‘It does not reflect well’: N.B. political parties under scrutiny after failed vetting process

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The vetting processes of New Brunswick’s largest political parties are under scrutiny after two candidates were dumped over past social media posts in just a matter of hours.

On Monday afternoon, the Progressive Conservatives parted ways with Victoria-La Vallée candidate Roland Michaud who reposted a transphobic meme on Facebook in December of 2018.

Later Monday evening, the Liberals turfed Saint Croix candidate John Gardner over a series of offensive posts about the LGBTQ2 community, including one where he suggested that LGBTQ2I+ communities should stop using the rainbow as a symbol because it is “offending the Christian and Jewish community… as it has a strong biblical significance.”

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Both announced they will remain on the ballot and Michaud apologized for the now-deleted meme.

Gardner took to Facebook to clarify his comments.

“My comments, while on the outset, appear to be homophobic were pointing out the way in which we all fight for our rights, and sometimes conflict with what others consider to be their rights,” Gardner said on Facebook.

“I myself am part of the LGBT community, and work in a business where we fly the rainbow flag, not as a right, but as an identity.”

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But the fact that either candidate passed the vetting process of either party raises some questions, says UNB political scientist J.P. Lewis.

“These are not fringe parties. These are parties that hope to win enough seats to form government. This is a bit of a test of competence,” he said.

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“It does not reflect well on the parties, even though maybe leaders in parties have learned their lesson not to let these things go. Both Higgs and Vickers dropped these candidates within hours.”

More controversial posts and statements from candidates for both parties have come to light as well.

The PC candidate for Restigouche West, Louis Bérubé has come under fire for a transphobic quote in a 2016 interview with Acadie Nouvelle.

“Could this be? Legislation to protect the trangendered (explicit). Really? I can’t get over it. Where we are heading? They’re disturbed (…) we have to pretend that it’s normal,” he told the paper.

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The PC campaign has yet to comment on the post and interview requests for leader Blaine Higgs have been unsuccessful. The PC party did not hold a media event on Tuesday.

The Liberal candidate for Saint John East Phil Comeau, a paramedic, has been criticized for a Facebook post regarded as anti-Francophone. Comeau posted a photo with a paramedic leaning their head against a steering wheel captioned “Lmao, when you find out your partner is French.”

Liberal leader Kevin Vickers said Comeau took down the post after a few hours and apologized afterwards. He said that it was an attempt at a joke gone wrong and said Comeau will stay on as a candidate.

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“It was one of those awkward moments in life where he was trying to be funny and it was the exact opposite,” Vickers said at an unscheduled media event in Tracadie-Sheila.

“What he did was totally unacceptable.”

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Vickers initially indicated that the snap election played forced the party to implement an abbreviated vetting process, but when it was pointed out that there was a by-election scheduled for Saint Croix for the fall giving the party months to prepare, Vickers acknowledged there was a breakdown in the vetting process.

“Obviously there was a pitfall in the review process,” Vickers said.

“It’s an error that occurred. Hopefully going forward we will learn from this and it doesn’t happen again.”

People’s Alliance leader Kris Austin was also asked about allegations of bullying and harassment by Saint Croix candidate Rod Cumberland, who was fired from the Maritime College of Forest Technology.

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Cumberland alleges he was fired from the college due to his opposition to glyphosate spraying and filed a wrongful dismissal lawsuit against the school. The college claims he was fired for harassing and belittling his students and using homophobic slurs to describe some students in class.

Austin says the party would take action if the allegations were proven in court.

“If the allegations are proven true, which I do not believe they will be, but in the event they are, there are some serious allegations and they will be dealt with,” Austin said.

“(Cumberland) strongly disagrees with the allegations and refutes them wholeheartedly and until there’s some actual proof out there that the courts can decide on we (won’t) move on them, but I’m going to move on allegations.”