Premier Blaine Higgs has rejected a pledge by six Progressive Conservative MLAs to support his legislation this fall so he can avoid an early election call.
The premier says in a statement to CBC News and Radio-Canada that their collective promise and their insistence that the PC caucus have more input into decisions are actually signs of potential instability.
An Aug. 10 letter from the six members “clearly signifies the intent of these six MLAs is to continue to function as an independent group deciding when and where they will be supportive of government’s agenda,” Higgs said.
“A government cannot function in this manner. On many topics, consensus is not always achieved, but democracy works because the majority of participants support the agenda.”
That statement led one of the six PC MLAs, Trevor Holder, to make an emotional rebuttal.
“I have been a Tory my whole life. I’m a Tory now and I’ll always be a Tory. That is never going to change,” he told CBC and Radio-Canada.
“The way caucus is supposed to function is you stay in the room until you build consensus on any issue or you park the issue until you find consensus. That is all the six of us were trying to say in that letter this summer.”
Holder, the MLA for Portland-Simonds, said there is no reason for Higgs to call an election this fall.
“We can all get back in the room and continue out the last year of our mandate and stick to our promises of fiscal accountability, economic expansion and population growth,” he said.
“That’s what I ran on in the last election. I made a commitment to the people of my riding I’d be here for four years to fight for those things.”
Higgs said last month the defiance of the six Tories in June “remains a big concern” and could lead him to call an election before the scheduled date of Oct. 21, 2024, to avoid “12 months of political drama causing instability and stagnation in government.”
The PCs have 29 seats in the 49-member legislature, so the six MLAs have the votes to stall or block government legislation.
In June, they voted with the opposition Liberals for a motion calling for further consultations on Policy 713, which sets out guidelines for safe and inclusive spaces for LGBTQ students in provincial schools.
Holder, the longest-serving MLA in the legislature, resigned as a minister in Higgs’s cabinet a few days later, in the wake of his colleague Dorothy Shephard’s resignation.
On Wednesday, Holder became emotional describing how he feels about the state of the PC party that he’s worked for since he was a teenager.
“My children have never once complained about the publicness of our lives until this June, when, the night before I resigned, my daughter said to me, ‘Daddy, I want this to end,'” he said.
“That’s what led to my resignation the next day. And I hoped it was going to start a conversation about how we could get back to a thoughtful, consensus-building style of government in this province and in our party.”
The Aug. 10 letter to the PC caucus, signed by the six dissident MLAs, committed to not holding up the government agenda in a new session of the legislature this fall.
It also included a plea that Higgs allow the entire PC caucus to “deliberate, discuss, and collectively decide on policy matters and legislative actions” — something the six accused him of not doing on Policy 713.
Four other PC MLAs from the group of six pushed back Wednesday at Higgs’s statement that the government “cannot function,” accusing the premier of breaking a promise to hold a full caucus meeting to mend fences.
“That commitment was made June 24 and has not been met as of today,” said Ross Wetmore.
Andrea Anderson-Mason called the refusal to meet “a unilateral termination of the relationship” by a premier looking to fight an election over Policy 713.
“I think that he may be using us as the reason why he needs to call an election,” she said.
“But … if you have concerns about how people are going to behave, you communicate with them.”
Jeff Carr and Dorothy Shephard also said they have no desire to hijack the government’s agenda and only want a greater role for the caucus.
Carr also urged Higgs not to call an election this fall.
“My constituents elected me to serve them for four years,” he said. “They deserve that respect.”