While Many New Brunswickers are busy watching the process for the impeachment of the American president, some of the most important politics for the province may be happening just slightly north of the US border in Charlotte County as campaigning to elect a member of the provincial government begins.
On Saturday January 25, the People’s Alliance of New Brunswick (PANB) Party held a rally at the Garcelon Civic Center in St. Stephen. The President and Vice President of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour (NBFL) attended the rally with a group of nursing home workers who live in the area.
During the event, NBFL Vice President Kelly Way shared on Facebook that workers were asked to leave the event once upon arrival, then again, a second time, this time recorded on video. The footage shows a speaker for the event announcing that people are outside waiting to get in and “that they ask that the CUPE members would please leave.”
An angry voice behind the camera responded that “the CUPE members are nursing home workers in this community. We are not ‘CUPE members,’ we are nursing home workers.” The speaker looks as though he is going to respond, but then seems to decide not to, and instead stares down at his shoes. Another voice from directly behind the camera (presumably Way herself) adds, “we live here, and we vote here!”
Way clarified later that the PANB managed to expand the room, allowing them to come back. However, as comments on Way’s post point out, the nursing home workers were asked to leave a third time for “repeatedly interrupting speeches.”
Nursing home workers were protesting the rally because of the help PANB gave the Higgs government to pass a Bill that put conditions on the bargaining process and slashed their right to strike. It is widely believed that in exchange for helping, the Higgs government fulfilled a vital PANB platform point, to make it possible for ambulance paramedics to be professionally reclassified.
The result was Bill 17, passed on Dec. 18 with the support of PANB: A Bill that pins workers against each other.
On the way out the door, Way quotes a PANB supporter saying to the rest of the crowd: “Don’t worry, they do NOT matter”.
The Premier has not yet set the date for the by-election, which may be held any time after the March deadline to set the date. Many are speculating that the Premier will call a general election instead. Higgs even warned Conservative voters in the St. Croix riding of the danger of voting for the People’s Alliance. A CBC article published on New Year’s Eve states that the “Premier cautions Saint Croix against splitting vote between PCs and Alliance, ending in possible Liberal win.”
The PC have also selected a candidate, Kathy Bockus. The PANB candidate is former Maritime College of Forest Technology (MCFT) teacher Rod Cumberland who was terminated from his position in June 2019. Cumberland filed a wrongful dismissal lawsuit against the school for allegedly terminating him because of his vocal opposition to the province’s support of spraying the herbicide glyphosate on Crown forest. MCFT has been consistent in describing the behaviors they claim he was terminated for.
These behaviors included (according to CBC): Making disparaging remarks about the college; bullying, harassing and belittling his students; setting the clock ahead and preventing students who arrived late to enter the classroom; and making inappropriate, offensive, sexist and discriminatory comments. The college’s response to Cumberland’s lawsuit says he used the terms “faggy” and “fruity” to describe students in the class.
Cumberland denies these allegations.
Though he has yet to make any solid commitments based on the information about the nursing home workers, Cumberland wrote in a Facebook post early on January 31 that he had just visited the inside of Lincourt Manor (the nursing home in St. Stephen) and that it was “an eye opener” despite his Party’s actions in the Legislature. Cumberland has yet to announce that he would do anything inside the People’s Alliance or the Legislature to help nursing home workers if elected.
[Note: The NB Media Co-op was informed by an authoritative source that a comment attributed to Kris Austin in the original version of the story was in fact made by a PANB supporter. We corrected the story today, Feb 4.]
Naomi Gullison is a fourth year trans student and native studies major at St. Thomas University.