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New Brunswick Liberals respond to P.C. government’s speech from the throne

The issue of binding arbitration as it relates to the New Brunswick nursing home workers dispute was a major issue in the provincial legislature.
The issue of binding arbitration as it relates to the New Brunswick nursing home workers dispute was a major issue in the provincial legislature. Andrew Cromwell/Global News

New Brunswick’s official opposition offered a response to the Higgs government’s speech from the throne on Thursday.

Interim Liberal leader Roger Melanson began by recognizing a number of notable New Brunswickers in the house, including former party leader Kevin Vickers, who led the party through this year’s snap election.

READ MORE: New Brunswick Liberals choose Roger Melanson as interim leader of Opposition

Melanson made several references to the unforeseen circumstances the province has been put under this year — mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He urged residents and his fellow members to continue following the advice of Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical officer of Health, and also stated his belief that no gatherings should be happening at all unless totally necessary.

Melanson expressed a gloomy outlook on the province’s economic trajectory, which has been made worse by the pandemic.

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“The premier and this government need to quickly realize that it’s easier to support an existing business than support a starting business,” he said.

“Government must step up before it’s too late.”

Melanson said that the speech from the throne made several promising mentions to close the province’s economic gap with other Atlantic provinces, but that it offered no specifics on how that would be accomplished.

He said it’s important that New Brunswick strengthen its partnership with the federal government.

Ottawa is offering financial support that he said Higgs was ignoring.

Melanson said that the Higgs government has accepted federal money to aid the province’s health system through the pandemic, but that it has been secretive about how much and how it was used.

He said that, even though health minister Dorothy Shephard and Higgs have announced consultations with municipalities on healthcare reform, they already have a plan.

“The consultation is fake,” Melanson said.

READ MORE: ‘Table it!’ — N.B. Liberals want to see government’s plan to address health-care challenges

He said that the mention of planned nurse practitioner clinics is great, but that it’s been mentioned in throne speeches since 2016.

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As he continued to poke holes in the speech from the throne, Melanson questioned what he says is slow progress on making housing more affordable in the province.

“The government’s promises are no longer good enough,” he said. “We need action.”

Melanson said the less fortunate in the province are too often left behind.

Roger Melanson, the interim leader of New Brunswick’s Liberal Party, says any plan to address health care needs to be made public
Roger Melanson, the interim leader of New Brunswick’s Liberal Party, says any plan to address health care needs to be made public. Callum Smith / Global News

While discussing education, he touched on indigenous languages in school, saying the Higgs government can count on the opposition’s support so long as the policy is made in consultation with First Nations leaders.

The opposition feels the government could be stricter on combating climate change, Melanson said. He called for further investments in a green economy.

He pointed out the throne speech didn’t even mention arts and culture, saying that many New Brunswickers working in that sector have suffered amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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His solution would be to develop a book purchasing program that would see institutions like public schools and libraries purchase from independent book stores.

On the topic of Clinic 554, Melanson stated his belief that the government has an obligation to support services such as those provided by the clinic.

He stated his belief that the Higgs government should repeal legislation making it difficult for clinics such as Clinic 554 to operate.

Click to play video 'Clinic 554 still seeing patients with complex care before full closure' Clinic 554 still seeing patients with complex care before full closure
Clinic 554 still seeing patients with complex care before full closure – Oct 3, 2020

Melanson expressed concerns over perceived vagueness within the speech from the throne in regard to the official languages act — and is apparently worried how a Higgs majority might handle the two official languages. He promised vigilance from the opposition on the matter.

Addressing the desired inquiry into systemic racism in New Brunswick, Melanson said the premier’s opinion doesn’t matter while the opinions of Indigenous people calling for an inquiry does.

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Wrapping up, Melanson said the speech has to be looked at in comparison to the PC’s election promises.

He said the PC government owed its majority government to its perceived pandemic response, when, he said, Dr. Jennifer Russell, public health and safety, and the people of New Brunswick deserved the credit for the province’s successes.

Melanson ended by saying that the premier is not a standalone power and that he’s not the owner of the province, and by promising that the opposition will be looking out for the people of the province.