Blaine Higgs

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Blaine Higgs
Blaine Higgs 2019.jpg
Higgs in 2019
34th Premier of New Brunswick
Assumed office
November 9, 2018
MonarchElizabeth II
Lieutenant GovernorJocelyne Roy-Vienneau
Brenda Murphy
DeputyRobert Gauvin
Preceded byBrian Gallant
Leader of the Opposition
In office
October 22, 2016 – November 9, 2018
Preceded byBruce Fitch
Succeeded byBrian Gallant
Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick
Assumed office
October 22, 2016
Preceded byBruce Fitch (Interim)
Minister of Finance
In office
October 12, 2010 – October 7, 2014
PremierDavid Alward
Preceded byGreg Byrne
Succeeded byRoger Melanson
Member of the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly
for Quispamsis
Assumed office
September 27, 2010
Preceded byMary Schryer
Personal details
Born (1954-03-01) March 1, 1954 (age 68)
Woodstock, New Brunswick, Canada
Political partyProgressive Conservative
Other political
affiliations
Confederation of Regions Liberal
Spouse(s)Marcia Higgs

Blaine Myron Higgs (born March 1, 1954) is a Canadian politician who is the 34th and current premier of New Brunswick since 2018 and leader of the New Brunswick Progressive Conservative Party (PC Party) since 2016.

Higgs graduated from the University of New Brunswick as an engineer. He then worked for 33 years for Irving Oil. Higgs ran for the leadership of the anti-bilingual New Brunswick Confederation of Regions Party in 1989. Higgs was first elected to the legislature in the 2010 provincial election and served as minister of finance from 2010 to 2014 in the government of David Alward. In the 2018 provincial election, Higgs narrowly carried the PCs to a minority government, despite losing the popular vote. Higgs and the PCs were re-elected in the 2020 provincial election, though this time with a majority government.

Life and career[edit]

Higgs was born in Woodstock, New Brunswick,[1] and graduated from the University of New Brunswick as an engineer.[2] He worked for 33 years for Irving Oil, rising to the position of senior executive overseeing oil transportation across eastern Canada and New England.[2][3] Higgs retired from Irving Oil in 2010.[1]

Early political career[edit]

Higgs has belonged to three political parties and ran for the leadership of two.

Liberal Party[edit]

Before joining the Confederation of Regions party, Higgs was a Liberal party member but left the Liberals because he opposed Canadian bilingualism[4] and the New Brunswick Official Languages Act.

Confederation of Regions Party[edit]

In his mid-thirties, Higgs ran for the leadership of the New Brunswick Confederation of Regions (COR) party,[1] stating that he was in favour of "common-sense".[5] In his bid for the COR leadership, Higgs "complained about francophones 'who can speak the common language, but refuse to'".[6] He also supported an elected Senate, opposed the Meech Lake Accord, favoured fixed terms for government, and stated "We do not have an obligation to cater to those people who can speak the common language, English, and refuse to do so".[7]

Finance minister[edit]

On October 12, 2010, Higgs was sworn-in as Minister of Finance, Minister responsible for the New Brunswick Liquor Corporation, Minister responsible for the New Brunswick Investment Management Corporation, Minister responsible for the New Brunswick Lotteries and Gaming Corporation, and Chair of the Board of Management. He also served as Minister of Human Resources until October 9, 2012.[8] While Higgs was Minister of Finance, the decision was made to stop making regular payments to pension plans, later causing pension issues for Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) members leading to the strike in 2021.[9]

Progressive Conservative Party leadership[edit]

Higgs represents the electoral district of Quispamsis as a member,[10] and, since October 22, 2016, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick. On that date the Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick leadership election was held and on the third ballot he defeated former Saint John Mayor Mel Norton, 1,563 to 1,169.[11]

2018 provincial election[edit]

In the 2018 provincial election, Higgs and his party won the largest share of seats in the legislature, 22, compared to 21 for the governing Liberal Party of New Brunswick, which opted to attempt to remain in power as a minority government by presenting a Throne Speech in hopes of retaining the confidence of the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick.[12][13]

On November 2, 2018, the Progressive Conservatives and the People's Alliance combined to defeat Premier Brian Gallant's Liberal minority government via a non confidence vote in the legislature.[14]

Premier of New Brunswick (2018–present)[edit]

Higgs was appointed Premier on November 9, 2018. At 64 years of age at the time of swearing-in, Higgs is the oldest person to be sworn in as Premier in New Brunswick history, and in April 2019 became the oldest ever Premier in New Brunswick history, surpassing Leonard Percy de Wolfe Tilley in both records.[15]

Economic policy[edit]

In 2019, Higgs began repealing several financial assistance programs for New Brunswick students attending post-secondary institutions. His party deemed programs such as the Timely Completion Benefit, established in May 2009,[16] to be "very costly".[17] The Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick believed redistributing the funds allocated to this program through a tuition tax credit was a "better" way to reach more students.[18] This move, along with the removal of the Free Tuition Program, were highly criticized by students across the province, with some emphasizing that there is no longer any incentive to remain in New Brunswick to work or study.[19]

In 2020, Higgs opted out of a federal program to fund public transit in New Brunswick, as he "misunderstood details" of the federal program designed to rescue municipal transit services.[20] Higgs claimed multiple times that the funding was for capital projects, but according to a government backgrounder on the agreement, that specific program was meant to address the operating deficits and revenue shortfalls caused by the pandemic.[21] Higgs also claimed that the program was only for larger provinces, stating, "that was a specific request for infrastructure funding for subways and for systems in Toronto and Montreal and BC — for the big cities." Documents later showed that Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia have received a combined $57.1 million from Ottawa's "Safe Restart" public transit aid program. New Brunswick asked for and received $0.[22]

Equalization[edit]

Higgs raised the idea of cutting equalization payments made to 'have-not provinces', including New Brunswick during a First Ministers' meeting in Montreal in 2018. The New Brunswick government budgeted for $1.8-billion worth of equalization transfers in 2018-19. Without 30 per cent of the budget coming through federal transfer payments, Higgs suggested attitudes might change about resource development.[23]

Labour[edit]

Higgs's government had to deal with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) strike in October and November 2021. About 20,000 workers in the education, health, transportation and infrastructure sectors went on strike for 16 days. On November 14, Higgs's government reached a deal with CUPE. The agreement included raising wages for the workers.[24]

Reconcilliation[edit]

In 2020, the Higgs government was urged to call an inquiry into systemic racism following police officers shooting and killing Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi in separate incidents that summer. First Nations Chiefs later walked out on a meeting with Higgs following his refusal to commit to an independent inquiry, stating that they were 'losing faith' in him.[25]

The following year, Higgs's government pulled out of tax-sharing agreements with 13 Mi'kmaq and Wolastoqey First Nations without consultation.[26]

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn announced in 2021 that the Higgs Government would hire an independent commissioner to examine systemic racism rather than call a public inquiry. Indigenous leaders later denounced the provincial government's plan to address systemic racism, calling it a form of systemic racism itself.[27]

Following a major land title claim filed by Wolastoqey Chiefs, Higgs alleged that title claim "impacts every single land owner" in the province by claiming title to "private lands of any kind" with "no limits". Higgs's comments that the lawsuit might lead to Indigenous people winning control of 60 per cent of the province's land, including private homes and businesses was flatly contradicted by the 657-page statement of claims filed by the chiefs in court, which listed only five forestry companies, NB Power, and the federal and provincial governments.[28]

Shortly afterwards, New Brunswick's Attorney General Ted Flemming sent a memo to government employees which asked them to cease making indigenous territorial acknowledgements that made reference to 'unceded' or 'unsurrendered' land. "As a result of this litigation, legal counsel for GNB and the Office of the Attorney General has advised that GNB employees may not make or issue territorial or title acknowledgements. This includes the use of territorial acknowledgements at meetings and events, in documents, and in email signatures."[29] This policy faced growing backlash, including within the Premier's own cabinet. A leaked series of emails revealed Education Minister Dominic Cardy and Transportation Minister Jill Green wrote to the premier complaining that the new policy was causing unnecessary conflict and “creates the impression of a government intentionally reinforcing racist behaviour.” [30]

COVID-19 pandemic[edit]

Higgs led the provincial government response to the COVID-19 pandemic in New Brunswick. On March 19, 2020, the government declared a state of emergency.[31] Higgs tested positive for COVID-19 on December 31, 2021.[32]

2020 re-election[edit]

Higgs argued that stability in government was required for the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recovery.[33] The snap election was called on August 17, 2020.[34] Higgs and the Progressive Conservatives were re-elected to a majority government in the 2020 provincial election held on September 14.

Electoral record[edit]

Quispamsis[edit]

2020 New Brunswick general election
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Progressive Conservative Blaine Higgs 5,697 68.11 +11.23
Liberal Robert Hunt 1,225 14.64 -10.55
Green Addison Fach 528 6.31 +0.92
New Democratic Caitlin Grogan 501 5.99 +3.09
People's Alliance Sara Hall 414 4.95 -4.69
Total valid votes 8,365
Total rejected ballots 24 0.29 +0.13
Turnout 8,389 69.86 +1.69
Eligible voters 12,008
Progressive Conservative hold Swing +11.23
2018 New Brunswick general election
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Progressive Conservative Blaine Higgs 4,691 56.87 +5.52
Liberal Aaron Kennedy 2,078 25.19 -6.41
People's Alliance Keith Porter 795 9.64 +8.13
Green Mark Woolsey 445 5.40 +2.25
New Democratic Ryan Jewkes 239 2.90 -9.50
Total valid votes 8248 100.0  
Total rejected ballots 13 0.16
Turnout 8261 69.89
Eligible voters 11,820
Progressive Conservative notional gain Swing +5.97
Source: Elections New Brunswick[35]
2014 New Brunswick general election
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Progressive Conservative Blaine Higgs 3,884 51.35 +0.68
Liberal Mary Schryer 2,390 31.60 -2.61
New Democratic Angela-Jo "AJ" Griffin 938 12.40 +0.99
Green Patrick Kemp 238 3.15 -0.55
People's Alliance Brandon Gardner 114 1.51
Total valid votes 7,564 100.0  
Total rejected ballots 19 0.25
Turnout 7,583 64.76
Eligible voters 11,710
Progressive Conservative notional hold Swing +1.64
Source: Elections New Brunswick[36]
2010 New Brunswick general election
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Progressive Conservative Blaine Higgs 4,076 50.67 +6.69
Liberal Mary Schryer 2,752 34.21 -17.08
New Democratic Matthew Doherty 918 11.41 +6.68
Green Mark Woolsey 298 3.70
Total valid votes 8,044 100.0  
Total rejected ballots 30 0.37
Turnout 8,074 69.29
Eligible voters 11,652
Progressive Conservative gain from Liberal Swing +11.88
Source: Elections New Brunswick[37]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Poitras, Jacques. "Blaine Higgs". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved August 30, 2020.
  2. ^ a b MacDonald, Michael (November 2, 2018). "New Brunswick's next premier is a fiscal hawk and former Irving Oil executive". CTV News. The Canadian Press. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
  3. ^ "A look at New Brunswick Tory Leader Blaine Higgs". National Post. The Canadian Press. August 22, 2018. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
  4. ^ Hanton, Elizabeth (August 25, 1989). "COR Candidates Outline Views". The Daily Gleaner. p. 19.
  5. ^ Anonymous (September 8, 1989). "Four Seek COR Leadership Nod". The Daily Gleaner. p. 3.
  6. ^ Richardson, Don (September 7, 1989). "CoR candidates say their former parties fall short". The Daily Gleaner. p. 3.
  7. ^ Billings, Louella (September 11, 1989). "Pafford Wins Leadership on First Ballot". The Daily Gleaner. p. 2.
  8. ^ "Blaine Higgs GNB profile". Government New Brunswick. Retrieved December 24, 2021.
  9. ^ "Largely government's doing". cbc.ca. Retrieved December 24, 2021.
  10. ^ New Brunswick Votes 2010: Quispamsis. cbc.ca, September 27, 2010.
  11. ^ "Blaine Higgs wins N.B. PC leadership race on 3rd ballot". CBC News. Retrieved October 24, 2016.
  12. ^ Leeder, Jessica (September 26, 2018). "Alliances start to form in wake of N.B. election". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
  13. ^ Benjamin, Graeme (September 24, 2018). "PCs win most seats in N.B. election, Liberals vow to maintain power". Global News. Retrieved January 16, 2019.
  14. ^ Poitras, Jacques (November 2, 2018). "Brian Gallant's minority government defeated after losing confidence vote". CBC News. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
  15. ^ Poitras, Jacques (November 9, 2018). "8 things you need to know about New Brunswick's next premier, Blaine Higgs". CBC News. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  16. ^ Timely Completion Benefit now available. gnb.ca, May 13, 2009.
  17. ^ Province Makes Changes To Tuition Bursary Program. thewave.ca, April 9, 2019.
  18. ^ Changes to tuition bursary program mean more students will get less money. cbc.ca, April 9, 2019.
  19. ^ University students face 'lose-lose' scenario after free tuition program scuppered. cbc.ca, April 13, 2019.
  20. ^ Jones, Robert (August 27, 2020). "Province 'opted out' of Ottawa's municipal transit relief program without knowing the facts". CBC News. Retrieved November 18, 2021.
  21. ^ "Federal transit money 'not designed' for smaller provinces, Higgs says". Global News. July 31, 2020. Retrieved January 27, 2022.
  22. ^ "Federal transit aid rejected by NB is flowing to other small provinces". CBC News. November 4, 2020. Retrieved January 27, 2022.
  23. ^ "Ottawa should cut equalization to force provinces to develop resources, Higgs says". CBC News. December 19, 2018. Retrieved January 27, 2022.
  24. ^ "New Brunswick's premier says tentative deal with CUPE fair for workers and taxpayers". CTV News. November 14, 2021. Retrieved January 14, 2022.
  25. ^ "Chiefs walk out of meeting after Higgs doesn't agree on inquiry into systemic racism". CBC News. July 8, 2020. Retrieved January 27, 2022.
  26. ^ "Higgs government pulls out of gas-tax sharing with First Nations". CBC News. April 13, 2021. Retrieved January 27, 2022.
  27. ^ "Indigenous leaders say N.B.'s plan to address systemic racism is a form of racism". CBC News. March 24, 2021. Retrieved January 27, 2022.
  28. ^ "Higgs accused of lying about Wolastoqey title claim". CBC News. December 2, 2021. Retrieved January 27, 2022.
  29. ^ "N.B. employees told to stop making Indigenous title acknowledgments, but won't face repercussions if they do". CBC News. October 15, 2021. Retrieved January 27, 2022.
  30. ^ "New Brunswick premier faces growing backlash to land acknowledgment policy". Global News. October 26, 2021. Retrieved January 27, 2022.
  31. ^ Fraser, Elizabeth; MacKinnon, Bobbi-Jean (March 19, 2020). "N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Province declares state of emergency". CBC News. Retrieved January 14, 2022.
  32. ^ "New Brunswick's premier tests positive for COVID-19". Atlantic. December 31, 2021. Retrieved January 17, 2022.
  33. ^ Poitras, Jacques (August 10, 2020). "Higgs proposes deal to avoid general election until 2022 or end of COVID-19 pandemic". CBC News.
  34. ^ Poitras, Jacques (August 17, 2020). "Blaine Higgs calls New Brunswick election for Sept. 14, despite pandemic". CBC News.
  35. ^ Elections New Brunswick (February 22, 2019). "Thirty-Ninth General Election September 24, 2018" (PDF). Retrieved March 13, 2020.
  36. ^ Elections New Brunswick (October 6, 2014). "Declared Results, 2014 New Brunswick election". Archived from the original on October 14, 2014. Retrieved October 16, 2014.
  37. ^ "Thirty-seventh General Election - Report of the Chief Electoral Officer" (PDF). Elections New Brunswick. September 27, 2010. Retrieved January 1, 2015.