When Saint John resident Josh Floyd started a petition on Change.org demanding the resignation of New Brunswick’s premier, he had no idea that the signatures would grow as quickly as they have. Within days the count reached 10,000 and within a week and a half had reached 18,000. At the time of this writing it is still growing.
The petition calls for Premier Blaine Higgs to resign because, in Floyd’s view, he refuses to offer unionized workers a fair wage; he opposes revenue sharing and treaty land rights for Indigenous peoples; and he has become soft on COVID, allowing for large gatherings of people despite more effective restrictions in the early days of the pandemic that limited the spread of the virus.
The infection and death rates in New Brunswick due to COVID have risen more in the last couple of months than at any point since the pandemic began, Floyd said.
When he started the petition, Floyd thought he might elicit a few hundred signatures from his friends and allies in the NDP, but the number quickly skyrocketed. “It was a complete shock to me,” he said. “It’s the first major petition I have really put energy into.”
He knows a large number of union members have signed, but also people from across the political spectrum.
“Lots of average, everyday New Brunswickers have shared it and tweeted about it,” he said.
Floyd, who ran for MP and MLA in the last federal and provincial elections and who is an active member of Socialist Action Canada would like to see media put the resignation question to Higgs directly, by asking “how do you respond to this Higgs?”
“Maybe that would make him more willing to talk and go back to the bargaining table,” he said.
Floyd added that enough is enough with Higgs’ austerity practices. “Why don’t we have a $15 minimum wage like other provinces such as Alberta and BC that are going in this direction?”
The petition comes amid other controversies that have plagued the Progressive Conservative government in recent months.
In March, it was revealed that it was Higgs himself who was behind a letter from the Natural Resources Minister calling on the Energy and Utilities Board to support Irving Oil’s application to increase wholesale margins for petroleum prices. It was widely criticized as being inappropriate. Had the increase been granted, it would have cost New Brunswick customers $60 million.
In October, he was criticized for not increasing timber royalties during the 2020-21 timber price boom, which cost the province $200 million in lost revenue. Instead, sawmills saw record profits. New Brunswick’s largest sawmills are owned by JD Irving.
He has also been roundly criticized for running a $409 million surplus—the largest in the province’s history—in the midst of a pandemic over 2020-21, in which hospitals have been short staffed and schools have been ill-prepared to address air quality issues that may have increased community transmission of COVID-19.
For 2021-22, the government is projecting a $38 million surplus, while refusing to bargain with provincial workers.
As he considers all these issues as well as Higgs’ recent back to work legislation plus his failure over the years to fund public servants’ pension plans, Floyd says he is considering creating a second petition in favour of a general strike.
“We need to elect a premier who is willing to sit there and listen to what the people have to say,” he said.
Chris Wanamaker is a retired mental health therapist who lives in Saint John.
Access all of NB Media Co-op’s coverage of the CUPE strike here.
Read all about the the events leading up to the strike here.