The Higgs government agreed to extra debate on the educational governance bill

The New Brunswick legislature is heading overtime next week to debate a controversial bill to scale back the powers of the province’s four anglophone district education councils.

The house was scheduled to adjourn this Friday, but pressure from the opposition parties and some Progressive Conservative MLAs forced the government to agree to extend the session.

The legislation, Bill 46, will get two days of committee debate, next Tuesday and Wednesday, which will include the calling of witnesses.

Then the full legislature will return Thursday and Friday for a third reading and royal assent.

“I understand that there’s probably some good points that can be raised,” Education Minister Bill Hogan told reporters.

“What’s actually really important here is that I’m going to get a chance to explain the bill. It’s not going to get pushed through with everything and I’m elated by that.”

Bill will centralize power, critics say

The bill will transform the four anglophone DECs into advisory bodies only, which critics say will take away local community decision-making and centralize power in Fredericton.

Two PC MLAs voted with the opposition Liberals last week to try to send the bill to the legislature’s law amendments committee for public hearings, a move that would have prevented it from passing quickly.

A woman in a blue dress with white trim stands in a hallway with flags behind her.
PC MLA Anderson-Mason told reporters that she ended up supporting the bill because the decision to devote more time to the legislation satisfied her demands. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Gagetown-Petitcodiac MLA Ross Wetmore said the bill would leave “no limitations” on “direct interference” by a premier in school decisions.

And Fundy-The Isles-Saint John West MLA Andrea Anderson-Mason said the bill “eliminates the checks and balances that are there to protect our citizens, our families, our children.”

Both MLAs voted with the government in favor of the bill at second reading Thursday.

Anderson-Mason told reporters that she supported the bill because the decision to devote more time to the legislation satisfied her demands.

“We are looking at completely changing a governance model in the province of New Brunswick and the original intention of this government was to do it without debate,” she said.

“I’m very pleased that they did listen to us to implore them to bring this to the house so we could have legitimate debate.”

Bill 46 was one of nine subject to a government motion to strictly limit debate time and force them to final votes by Friday.

Government House leader Glen Savoie amended the motion to remove that bill from the motion, and the motion passed 25-20.

Anderson-Mason voted for it. Wetmore was in the house but did not vote.

Later in the day MLAs will vote on a Liberal motion calling on the government to reverse changes to Policy 713, which deals with safe spaces for LGBTQ students in provincial schools.

Bill 46 leaves the powers of the three francophone district education councils unchanged because of constitutional guarantees of minority language education governance rights.

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