New Brunswick government cancels throne speech to resume session amid strike
By Kevin Bissett
FREDERICTON — The New Brunswick government has cancelled Tuesday’s planned throne speech and instead will resume the session of the legislature that was held in the spring.
The Speaker’s office sent a notice to all members of the legislature this morning to notify them of the change.
Government officials did not immediately comment, but the move comes amid a public service strike involving 22,000 members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees and threats of possible back-to-work legislation.
Earlier in the day, the leader of the official Opposition said Premier Blaine Higgs should be locked in a negotiating room with striking public sector workers.
Liberal Leader Roger Melanson told reporters the government seems intent on punishing employees, as opposed to trying to settle with them on adequate wages and benefits.
All schools in the province moved to online learning Monday after the labour dispute had forced the cancellation of classes on Friday.
Those who walked off the job Friday included school bus drivers, custodians, mechanics, some health-care workers in rehabilitation and therapy, educational support staff, and workers in transportation, corrections and the community college system.
“We are at an urgent situation,” Melanson said. “This is not how you treat your own employees. (The province is) not trying to resolve the issues.”
Before contract talks broke off Tuesday night, the union was seeking a 12 per cent raise over four years, while the province offered an 8.5 per cent wage increase over five years.
Melanson said the two sides aren’t too far apart and should have negotiated over the weekend.
“(The government) should work with them — having good working conditions and adequate benefits and salaries so they can work to their full potential,” Melanson said. “I am worried what the premier will do.”
Higgs has said he was considering using the Emergency Measures Act to order strikers back to work or introducing back-to-work legislation. Melanson said if the government is planning to force workers back, there needs to be debate in the legislature. He said his preference, however, would be a negotiated settlement.
On Sunday, Education Minister Dominic Cardy said the government chose to move classes online as a way to offer stability to students and families. The union called the government’s decision heavy-handed.
Higgs said on the weekend the strike by public sector workers had started to affect hospitals in Moncton, Saint John and Campbellton — cities located in regions of the province under heightened COVID-19 restrictions.
The strike forced the cancellation of a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Fredericton as well as some COVID-19 testing at hospitals.
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