When Blaine Higgs first got interested in running the province of New Brunswick, he viewed himself as the White Knight in shining armour. He saw “politics” as a dirty business, something best left to old style politicians obsessed with getting elected.
Higgs has not recognized politics as the “art of the possible”. Any person who is to be successful in public life must make decisions based on what can be achieved in the current times, with the approval of the voters. There is nothing dirty in that, it is what can make engaging in politics, and governing successfully, an “honorable calling”. This is how Allan Blakeney, the venerable former Premier of Saskatchewan, described his view of politics.
Having claimed he was above “politics”, Premier Higgs has been acting more “political” than any leader who is out in the streets and in the countryside talking to citizens, taking the pulse, listening to the concerns of the average person. He would also be listening to the advice of his colleagues in cabinet and caucus, or of his paid advisors in the public service.
There are plenty of signs that if Mr. Higgs listens, he does not listen carefully to many people before making up his mind. In the case last summer of Policy 713 on Sexual Orientation and Gender, he and some of his ministers indicated there were a great many people complaining about the policy. Under pressure, the government finally admitted that there had been only one complaint. Nonetheless the Premier proceeded to cut back the policy radically and develop the gender issue as a wedge to divide the electorate in the next election.
He views transgender issues as only a matter of “parental rights” not a complex one involving parental, youth, and overall human rights. He did not care to listen to trans youth who can be bullied, some even to the point of suicide. By stirring up an issue involving only a small number of young people, he saw potential electoral advantage for him and his party.
Yet, the Premier did not listen carefully enough to his immediate associates. Eight members of his cabinet and caucus expressed varying degrees of concern about Higgs’ handling of the 713 issues.
Then, on Feb. 2, two key cabinet members, Mike Holland, and Arlene Dunn, announced they will not reoffer in the next election, hardly an indication of strength for the Higgs government. When Ms. Dunn declined to comment immediately on the reason for her departure, Premier Higgs took the highly irregular step of answering for her, saying that “politics turned out to be not for her.”
A clear example of Premier Higgs seeing himself as “above” politics but acting crassly politically occurred as the likelihood of a fall 2023 provincial election loomed large. According to events documented by Robert Jones, a highly respected CBC reporter, the government’s election planning was very well advanced and organizers for Premier Blaine Higgs booked a bus and outfitted it with PC logos branding, a new campaign slogan and a huge photo of the premier.
At the time, a large rate increase for N.B. Power was planned at about the same time. However, on Sept. 25, nine days before N.B. Power's deadline to submit its rate request, Premier Higgs signed a surprise cabinet order extending its debt reduction target two years, to March 2029. This significantly reduced the amount of money the utility would need for immediate debt reduction and overturned months of budget calculations which then had to be completely redone.
Here was Premier Higgs, the undeniably successful and much-vaunted guardian of the financial affairs of the province, taking a decision solely to improve his electoral chances.
Yes, there is an increasing amount of rust on the armour of this premier who portrayed himself like a White Knight, clean, knowledgeable about the financial affairs of the province, the man who can take his own counsel, a new type of politician who would not have to listen.