David Coon skeptical of Premier Blaine Higgs's 4-party deal to avoid fall election

·3 min read

Green Party Leader David Coon says he's skeptical of a proposed four-party deal offered by Premier Blaine Higgs that would rule out a provincial election until October 2022.

Coon says Higgs's offer, which would see all parties in the legislature collaborate on the government's agenda, is an "overreach" by the premier that threatens accountability.

"What he's proposing really is so sweeping that it almost sweeps away the authority of the legislative assembly and all the MLAs who sit in it," Coon said.

He said he supports "ramping up" collaboration but wants to do it more modestly, one year or throne speech or budget at a time, rather than committing to a two-year agreement.

Deal amounts to 'blank cheque'

Higgs's proposal "really undermines our system of parliamentary democracy, rendering the ability of opposition parties to hold the government in power accountable null and void," Coon said.

He said it would amount to the opposition parties giving the government "a blank cheque" and lead to decisions being made "in a back room" rather than in the legislature.

Higgs made the proposal in a letter Monday, saying it's the only way to get the "stability" required in the province to continue containing COVID-19 and revive the economy.

The core of the proposal is a promise by the premier to not call an early election in return for the three opposition parties agreeing not to bring down his government and trigger one either.

Government of New Brunswick/Submitted
Government of New Brunswick/Submitted

Higgs also opened the door to having MLAs from other parties become ministers.

Without such a deal, Higgs said Monday he would have to call a provincial election, likely soon, in the hopes of winning a majority.

Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers called the offer "the right decision" and said he would work with Higgs on "a progressive platform" when negotiations begin Wednesday.

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin also welcomed the proposal.

Disagreement on need for deal

But Coon said such a far-reaching agreement, which Higgs wants to last until the scheduled election in October 2022 or the official end of the COVID-19 pandemic, isn't warranted.

"This isn't the First World War, when there was a coalition government in Canada."

CBC
CBC

Coon said any collaboration should happen one step at a time, with talks about what should happen in the next year and what should be in a throne speech expected this fall.

Then discussions could shift to the budget next March.

Asked Tuesday if he would accept an agreement that included the Liberals and the Alliance but not the Greens, Higgs said, "The goal is we would have agreement in the house and we have four parties in the house."

He also said it was "a little disappointing that before the meetings start, someone declares the outcome."

The four leaders are set to meet Wednesday to discuss the idea. Higgs then wants representatives from the parties to negotiate the details on Thursday and Friday, with the goal of getting a deal by the end of Friday.

Asked Monday if his proposal required all three opposition parties to sign on, Higgs told reporters it's "important that we get general agreement. I think the other parties are pretty focused on not having an election."

But he didn't say specifically what he'd do if only two out of three opposition parties agreed to the deal.

His letter outlining the proposal was to Vickers, with Coon and Austin copied.

Coon said Tuesday that if the Liberals and Alliance entered a formal agreement with the government, it might leave the Greens as the official opposition in the legislature.