Dr. Jim Parrott’s controversial comments about the province’s health system that caused him to be booted out of the Progressive Conservative caucus has also reopened a debate about linguistic duality in New Brunswick.
Premier David Alward appeared in front of the legislative assembly on Thursday afternoon flanked by his Tory MLAs to announce that the Fundy-River Valley MLA had been removed from his caucus.
Alward said the move came after a unanimous vote from the party’s caucus following Parrott’s comments in a newspaper that criticized the provincial government’s lack of consultation with physicians and how the health system serves the province's two main language groups.
Parrott, a retired heart surgeon, criticized duality in health care though he also said he supports bilingualism — two concepts that are often confused.
“I may have used the wrong word when I was speaking in the press the other day,” he said.
Bilingualism means a single provincial institution providing service in both English and French. Parrott said he supports that, including at the provincial cardiac centre he established in Saint John.
But he's against duality, the creation of duplicate centres in English and French because, Parrott said, that waters down the care a single, bilingual, provincial centre can provide.
The education system is the one area in the provincial government where duality exists.
The Department of Education has one minister, but a deputy minister for the anglophone system and a deputy minister for the francophone system. And those deputy ministers are responsible for administering the education system in each of those school systems.
Parrott is a newcomer to provincial politics. The retired heart surgeon was elected in the Saint John-area riding of Fundy-River Valley in 2010, defeating former Liberal energy minister Jack Keir.
Parrott said he’s worried about diluting the quality of health care in the province if the health department moved toward a similar system.
"They're looking at a breast health clinic at the [Dr.-Georges-L] Dumont [Regional Hospital] in Moncton. There's already one at the [Saint John Regional Hospital]. Now are French ladies' breasts different than English ladies' breasts? I don't think so,” Parrott said.
Former Liberal health minister Michael Murphy, a contender in the Oct. 27 Liberal leadership convention, created the two regional health authorities in 2008.
But Murphy said those health reforms didn’t open the door to duality.
"We have one health-care system, and two administrative units,” he said.
Murphy said there's no need for duplication because both health authorities must by law provide services in English and French.
Parrott's removal means the Progressive Conservatives now have 41 seats in the legislature, while the Opposition Liberals have 13.