The Progressive Conservative caucus rebellion against Premier Blaine Higgs may not be over yet.
Seven PC ministers and MLAs were back in their seats Friday morning, voting for government legislation.
But there were signs of continuing fractures over the government’s changes to Policy 713, which sets out how schools must provide safe, inclusive spaces for LGBTQ students.
Fundy-The Isles-Saint John West PC MLA Andrea Anderson-Mason blasted a government bill that she said contradicted the premier’s logic on revising Policy 713.
Among other changes, the new version of the policy removes any clear obligation that teachers have to respect a child’s choice of a new name and pronouns within the classroom.
Higgs says this is aimed at putting parents at the centre of decisions about their children’s education.
At the same time, Bill 46 will restrict the powers of elected anglophone district education councils to playing an advisory role.
“I find it really ironic that we are standing here today and have had so many conversations about the importance of the role of parents in the lives of their children in the education system,” Anderson-Mason said during a second-reading debate on the bill.
“And this new legislation has the effect of almost fully eliminating the input of local communities on their children’s education. … If that is the issue with 713, then explain to me how we can do what we’re doing in the Education Act.”
Opposition Liberal Leader Susan Holt said Anderson-Mason’s comments were “not typical … so it is a sign that there continues to be dissent in caucus.
“They’re feeling a lot like New Brunswickers, I think. They’re not included in the process of major legislation.”
Even before Anderson-Mason’s speech, Green Leader David Coon said the revolt was still “simmering” and it would be a long weekend for some Tories.
“The premier’s going to have to make a decision on how he’s going to actually lead a government where he’s lost the confidence of so many cabinet ministers and members of his caucus.”
Higgs questions MLA’s motives
But Higgs told reporters Anderson-Mason had “another agenda” that he wouldn’t identify.
He called her comments on a contradiction between the policy and the bill “a long reach.”
“She is on her own mission and I’ll leave it at that,” he said.
Anderson-Mason was among the eight PC members who refused to take their seats Thursday morning after the release of the revisions to Policy 713.
They said they were expressing their “extreme disappointment in a lack of process and transparency.”
Education Minister Bill Hogan told reporters before Anderson-Mason’s speech that the state of the PC caucus was “absolutely fine” and that MLAs were united.
Higgs threatened on Thursday to call an election after the PC revolt broke out.
He said Friday “it remains to be seen” if the revolt is over.
“It’s an unfortunate incident that happened yesterday but we are debating some big, big items. I’ve always been very open to have discussions but very reluctant to walk away from it and park it in a corner.”
Minister denies rebellion
The seven dissidents back in the house Friday were ministers Dorothy Shephard, Trevor Holder, Arlene Dunn, Jeff Carr and Jill Green and backbenchers Ross Wetmore and Anderson-Mason.
The eighth, Local Government Minister Daniel Allain, was at an event in Moncton.
He told Radio-Canada there was “no rebellion” in the PC caucus but he’d “continue to promote transparency.”
Holt said she hoped the eight Tories would vote for a motion she introduced Friday morning calling on the government to revert to the original Policy 713.
“I do think that some of them may be supportive of our motion,” she said.
“What we’re focused on right now is doing everything we can to defend the rights of children and the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. We are trying to use every tool in our toolkit to get this policy into the legislature.”
Departmental policies, unlike legislation, are not normally voted on in the legislature. Holt’s motion would not come to a vote before next Thursday.
The changes to Policy 713 have received national attention, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighing in during a Thursday evening Pride event in Toronto.
“Trans kids need to feel safe, not targeted by politicians,” he said.
Holt also called on the eight dissident PC MLAs to vote against a government motion Friday to limit debate on nine bills, including the DEC legislation, to a maximum total of 12 hours.
“I would be encouraged to see them stand up for democracy and vote down the closure motion,” Holt said.
In the debate on the DEC legislation, Anderson-Mason said another flaw was that it was at odds with the original PC plan a year and a half ago to enshrine more local input, not less, in the Education Act.
The government wants the bill passed before the legislature’s scheduled adjournment for the summer on June 16.
But Anderson-Mason said the 111-page bill was being “rushed through” and she would support an opposition motion to send it to the legislature’s law amendments committee for further study.
“What is wrong with actually taking the legislation, showing it to people and saying, ‘is this good? Does this work? Does this make sense?'”
Allain would not say Friday whether he thought Higgs should quit.
“It’s his choice. At the end of the day, I am a proud Progressive Conservative.”