New Brunswick’s three opposition party leaders have all agreed to return to an all-party COVID-19 cabinet committee, but they’re asking for changes.
Premier Blaine Higgs formed the committee in March 2020, in the early days of the pandemic, and it met regularly until a provincial state of emergency was lifted on July 30.
When the state of emergency was reinstated in late September, Higgs indicated that he had invited Liberal Leader Roger Melanson, Green Party Leader David Coon and People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin to return.
Not all were eager to go back.
The leaders expressed frustration at various times about not having enough influence on committee outcomes.
Melanson said he wanted Higgs to remove the committee’s cabinet confidentiality clause, but the premier “refused.”
Melanson said he wrestled with the decision to rejoin, but added that he had unanimous support from his caucus to do so.
“I think that being at the table and working with public health officials and other experts, there may be some chances of influencing some public measures in trying to get through this pandemic,” he said.
Coon said his support hinged on Higgs’ willingness to present more information to the public. He and Melanson say there is a lot of helpful information that can be published.
“The modelling, for sure, of where the pandemic is heading in New Brunswick, projections of cases and hospitalizations, and then a finer breakdown of what’s going on in more local areas,” Coon said.
He said the locations of outbreaks and hot spots have sometimes been unclear because measures were taken by individual health regions.
“We’re starting to see, for example, in terms of taking new measures, that public health is breaking the health regions out into smaller pieces, which is exactly what needs to happen,” Coon said.
“My expectation is to have an equal voice to the policies and recommendations that come forward,” Austin told Global News in an email. “I’ve also discussed with the premier to have expanded information within the meetings so we can make an informed recommendation as a committee.”
Higgs said he’s willing to adjust the terms of the committee, including the calls for more transparency.
“That, primarily, has come from the concerns around privacy,” Higgs said. “But if other jurisdictions are releasing information then we certainly should be prepared to release the same types of information.”
Higgs also said epidemiologists and others on the front lines will be invited to present before the committee in person, rather than filing a report for the committee to review.