Kris Austin’s appointment to cabinet ‘an insult’: N.B. linguistic group

Kris Austin has been named Public Safety Minister. Silas Brown / Global News

The Societe de l’Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick has denounced the appointment of former People’s Alliance leader Kris Austin to cabinet on Thursday by Premier Blaine Higgs.

Austin, who disbanded his party and crossed the floor to join the Progressive Conservatives in March, was appointed Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General.

Alexandre Cedric Doucet, the president of SANB, said his organization and the francophone community are angered by the appointment.

“The situation right now is a mess,” he said in an interview on Friday. “To have an individual like Kris Austin as a cabinet minister who is clearly against the individual and collective rights of the Acadian and francophone community is wrong.”

In a release, Docuet said Austin’s acceptance into caucus when the People’s Alliance was temporarily dissolved was an insult to the a community he “openly despises,” and the appointment to cabinet is a further insult.

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“The SANB unequivocally condemns the appointment of Kris Austin, former leader of the People’s Alliance, and spiritual successor to the Confederation of Regions (CoR), as Minister of Public Safety,” Doucet said in the release, which was translated to English.

Premier Blaine Higgs was the former leader of the CoR party, who ran on the promise to eliminate official bilingualism. Higgs continues to have a strained relationship with the francophone communities in New Brunswick.

He’s delayed the response to the official languages report twice, and hasn’t made the meaningful change expected by the Commissioner for Official Languages, Shirley MacLean, in the province.

Green MLA Megan Mitton said she feels the Progressive Conservative Party and Higgs are continuing to widen the divide in the linguistic communities.

“It’s very clear that Higgs does not value bilingualism and does not value the French Immersion program,” she said. “And (he) doesn’t really fundamentally understand these issues and so I’m very concerned about what decisions might be coming down the line there as well.”

In a scathing resignation letter, Dominic Cardy signaled Higgs’ intention to eliminate French Immersion by September 2023, which Cardy claims is something that could create turmoil within the education system.

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However, J.P. Lewis said the decision to bring on Kris Austin in as a minister is significant.

“It’s always notable when there are parties that we might think of as splinters of the bigger party pulled back into the fold,” he said in an interview. “Obviously this would be a major representation of that move.”

Lewis said Austin’s history with anti-bilingualism and populism will create challenges for the PC party.

“They have a majority right now, pretty slim, and if they were ever to expand that they need to win seats in the north,” he said. “So, obviously taking in someone like Kris Austin and in terms of the People’s Alliance and their positions on language will make that a challenge politically in terms of gaining electoral support in the more francophone parts of the province,” he said.

Lewis said being in cabinet typically means holding the line on the party’s policies, and that now includes Austin.

“It’s really up to the premier to dictate where this government goes in terms of it’s relationships with francophone New Brunswickers and then Kris Austin will have to reconcile that if they are contrary to what his former party believed in and put forward in platforms and campaign ideas,” he said.

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Kris Austin was unavailable for an on-camera interview Friday, but on Thursday, he said “he will serve all New Brunswickers regardless of language, race, rural-urban.”

Austin said he was hopeful to be part of cabinet to discuss “all topics.”

“New Brunswick is facing some serious challenges, which really are challenges the whole globe is facing,” he said speaking with reporters Thursday. “I think my role in cabinet is to help mitigate some of the global effects that were facing here at home.”

He said he would be candid about his thoughts, no matter the topic, but didn’t directly address whether he’d return to policies he’d advocated for previously, like the elimination of bilingualism requirements in the civil service or the merging of the two regional health authorities.

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