Thursday, Dec. 10, the first Opposition Day of New Brunswick’s new Legislature, featured debate on a Liberal Party motion for an inquiry into systemic racism in the justice system.
Indigenous leaders have been calling for a government inquiry since the shooting deaths of two Indigenous people, Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi, at the hands of police in New Brunswick this past summer.
Every Thursday afternoon, opposition parties have their only opportunity to introduce debate on their own motions or bills. This time in the Legislature is called “Opposition Members’ Business” or Opposition Day.
MLA Lisa Harris (Miramichi Bay-Neguac) took this first opportunity for her Liberal Party to introduce a motion to “urge the government to appoint a commission of inquiry into systemic racism in New Brunswick criminal justice and policing.”
Harris’ introductory speech described how she learned, through her friendship with Mi’kmaw women, that Indigenous mothers are concerned about encounters their children might have with police, a concern, Harris noted, she does not have with her own children. This experience highlighted for Harris the level of systemic racism existing in New Brunswick.
The debate was notable for two reasons. First, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Arlene Dunn (Saint John Harbour) introduced an amendment, seconded by Premier Blaine Higgs, that gutted the Liberal motion and removed the inquiry. That amended motion passed.
Harris commented that probably the only thing the debate had accomplished was that Minister Dunn had kept her Minister job.
Overriding the demands of Indigenous leaders for an inquiry is simply another example of systemic racism by the Progressive Conservative (PC) government, explained Harris. Assuming to know what is best for Indigenous communities in New Brunswick is the problem that an inquiry would have addressed.
Indeed, the purpose of the motion by the opposition Liberal party was likely just that: to make it clear that the PC government had no intention of calling an inquiry. The motion also attempted to show Indigenous leaders the Liberal party is on their side.
Following the debate, Indigenous leaders called for Minister Dunn to step down.
Second, the debate was also notable with the passionate speech by Green Party MLA Kevin Arseneau (Kent North) about white people in the Legislature presuming to know better than Indigenous people about systemic racism in New Brunswick.
Arseneau called out the government’s hypocrisy for its statement that the government did not want an inquiry because it wanted action. Arseneau pointed out that it is clearly possible to have action at the same time as an inquiry.
Arseneau’s speech from Dec 10 is here:
This Thursday, Dec. 17, will be the final Opposition Day of the year. The first item on the order paper is another Liberal motion, to “urge the province to fund the services provided by Clinic 554 … and repeal paragraph (a.1) of Schedule 2 of regulation 84-20 of the Medical Services Payment Act that prevents the payment of abortions outside of a hospital setting.”
A debatable motion ends with a vote in the Legislature but the result of the vote is non-binding; the government can choose to ignore a motion that passes.
In the current PC majority government situation, the likelihood of the Clinic 554 motion passing is slim, and even if the motion does pass, the government is unlikely to recognize it.
However, the debate will give MLAs an opportunity to make their positions clear on reproductive justice in New Brunswick. The debate will be livestreamed from the Legislative Assembly website.
Susan O’Donnell is a reporter for the NB Media Co-op.