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N.B. Liberals seek 'common ground' in throne speech to divided legislature

Last Updated Oct 23, 2018 at 5:20 pm EST

New Brunswick Liberal MLA Daniel Guitard speaks to members of the media after being sworn in as the speaker of the house on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018 in Fredericton. THE CANADIAN PRESS/James West

FREDERICTON – New Brunswick’s minority Liberal government has presented a throne speech with a bit of something for everyone, but it may not be enough to survive a confidence vote in the coming days.

The speech, delivered by Lt.-Gov Jocelyne Roy Vienneau, outlines what the government is calling a framework for collaboration.

“By embracing the minority government situation, members of the legislative assembly have an opportunity to find common ground while bringing more perspectives to the legislature,” Roy Vienneau said Tuesday.

The Liberals are trying to cling to power after winning just 21 seats in last month’s election — one less than the Tories — while the Greens and People’s Alliance each won three seats.

“By giving four parties a voice in the legislature, many New Brunswickers have sent a clear message that all parties play an important role in moving New Brunswick forward,” she said.

Roy Vienneau said collaboration must be the mission for the members of the assembly.

“If we do not, we risk dividing our province more than ever,” she said.

Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs has stated repeatedly that he and his entire caucus would vote against the throne speech, no matter what it contained. He said the vote had to be seen as a vote on confidence in the Liberal government over the last four years.

“It’s about action and about what we’ve seen over the last four years, and that’s a lack of action,” Higgs said Tuesday.

The speech incorporates many of the campaign promises of the other parties, including a return to balanced budgets by 2020-2021.

The speech proposes a new budget process that would be open to the public, including public debate on how to prioritize departmental spending.

The government says it would establish an all-party committee to develop solutions to a number of issues including recommendations to address paramedic shortages by Dec. 15.

The throne speech says the government would also work with the other parties and outside groups to address issues such as raising the minimum wage and extending pay equity legislation to the private sector.

Other throne speech promises include an examination of electoral reform, protecting and promoting covered bridges as part of the province’s tourism strategy, and considering a possible ban on the use of herbicides such as glyphosate.

Green Leader David Coon said he and his caucus members will have to sit down and decide if they’ll support the speech.

“It will come to a question of confidence of whether or not these things would get implemented in any effective way,” he said.

People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin said he was disappointed the Liberal government is promising to “review” the paramedic shortage.

“The last thing we need is another review to go in the great warehouse of government reviews. We need action,” he said.

At the end of the speech, Roy Vienneau stressed to elected members that New Brunswickers expect a stable government.

“They have put their faith in you to deliver on important issues, and that will only be possible through co-operation and collaboration,” she said.

The session was able to begin because the Liberals put forward one of their members to serve as Speaker. Last week, all the opposition members opted out of the election for Speaker because of the tight numbers in the minority house.

Restigouche-Chaleur Liberal member Daniel Guitard was the only person to offer for the job.

Guitard said he will demand proper conduct and respect during the session.

“The citizens of New Brunswick want us to work together to make New Brunswick a better place for them. That starts here, with proper decorum and conduct,” Guitard said Tuesday after he was led into the legislative chamber by the Liberal and Tory leaders.

“As your Speaker, I will require your respect for all the rules of this house. I will insist on proper decorum, dignity and respect in this chamber. The office of the Speaker demands fairness and firmness.”

Because of debate and other formalities, a vote on the throne speech is not expected before Nov. 2.

The Liberals need a majority vote in the 49-seat legislature in order to get their throne speech passed and survive to continue in the session.

“We are confident and optimistic, but it will be their decision,” Treasury Board President Roger Melanson said when asked how he believes the members will vote.

If the Liberals fail to get 25 votes in support, the lieutenant-governor would then ask Higgs if he can form government and the process would start again.

Higgs says he will try to introduce other confidence motions before that date in a bid to oust the government, but expects the efforts will be ruled out of order.