Premier Higgs Political Firestorm

6 months ago

For political junkies, or even for those with only a passing interest in New Brunswick politics, these days are like feeding at an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord, aren’t they?  

And to think the last straw that ignited this political firestorm was a policy aimed at teenagers.  

One of the demonstrations prompted by the government’s policy review

In earlier blogs, I was critical of Policy 713 not because I have any special insight into the sexual orientation and gender identity issues of teenagers, but because it struck me as adding another level of risk and stress on kids who are already vulnerable enough. I saw it as unnecessarily cruel and dangerous. 

Here’s the thing. Policy 713 is one of those issues on which reasonable people can disagree. While I see more bad and good in the policy change, I don’t discount the argument that generally speaking, parents shouldn’t be kept in the dark about their under 16 year-old children, or the potential regret teenagers may experience down the road for decisions made when their cognitive skills weren’t yet fully developed, just because changing their sexual identity had become trendy. But even in stating that I may be showing that I don’t fully understand the issue, but that’s kind of the point.  A simple solution to a complicated problem hardly ever works, and that’s the case here.  

Premier Higgs and Education Minister Bill Hogan. Photo Credit: Telegraph Journal

You’d think when the Premier and Education Minister saw the pushback, including from people and organizations who are in a position to know the ramifications of what they were proposing better than they would, from front-line teachers to psychologists, from the Association of Social Workers to Partners for Youth whose work is specifically in the interests of youth who are facing challenges, to the LGBTQ+ community, not to mention from within their own government, and the Child Advocate, and others, that rather than dig in they might reflect that maybe, just maybe, all these others have a point worth considering. And in seriously considering why there is all this opposition, conclude that maybe this policy change isn’t the way to go.  

That is what real leaders would do. But rather, he doubled down, I presume because he sees leadership as being tough and uncompromising. Or to give him the benefit of the doubt, that it is based on a principle and you don’t compromise on principles. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be open-minded enough to change your mind if you are presented with evidence that suggests you should. Changing your mind isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength, but admitting you are wrong doesn’t appear to be in this Premier’s repertoire.  

Photo Credit:CBC

Because of Premier Higgs and Education Minister Bill Hogan’s ham-fisted approach to it, and the sham of a review that resulted in their pushing their desired changes through, what we have instead of a policy change based on a carefully-considered analysis of the pros and cons of any changes, where views of everyone from parents to professionals have been weighed, we have polarization, where the rhetoric identifies the “other side” as either indifferent to the welfare of queer kids, or that they are being encouraged to change their sex. 

Neither is true. I have no doubt that both sides have the best interests of the children directly affected at heart. Neither side wants to see kids victimized. Higgs and Hogan are not homophobes, and the LGBTQ+ community is not recruiting.  

From that common ground, where they both care about what’s best for the kids, you’d think, and hope, that a solid, informed policy could emerge. But going down that road requires the commitment and guidance of solid leadership. And because that is lacking in this case, instead of an improved policy, the train, predictably, went off the rails.  

Former Higgs cabinet minister Dorothy Shephard Photo Credit: NB Legislature video capture via Global News

So now, it appears the whole Higgs government is going off the rails. Policy 713 may have been the latest battle, but what has emerged is that the government has been in an internal war, brought to light by the rebellion within the government ranks, punctuated by the resignation of the respected and now former Cabinet Minister Dorothy Shephard over Higgs’ leadership style, and the call for a formal review of Higgs’ leadership. Seems Dominic Cardy wasn’t an outlier after all.  

To paraphrase Lewis Carrol from Alice in Wonderland, which seems fitting, the situation is getting curiouser and curiouser.  

This government implosion or whatever it is, may be fun times if you are a political junkie, Cardy, or Susan Holt. But if you are the Premier, probably not so much.

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