New Brunswick Premier now says essential workers deserve federal funds amid coronavirus crisis

Higgs clarifies stance on frontline worker subsidies
New Brunswick's premier is clarifying his stance on the Trudeau government’s financial subsidies for frontline workers. Travis Fortnum reports.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs is clarifying his stance on the federal government’s plan to provide financial aid to essential workers, particularly ones in long-term care homes, fighting the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced a plan to make funds available to provinces where essential workers make less than $2,500 per month.

READ MORE: Trudeau looks to support long-term care workers, boost wages for essential workers

On Tuesday, reports following New Brunswick’s daily COVID-19 update, Higgs implied he had no interest in such funds.

“I want to be clear,” said Higgs on Wednesday. “At no time did I say I wasn’t interested, as the ensuing headline suggested.”

“We need more details on these programs before making any decisions.”

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“However, I am most interested in ANY federal funding that could be available to these essential workers,” he says.

85-year-old nurse from New Brunswick came out of retirement to help during COVID-19
85-year-old nurse from New Brunswick came out of retirement to help during COVID-19

Before speaking to the media on Wednesday, Higgs took the time to call Sharon Teare.

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As President of the NB Council of Nursing Homes, Teare was particularly troubled by the interpretation of the Premier’s comments.

“He said that he was misquoted in his statement,” Teare said. “I said to him, that’s unfortunate, but we’ve seen how it is and why it is that we would believe the statement to be true — we’ve seen the actions leading up to the last year of how nursing home workers have been treated.”

READ MORE: N.B. moves to give nursing home workers conditional binding arbitration rights

The relationship between the Higgs government and nursing home workers in the province has been rocky.

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Teare says they’ve been working for 3.5 years without a collective agreement.

And while the situation in New Brunswick facilities is not as severe as that in Quebec or Ontario, staff are still under unprecedented stress as the pandemic continues.

Quebec coroner investigates Montreal care home deaths
Quebec coroner investigates Montreal care home deaths

“You only have to see the tears in the eyes of those individuals who I’ve had FaceTimes with,” Teare said, “their heart aching because they’re unable to provide for some residents.”

READ MORE: What to know before removing loved ones from nursing homes amid COVID-19

“We have some residents who are cognitive enough to know what’s going on, you have some residents who are wondering why their family has left them alone.”

Teare says contract negotiations have been put on pause so all parties can focus on getting through the pandemic.

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She and her peers now wait for action, to follow the premier’s words.

Provinces seek more help for overwhelmed and understaffed seniors’ homes
Provinces seek more help for overwhelmed and understaffed seniors’ homes

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

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