New Brunswick Prime Minister Blaine Higgs maintains his support for his administration’s changes to Policy 713, which was designed to protect LGBTQ students, despite rising tensions in the legislature.
In an interview on Rosemary Barton LiveHiggs said he is trying to “find a path forward” with regard to managing the changes, but backtracked on a statement he made on June 8 when he said he was willing to call an election on the issue.
“I don’t want to go to an election and I don’t intend to do that,” he said.
The growing controversy in the New Brunswick legislature has resulted from the government’s review and amendment of Policy 713, which sets minimum standards for schools to ensure a safe, welcoming, and inclusive environment for LGBTQ students.
One of the changes that has sparked debate is that students under the age of 16 must now obtain parental consent to allow teachers and staff to use their chosen names and pronouns.
Higgs defended the change, saying information about a child should not be hidden from their parents.
“We are trying to find a way forward to protect the children and involve the parents when the time is right and involve the right people in that process,” he said.
The threat of an election on the issue was raised by Higgs after he faced a revolt by several of his top cabinet ministers in response to the policy review.
Six ministers and two backbench MLAs declined to attend the June 8 morning meeting “as a way of expressing our extreme disappointment at a lack of process and transparency,” they said in a statement.
Review approach drives minister to resign
Since then, one of the eight cabinet ministers has resigned from Higgs cabinet.
On Thursday, after hearing Higgs speak in the legislature about his belief that gender dysphoria has become “trendy,” and how he believes greater acceptance of it harms children and excludes parents, former cabinet minister Dorothy Shephard stood up and left the chamber.
In an interview on Power & PoliticsShephard said her departure was “long overdue” and that she was concerned about the administration’s approach to certain issues, such as Policy 713.
“I just decided it was time,” she said. “I did not feel that I could achieve anything more in this cabinet with this prime minister.”
Shephard is critical of Higgs’ leadership style, saying it is “difficult” and that he “doesn’t get into relationships easily”.
Shephard is the third minister to resign from cabinet, the other two being former education minister Dominic Cardy, who stepped down in October 2022 and now sits as an independent, and former deputy prime minister Robert Gauvin, who stepped down in February 2020 and now sits as a Liberal sits. .
Responding to Shephard’s criticism, Higgs said he recognizes that decisions made in the legislature will not all be unanimous, but the majority of the caucus agreed they needed to “find a path forward” with Policy 713.
“If our process is that there’s a tough issue every time and we don’t agree with where the majority of the caucus had gone, then walking away isn’t the solution,” he said.
Transteener concerned about policy change
Alex Harris, a transgender high school student in New Brunswick, said in an interview Rosemary Barton Live that he is most concerned about the change to the self-identification clause in the policy.
Harris, who is now over 16, came out before the policy change. At the time, his teachers could use his favorite name and pronouns at school and then use his old information when talking to his parents.
“It actually made it easier for me to come out to my parents because I knew I had a safe place in school, even if it didn’t go well,” he said.
When Harris came out to his parents, he said things were going well, but he said he knows people who may not have had the same experience. He said he has “tons” of friends who came out at school before the changes to Policy 713 and now have to get their parents’ permission to let their teachers use their chosen name or pronouns.
“That’s terrifying for them because their parents wouldn’t be safe to come out,” Harris said.
Part of the change to the self-identification clause in the policy is that if students are afraid or object to informing their parents of their change in preferred name and pronouns, they can work with guidance counselors or school social workers and psychologists to place where they feel comfortable telling them.
Harris said the development is “disturbing”.
“For most people who are concerned about these policies, it’s not that they have to go to a place where they can talk to their parents, it’s that their parents aren’t in a place where they accept that they are trans,” he said.