Christian conservative groups seeking support for New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs now have enough signatures to be a deciding factor in any leadership review vote.
Two groups seeking support for the embattled Progressive Conservative leader have flexed their muscles in the past month, amassing enough names to swing the vote in his favor.
“Many times it’s hundreds or even dozens of people who can make a difference in some of these elections,” said Faytene Grasseschi, who runs Quispamsis’ 4 My Canada group outside St. John.
As of Wednesday, he said he had collected nearly 9,000 names from across Canada, including 2,000 from New Brunswick.
“If you’re going to a leadership review, I think it’s buying that membership and making your voice heard,” Grasseschi said.
“This is just basic democracy, right?”
Another group, Right Now, has more than 1,200 signatures. Co-founder Alissa Golob estimates that more than 90 percent of them are from New Brunswickers.
“We’ll be ready if it comes to a leadership review or if it comes to an election,” he said.
Twenty-six PC riding association presidents have signed letters calling for a review, hoping to spark a vote by members on whether to get rid of Higgs. The New Brunswick premier has lost or fired several cabinet ministers in recent months over his leadership style and his stance on issues such as a gender policy in the province’s schools.
The next hurdle is a two-thirds vote by the party’s governing body to schedule a convention. But if that happens, Higgs has a good chance of surviving thanks to Grasseschi and Golob.
Only 2,732 PC members voted in the third and final round of the party’s leadership vote in 2016 which Higgs won.
His margin was 394 votes, far less than the number of names collected by 4 My Canada and Right Now.
“The nation and our communities are made up of those who show up in the process,” Grasseschi said.
Groups swung into action over Policy 713
The two groups began mobilizing last month after Higgs faced a cabinet and caucus revolt in the legislature over changes to Policy 713.
The original policy required school staff to honor the name and pronoun choices of students under 16 in the classroom, without notifying parents if that was what the child wanted.
Now, if a child refuses to include parents, they will be directed to a school psychologist or social worker to come up with a plan to include them. Meanwhile, teachers and staff must use the child’s first name and pronoun at birth.
Two ministers resigned from the cabinet after joining four other CPs in voting with the opposition to help pass a Liberal motion calling for more consultations.
They said they resigned over broader problems with the prime minister’s top-down leadership style, but Higgs has insisted the rebellion is about Policy 713 and parental rights.
In a recent interview on True North, a conservative digital media site, Grasseschi said the original policy assumed “all parents are villains.” [But] most parents aren’t villains.”
In fact, the policy was aimed at a small percentage of parents who might react badly or even violently if their children revealed that they were questioning or changing their gender identity.
Grasseschi told Breaking: that Higgs is trying to “strike a balance” to protect “vulnerable youth” while respecting the role of parents.
Author Says Trans Issues Are ‘A New Center’ For Christian Conservatives
Grasseschi is something of a celebrity in conservative Christian circles.
She first rose to fame as an organizer of mass prayer rallies called TheCry and founded 4 My Canada in 2006.
In 2009, well-known Canadian televangelist David Mainse compared her to Old Testament figures Deborah and Esther, saying she had a “prophesy edge”.
Journalist Marci McDonald, author of a 2010 book on the Christian conservative movement, called her “very compelling and charismatic” and “one of the leading figures of the emerging Christian right in this country.”
McDonald said in an interview that he believes Grasseschi and others are using the issue of LGBTQ rights in schools as “a new hub for Christians, evangelical Christians, the religious right, to get involved in politics again, as a new war cry”.
“They haven’t had a mobilization problem since the same-sex marriage that got people to the polls.”
Support can grow ‘exponentially,’ says Right Now co-founder
Right Now has been around since 2016 and focuses primarily on abortion.
Her online petition to support Higgs cites both Policy 713 and her refusal to fund abortions at Fredericton’s 554 Clinic.
Golob said he believes most of the New Brunswick residents who signed are not PC members because many of them opposed some of his other policies, such as the COVID-19 restrictions early in the pandemic.
But he said they form a foundation that can be deployed in any leadership review or election where Higgs’s future hangs in the balance.
“You can grow exponentially as long as you have a strong foundation,” he said.
In a statement, Higgs said he has received support “from a broad cross-section of people” who come from “different backgrounds, different cultures and different religions.”
He said that “despite their differences,” they share his belief and support what he calls his balanced approach.
Sussex father joins PCs in backing Higgs
The strategy of the two groups is already paying off.i
Roxana Kreklo, a Sussex mother of school-age children who works for Harvest Prison Ministries, said she joined the PC party two weeks ago expressly to support Higgs.
“I think it’s important that we all get involved civically,” he said.
Kreklo moved to Canada as a child from Romania shortly after the collapse of the communist government there, one reason she said she is now becoming politically involved.
“I understand the value of coming to a place that is a free and democratic society,” he said. “So I want to do what I can to preserve that for my kids and other kids as well.”
Grasseschi questions the author’s description
McDonald said Grasseschi is part of a movement called the New Apostolic Reformation that aims to put believers in government leadership positions so Canada can be “restored to being a Christian nation in time for the second coming of Christ,” he said. .
Grasseschi would not confirm it.
“You know, that would be a good question,” he told Breaking:. “I don’t know. I hear these kinds of terms. People assume I know. In fact, I have the same question myself.”
But Grasseschi said his goal is not to create the kind of Christian-based government that McDonald claims.
He also said his history with the Christian conservative movement is not relevant to the current debate in New Brunswick.
“I think all young people want to change the world,” he said. “Once we’re older, we just want the government to stay out of our pockets and not cut us out of our children’s lives.”
What comes after Policy 713?
Grasseschi and Kreklo are vague about whether they want more changes to the guidelines on LGBTQ students or other policies.
“Of course I haven’t dissected the policy,” Kreklo said. “I just found out… So as it stands now, I’m happy with that first point of keeping the lines of communication open.”
Grasseschi hopes to persuade the province to give tax credits to parents who take their children out of public schools and enroll them in private schools, effectively allowing them to take their tax dollars out of the public system.
Higgs’ spokesman was asked for comment on that idea, but the prime minister’s statement to Breaking: did not include a response.
Grasseschi He did not say whether he will press Higgs for more information on Policy 713 or on issues such as abortion access or Medicare coverage of gender confirmation surgery for transgender people.
“If some of these other things come back on the radar in the future, maybe we can have another conversation then,” he said.
Political activism separate from charity group, says Grasseschi
In addition to running 4 My Canada, Grasseschi is also the CEO of a charity called V-Kol Media Ministries, which runs a variety of shows and produces her faytene TV show.
The show, which looks at current affairs from a faith-based perspective, is broadcast online and on various cable channels.
V-Kol and 4 My Canada share the same mailing address, but Grasseschi said they are “legally and financially separate.”
V-Kol issues charity tax receipts to donors, so it is restricted from political advocacy, while 4 My Canada, a non-profit organization with no charity status, is free to express itself and be active.
Right Now and 4 My Canada also operate outside of provincial election transparency laws.
Since 2015, Elections New Brunswick has required party leadership candidates and nominating candidates to register and disclose their donors.
But there is no such rule for party leadership reviews.
There are also rules about third-party advertising, but they only apply during election campaigns.
Grasseschi does not rule out another electoral race
Grasseschi herself has already gotten directly into electoral politics.
Not long after moving to New Brunswick, she ran unsuccessfully to be the Conservative Party of Canada’s candidate for Saint John-Rothesay in the last federal election.
He lost to former Saint John mayor Mel Norton, who then lost to liberal incumbent Wayne Long.
She does not rule out running again at the federal level. She also said that she has “vaguely, vaguely” thought about running provincially in Quispamsis whenever Higgs retires as an MLA.
“Right now I’m just trying to do my laundry,” she said. “Right now I’m just trying to get to tomorrow. But we all take things one day at a time in this world, right?”