Debate on controversial education bill may extend NB legislature sitting – New Brunswick

A day after the premiere Blaine Higgs said debate changes to the Education Act could stretch into next week, all three parties say they are working on an agreement to extend the spring sitting of the legislature.

“The whole program could continue if we find that questions continue then for us to move into next week and add hours to the program, I mean I’m open to that,” Higgs told reporters Tuesday.

The 111-page overhaul of the Education Act, or Bill 46, would see the anglophone district education council lose decision making power and move to a purely advisory role. The changes have been denounced by opposition parties, former education minister turned independent MLA, Dominic Cardy, and former anglophone deputy education minister, George Daly, as a power grab that would centralize power in the premier’s office.

Education Minister Bill Hogan contends for minor changes to the anglophone District Education Councils and says he welcomes the opportunity to continue debate on the bill.

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“I’ll sit here till August if they really want to talk about the Education Act,” he told reporters.

The legislature was scheduled to rise for the summer on Friday with a government closure motion set to be debated on Thursday that would send the half a dozen or so outstanding bills directly to a vote. Government house leader Glen Savoie confirmed that all three parties are working towards an agreement that could exclude Bill 46 from that motion and extend the sitting into next week.

“As a government we’re always ready and willing to discuss and have discussions about our legislation and how it’s going to pass so those discussions are ongoing,” he said.

Liberal house leader Guy Arseneault and Green MLA Megan Mitton both confirmed they are pushing to allow subject matter experts to appear during the committee stage to give their thoughts on the bill.

Mitton said he hopes to see more time allotted for debate on other pieces of legislation, including bills on dealing with local governments and surgical procedures taking place outside of hospitals.

“We weren’t sent here to just rubber stamp things. We were elected by the people of New Brunswick. I was elected by the people of Memramcook-Tantramar to speak up for them, to bring their voices here and to do our jobs and actually spend time looking at legislation, reading it, debating it,” she said. “And somehow that seems like it’s an inconvenience.”

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While Bill 46 was described as an overhaul of the province’s education system governance model, the legislation is an entire rewrite of the act, rather than amendments to the existing one. After that was tabled inclusion of experts quickly identified several potential issues with the new legislation that the government said it would address with amendments.

Inclusion NB and the province’s child and youth advocate Kelly Lambrock flagged changes that would broaden the circumstances in which children could be excluded from the classroom.

Liberal leader Susan Holt told reporters Wednesday that the government was attempting to rush the bill through the legislature without proper scrutiny and that additional time for scrutiny was needed.

“New Brunswickers deserve to have an education system that is free of politics and an Education Act that is developed with thought and care,” she said.

During Wednesday’s question period, Hogan expressed frustration while facing questions about the bill, accusing the Liberals of holding it up at second reading. He said he would address many of the concerns raised about the legislation at the committee stage when he and department staff appeared to take questions.

The bill has also served as a flashpoint in the ongoing revolt in the Tory caucus. Backbench government MLAs Andrea Anderson Mason and Ross Wetmore voted with the opposition to delay the bill on Tuesday, with both expressing concerns about how changes could reduce local control of the education system.

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“I find it really ironic that we are standing here today and have had so many conversations about the importance of the role of parents in the lives of their children in the education system and this new legislation has the effect of almost completely eliminating the input of local communities into their children’s education,” Anderson Mason said during the second reading debate on the bill last week.

Anderson Mason and Wetmore are part of a group of eight Tory MLAs who skipped question period last Thursday over a “lack of process and transparency” in the review of Policy 713, which sets minimum standards to create an inclusive environment for LGBTQ2 students in the school system.

The eight were sent a letter by former anglophone deputy education minister George Daly congratulating them for speaking out and raising concerns over the changes to the education act.

“There is nothing in my educational career that I think will have a worse effect on our system than this currently proposed model,” Daley wrote. “Please continue to be courageous whether it is on this bill or with other significant decisions.”

Daly was fired last month, not long after former education minister Dominic Cardy resigned and was subsequently tossed from the government caucus.

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