Liberal leader targets wait list for primary care in her 1st question in legislature

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New Brunswick Liberal Party Leader Susan Holt was sworn in as MLA of Bathurst East-Nepisiguit-Saint Isidore on Tuesday. (Government of New Brunswick - image credit)
New Brunswick Liberal Party Leader Susan Holt was sworn in as MLA of Bathurst East-Nepisiguit-Saint Isidore on Tuesday. (Government of New Brunswick - image credit)

Liberal Party Leader Susan Holt started her first question period with a recurring issue: the primary-care wait list.

Holt was elected leader of the N.B. Liberal Party nine months ago, but did not have a seat in the legislature. In a byelection in April, she was elected in Bathurst East-Nepisiguit-Saint Isidore, and was sworn into the legislature Tuesday.

She also participated in her first question period, wearing a black T-shirt with "Straight outta Bathurst" printed in bold white letters.

Her first question as leader of the Official Opposition was to Health Minister Bruce Fitch: How many people are still on the primary-care wait list?

"New Brunswickers made it clear to me and to all members of our team that the number one thing that keeps them  up at night is their health, their loved ones' health and their access to care," she said.

Fitch said that at one point, the list had 74,000 people, largely owing to a record increase in population. Now, the list is at 47,000 people.

Holt said the government has already missed one of its deadlines to eliminate the wait list, and there's a new target for the end of June. She asked whether the province will be able to meet that deadline, but Fitch did not explicitly answer the question.

"We're going to continue to work day in and day out to reduce that number to make sure people have access to primary care," he said.

When the New Brunswick health plan was announced in 2021, the number of people on the list was at 40,000. After a jump in population, it increased to 74,000, then decreased again, he said.

Holt questions education minister

Holt's second question was about the province's handling of a backlash against a school policy meant to protect LGBTQ students.

The policy sets minimum standards for a safe environment for LGBTQ students, allows students to choose their pronouns and requires teachers to respect their choice. It also allows them to establish gender-sexuality alliance groups without requiring parental consent or notification.

The province has said it is rethinking the policy because of "misunderstandings and concerns," and Holt asked Education Minister to describe the nature of the complaints the government has received, the specific number and where they came from.

Hogan didn't provide the information in his response.

"We believe in respectful, safe and inclusive school environment," he said. "We will continue to promote and guarantee that, we will continue to guarantee the Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

Holt said Hogan created an unsafe environment with comments last week, when he distanced himself from a learning session teachers were holding at a Fredericton-area school on sexual orientation and gender identify.

Holt said if the minister "were interested in ensuring that students were safe in schools, he would be putting his full support" behind the policy.