs to present his full plan,” Coon wrote.

People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin said he also wants to see the budget, but he may not be able to continue supporting the government on confidence votes.

“We haven’t seen the budget and I want to be open-minded to what those numbers are in the budget, but I can tell you my confidence in government certainly has been shaken,” he said.

“I think at the end of the day it’s going to be up to the electorate to decide. That’s unfortunate because nobody wants an election. I don’t want an election, and we certainly aren’t the cause of this if it does happen. This is bigger than what we anticipated. We’ll see what happens,” Austin said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 18, 2020.