New Brunswick Prime Minister Blaine Higgs has been accused of launching “a vicious verbal attack” against a member of the governing body of the provincial Progressive Conservative Party who questioned his leadership.
Regional vice president John Williston said the prime minister was “exaggerating” and “aggressive” when he yelled at the PC county council member this weekend.
“He was obviously furious,” Williston told CBCs Information morning Frederickton.
“If the Prime Minister speaks to his cabinet in this way, if the Prime Minister communicates like this to his caucus, then it is clearly a toxic work environment that none of us would want to accept in our own establishments.”
Higgs is facing an uprising within his PC faction and in the party over his leadership style, which critics say is a top-down system that ignores expertise and allows little input from ministers and MLAs.
Two ministers, Dorothy Shephard and Trevor Holder, have resigned from his cabinet in the past two weeks over concerns about his approach.
Higgs spokesman Nicolle Carlin told Breaking: Monday morning that the prime minister will shake up his cabinet on Tuesday.
Two other ministers, Daniel Allain and Jeff Carr, along with Shephard and Holder, voted against the government on June 15.
All four helped pass a liberal opposition motion calling for further consultation on the government’s Policy 713, which outlines the protection of LGBTQ students in schools.
That vote led to growing discontent within the party that Shephard says goes far beyond Policy 713.
Former party chairman Claude Williams said last week there are letters from presidents of 26 PC riding associations asking for a leadership review — more than the 20 needed to force the county council to vote on whether to hold a vote .
Higgs looks at ‘path ahead’
Williston said the letters were not submitted at Saturday’s meeting because the numbers continue to grow, with two more presidents filing after the meeting because of the prime minister’s conduct.
Higgs said on Saturday there was “a good candid discussion here and I think we have a way forward”.
Asked about Williams telling reporters he was disappointed with the Prime Minister’s comments at the meeting, Higgs said his comments were “about team building, it was about us working together and having good discussions internally”.
But Williston said Higgs’ comments were “almost shocking”.
He also said the prime minister’s critics tried to move a motion to schedule a special meeting of the council for the fall to deal with the leadership review issue, but were sidelined on the basis of the procedure.
“Some people in the party are trying to get the puck,” he said.
PC Party Chair Erika Hachey, who chaired Saturday’s meeting, said Monday morning she had no comment on Williston’s description of the discussion.
Williston said that during the rally, Higgs claimed he was innocent of the party’s poor election showings in French-speaking New Brunswick, and instead pointed the finger at what he called negative coverage in the French-language newspaper L’Acadie Nouvelle.
Information Morning – Fredericton15:12Rebellion of PC parties
Former PC party chairman Brian Harquail, who did not attend the meeting, told Information Morning that if Higgs can’t unite his caucus and his party, he doesn’t deserve to rule New Brunswick.
“I’ve been elected president twice and we have a reputation for eating our boy and blaming someone else for our own mistakes,” he said.
“Well, it’s time we took control and started leading the party in the right direction.”
‘Things are about to escalate’
Harquail was one of four former presidents to sign a letter last week calling for Higgs to step down to avoid a divisive, protracted battle for leadership.
He scoffed at Higgs blaming the negative media coverage for his lack of popularity in francophone New Brunswick.
“Attacking the newspaper for doing their job is childish and shows a very, very strong lack of leadership,” he said.
“Get over it, Blaine, because that’s life and that’s the way it is. And you wanted the job, so let’s keep going.’
Williston said far from calming down, he believes “things are going to escalate” in the county’s internal strife.
He said the prime minister will eventually have to realize that he can no longer govern and that an election now would be at risk as many PC members in local equestrian associations will not work for him as leader.