In­com­ing New Brunswick premier says he will treat tax­pay­ers like cus­tomers

Journal Pioneer - - ATLANTIC - BY KEVIN BISSETT

Blaine Higgs, who will take the oath of of­fice Fri­day to be­come the 34th premier of New Brunswick, says his gov­ern­ment will act more like a ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tion and treat tax­pay­ers like cus­tomers. The Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive leader will lead a mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment as the prov­ince faces chal­lenges around lan­guage rights, fi­nances and health care.

“I’ve said it in the cam­paign a lot, for gov­ern­ment to be a ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tion. For all of us work­ing for gov­ern­ment are work­ing for tax­pay­ers and we should be treat­ing tax­pay­ers like cus­tomers,” Higgs said Thurs­day.

The Tories have just a sin­gle seat more than the Lib­er­als they ousted and Don­ald Wright, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at the Univer­sity of New Brunswick, said Higgs needs to set a tone of con­cil­i­a­tion right from the start.

“He’s got a very frac­tured, very pre­car­i­ous leg­is­la­ture. He’s got to strike the right notes. It won’t be easy but it will be pos­si­ble. I think New Brunswick­ers ex­pect these men and women to lay down their swords and work to­gether,” Wright said. Wright said every­one will be watch­ing closely to see what the new Tory gov­ern­ment does about car­bon pric­ing and the French-English dynamic in the prov­ince. Higgs has vowed to fix the short­age of paramedics in which the fail­ure to meet lan­guage re­quire­ments has left some am­bu­lances un­staffed.

Wright said Higgs needs to walk a fine line and not ex­ac­er­bate the lan­guage ten­sions.

Septem­ber’s elec­tion left the prov­ince di­vided, with most of the Lib­eral sup­port in the north, and Tory sup­port in the south.

Higgs said that pre­sented some chal­lenges as he se­lected his list of cabi­net min­is­ters that will be un­veiled Fri­day.

“The way we’re struc­tured, there are ar­eas of the prov­ince where we don’t have elected of­fi­cials in, but cer­tainly we will be en­deav­our­ing to rep­re­sent those ar­eas in a mean­ing­ful way even though we don’t have elected mem­bers. But that’s our job as gov­ern­ment, no mat­ter what the case,” he said. The out­go­ing Lib­eral premier, Brian Gal­lant, said Thurs­day that lan­guage is one is­sue he should have ad­dressed bet­ter.

“Over the last four years as premier, I should have talked more about bilin­gual­ism. I should have spo­ken more about the ben­e­fits of bilin­gual­ism to our eco­nomic fab­ric. I should have also ac­knowl­edged more of­ten some of the con­cerns that peo­ple have with re­gards to how they feel bilin­gual­ism has had a neg­a­tive im­pact on their lives.

“And I should have spent more time as well at bust­ing some of the myths around bilin­gual­ism,” he said.

Gal­lant said he was most proud of his free tu­ition and child­care pro­grams, and hopes they won’t be scrapped or down­graded by a Tory gov­ern­ment.

Higgs said Thurs­day he wants to en­gage New Brunswick­ers, get their opin­ions, and make them part of the so­lu­tion as he takes power.

And he said that starts with con­sult­ing the civil ser­vice.

“I don’t come ready-made with a list of so­lu­tions, but I very much en­joy dis­cus­sions where you start ask­ing ques­tions like, ‘What do you think we should do?’ And it’s al­most like peo­ple say ‘I’m sur­prised you’d ask.’ We should al­ways be ask­ing,” he said.

“We shouldn’t pre­tend to have all the an­swers. We should be look­ing for so­lu­tions from peo­ple in their par­tic­u­lar ar­eas of ex­per­tise to help us im­prove.”

The lieu­tenant-gov­er­nor asked Higgs to form a gov­ern­ment after Gal­lant’s Lib­er­als were de­feated on a con­fi­dence vote on their throne speech last week.

Stand­ings in the 49-seat leg­is­la­ture are 22 Tories, 21 Lib­er­als, three Green party mem­bers and three Peo­ple’s Al­liance MLAs. The Tories can stay in of­fice with the sup­port of the three Al­liance mem­bers, which gives them the 25 votes needed for a ma­jor­ity.

Kris Austin, leader of the Peo­ple’s Al­liance, has said the party will sup­port the Tories on con­fi­dence votes for at least 18 months.

The Tory throne speech is ex­pected Nov. 20, and Higgs said he’ll meet with the other par­ties next week to get their in­put.

Higgs said his throne speech will fo­cus on a short list of pri­or­i­ties, un­like the many prom­ises made in the Lib­eral speech.

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