The Carleton Progressive Conservative Riding Association welcomed a large crowd, including several high-profile names, to Woodstock's Knights of Columbus Hall Friday night for its fundraising dinner.
Robert Fowlie, deputy director of communications for PC government members, said the Woodstock dinner represented one of the few opportunities to gather in person since the COVID pandemic began. He noted that local party members and those from across the province and country took advantage of the chance.
In addition to keynote speaker Premier Blaine Higgs, the dinner attracted past and present cabinet members, current and former MLAs, Tobique Mactaquac MP Richard Bragdon, and his guest federal Conservative leadership candidate Leslyn Lewis, who visited the riding on Friday.
Upon arrival at the crowded K of C Hall, Higgs fielded media questions, including his response to last week's report by Child, Youth and Seniors Advocate Kelly Lamrock, which criticized the government's COVID-related decisions affecting schools.
Higgs said Public Health would review Lamrock's eight recommendations, including one asking the government to reconsider its decision to lift mask and testing mandates.
The premier said his government follows Public Health recommendations while pointing out that COVID numbers are heading in the right direction as hospitalizations trend downward and more people return to work.
"We'll stick with Public Health recommendations, and if they suggest something different, we'll do that," he said.
Higgs said the severity of the virus generally appears low at this point.
"It seems more like a head cold," he said. Then quickly added, "for most, not everyone."
Higgs said Public Health's focus remains on vaccines, noting he recently got his fourth shot. He urged all New Brunswickers to stay up to date on vaccines.
Don't miss out on free vaccines," he said.
On the issue of municipal reform, Higgs made it clear that municipal leaders, including Woodstock's Art Slipp, shouldn't expect a positive answer to their request that the government delay changes to the Regional Service Commission for a year.
"It's been pushed back since 2008," he said. "Change is tough."
Higgs said he's aware of concerns about budgeting issues and other unknowns. Still, funding for all regions would remain the same this year, and government officials would work with local representatives to resolve any problems.
Lewis said she was happy to end a day-long tour of the Tobique-Mactaquac riding with Bragdon by attending the Carleton PC Riding dinner.
Bragdon said he and Lewis visited several communities, including Nackawic and Hartland. He said he proudly showed her the world's longest covered bridge and biggest axe.
Lewis was the third of three leadership candidates to visit New Brunswick recently, following Jean Charest and Pierre Poilievre.
The vast Tobique-Mactaquac riding reminds her of her massive rural riding of Haldimand-Norfolk in the Niagara region.
Lewis, who finished third in the 2020 leadership race won by Erin O'Toole, believes she's in a better place for this run. She said she's better known within the party this time, and she's now a sitting MP.
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun