Blaine Higgs shuffles New Brunswick cabinet amid retreat from health-care cuts

Click to play video: 'N.B. Premier appoints Glen Savoie as minister in charge of Francophone' N.B. Premier appoints Glen Savoie as minister in charge of Francophone
WATCH: Glen Savoie has been appointed as Minister in Charge of Francophone a week after the government’s only Francophone minister, Robert Gauvin, left the part. As Megan Yamoah reports, not everyone is pleased with the choice. – Feb 21, 2020

Still reeling from a public backlash over aborted health-care reforms, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs added two members to his cabinet Friday, saying he’s well aware his minority government remains on shaky ground.

“Right now we’re in a position where the opposition wants to take us down, and it’s probably only a matter of time,” Higgs told a news conference after he announced the appointments.

The province’s Progressive Conservative government took a step toward oblivion last week when deputy premier Robert Gauvin resigned from caucus to protest Higgs’ plan to reform health care.

Among other things, the plan – announced Feb. 11 – called for the overnight closure of emergency departments at six community hospitals, a proposal that drew criticism from the affected communities, health professionals and members of every political party.

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READ MORE: N.B. deputy premier quits Tories over health-care reforms

Higgs killed the plan Sunday, saying he had to address the “concerns and fears” of those who were quick to point out “legitimately identified” gaps.

“We know health is in a crisis,” Higgs said Friday. “We know we cannot meet demand …. We decided that if we didn’t bring (the plan) forward and we lost government, we would be asking: ‘Why didn’t we do what was necessary?”‘

Gauvin is now sitting as an Independent. More importantly, he has said he will vote against the provincial budget when it is tabled March 10.

On Tuesday, New Brunswick Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers said his party will also vote against the budget in a bid to defeat the government over its mishandling of the health-care reforms.

Vickers has said he’ll recall Liberal member Daniel Guitard from his role as Speaker, if needed, to secure enough votes to bring down the Tories on a non-confidence motion.

However, the outcome would hinge on the votes of three Green party members, three People’s Alliance members and Gauvin.

The Progressive Conservatives hold 20 seats in the 49-seat house, the Liberals also have 20 and there are two vacancies.

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During Friday’s news conference, Higgs was asked if his government was vulnerable to defeat because it lacks support from predominantly French-speaking ridings in the northern half of the province.

“Yes, that’s very true,” he said.

Aside from being deputy premier, Gauvin also served as the minister responsible for la Francophonie. That role will now go to Glen Savoie.

Bruce Fitch was appointed as the province’s new tourism, heritage and culture minister – another position held by Gauvin.

Fitch, the member for Riverview, was first elected to the legislature in 2003. He has held several cabinet positions, including energy, justice, environment and economic development.

First elected in 2010, Savoie represents Saint John East. He currently serves as the government house leader.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb 21, 2020.

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