Liberal, Green leaders withdraw from COVID commitee as striking health-care workers forced back

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick Liberals, Greens walked away from all-party cabinet committee on COVID-19' New Brunswick Liberals, Greens walked away from all-party cabinet committee on COVID-19
WATCH: New Brunswick opposition leaders are distancing themselves from government—with the Liberals and Greens walking away from the all-party cabinet committee on COVID-19. Travis Fortnum has more – Nov 5, 2021

Half of New Brunswick’s all-party COVID-19 cabinet committee have announced they’re pulling out after the province issued an emergency order to force striking health-care workers back on the job.

New Brunswick Green Leader David Coon made the announcement he’d be stepping away over Twitter shortly after Premier Blaine Higgs made his move official.

Twenty minutes later, Interim Liberal Leader Roger Melanson followed suit.

“I’m out,” Melanson told reporters over Zoom.

“As the leader of the opposition, I need to be able freely to be able to keep this government accountable and explain to New Brunswickers what this government is doing and how they’re doing it and so I’m out of this committee for sure.”

Read more: COVID-19: N.B. reports 39 new cases, circuit breaker restrictions to be lifted in some areas

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While Melanson’s motivation seems to lay directly at the feet of Higgs, Coon says his sole reasoning is a perception that the method used is unfit for the circumstances.

“Using an emergency order, circumventing our democratic processes in this province, is unacceptable,” he tells Global News.

“The Premier had plenty of other choices leading up to this point in time that he chose not to use,” says Coon.

“If he was determined to order health workers back to work, he should’ve brought back-to-work legislation to the Legislative Assembly. That’s the democratic venue for debating such proposals.”

Remaining at the table, People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin says his counterparts are counteracting the foundation of the committee itself — which Premier Higgs has touted as a way to ensure pandemic response was prioritized over political divides.

“What they’re doing is not symbolic, it’s political. Period,” Austin says in an interview with Global News Friday.

“I know that my voice at the table is more important than my voice on the sidewalk.

“So Mr. Melanson and Mr. Coon, if they want to play politics the public will judge that, but I’m staying put.”

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Austin previously said he would support a form of back-to-work legislation if health care in the province needed it.

He says Friday’s move fit the bill.

“Anybody with any rational objective viewpoint would understand the position,” he says.

“It’s just irresponsible not to do that at this point.”

Austin says he’s heard from CUPE members who say they’re unaware what offer the government has put forward, as well as CUPE members who don’t want to be striking at all.

Read more: Children under 12 leading new COVID-19 infections across Canada: PHAC

As long as this emergency order is in place, Coon says he won’t return to the committee.

Melanson says he’s out for good.

With only Higgs and Austin left, it’s unclear in what capacity the committee will continue — if at all.

Coon says he has confidence in Public Health leadership in the meantime, but wants to see a committee within the legislature looking at response.

“We’ve got a good Public Health team in New Brunswick,” he says, “and ultimately we’ll hold the Premier accountable in the legislature.”

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