Leadership from the East

Higgs has demonstrated some important leadership in recent years on some difficult issues, especially for a relatively small province. By all indications, he deserves to be re-elected to continue his successful track record. Pictured: New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs. Photo Credit: The Canadian Press/Stephen MacGillivray. 

Most of the news media’s attention tends to focus on Ottawa and the largest Canadians provinces of Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, but sometimes it’s important to look to our smaller provinces to see some interesting policy developments that can set precedents for the rest of the country. New Brunswick is a good example, as Premier Blaine Higgs has carved out a policy approach on a number of issues that contradicts the “woke” agenda and the seemingly popular belief that government spending can be endless with no downside. 

The first time Higgs hit the national headlines in a big way was mid-2023 when the questions of gender identity, parental rights and related issues in the public school system were being discussed. Higgs introduced changes to the existing policy, called Policy 713, in June 2023. The new approach forbade teachers in New Brunswick from using preferred names and/or pronouns of minor students (under the age of 16) without the consent of parents. 

There was of course immense blowback from the LGBTQ community, and even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighed in with some dramatic comments about how children’s rights were being taken away. Even several members of Higgs’ Cabinet opposed the policy and resigned from Cabinet as a protest. But Higgs, Education Minister Bill Hogan and most of the Conservative caucus stuck to their guns, emphasizing the rights of parents to know what their children were doing in school, including permitting parents to decide what kind of sex education their children were learning. 

The debate became so heated that at one point Higgs stated that he would hold an election on the issue, but it turned out that was not necessary. Public opinion polls showed that the government’s changes to Policy 713 were in fact supported by the majority of citizens in general, and even more strongly supported by parents. Although there were many highly vocal groups and individuals opposing this policy change, it became clear that although they were the loudest, they did not represent the views of the majority by a long shot. 

Just as the hubbub was starting to die down in New Brunswick, Saskatchewan Education Minister Dustin Duncan opted to join in and standardize pronoun and naming policies in their schools as they found policies were inconsistent in schools across the province. Bolstering parental rights to know what their children under 16 were doing was also a key part of the Saskatchewan approach. In October 2023, Saskatchewan introduced legislation on a Parental Bill of Rights. Earlier this year, Alberta joined the other two provinces in legislating parental rights in cases of minor children wanting to change pronouns, names or gender in school. The Alberta legislation went further in setting out age limitations for things such as puberty blockers and hormone therapies for gender-related issues, and gender reassignment surgery. In the case of all three provinces, every indication is that the majority of citizens continue to support the strengthening of parental rights. 

Higgs has also assumed a leadership role among the provinces with respect to fiscal policy. He has been recognized several times as a model of sensible spending restraint. Higgs has managed to keep the rate of spending growth lower than the province’s economic growth as long as he has been in the Premier’s chair since 2018. New Brunswick has run consecutive budget surpluses and even managed to keep the budget in the black throughout the pandemic, something no other province managed to do. In fact, many provinces and the federal government seemed to use the pandemic as an excuse to open the spending floodgates with no appreciable benefit and lots more debt to pay off in future. As a result of Higgs’ fiscal prudence, New Brunswickers have enjoyed some tax reductions with more promised in future. 

In the latest Angus Reid survey on the approval ratings of provincial Premiers, Higgs finds himself in last place. He is facing an election this October, so will be looking to improve on that placement. He is accompanied at the bottom of the rankings by Premiers Francois Legault of Quebec and Doug Ford of Ontario. These rankings tend to shift around constantly, however, with today’s leader being tomorrow’s loser. Higgs has demonstrated some important leadership in recent years on some difficult issues, especially for a relatively small province. By all indications, he deserves to be re-elected to continue his successful track record. 

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