Staring down a Conservative majority in the aftermath of New Brunswick’s snap election, union leaders and members of the opposition fear a crackdown on labour unions across the province over the next four years.
“(Premier) Blaine Higgs and his crew certainly aren’t union-friendly, so it’s a disappointing outcome,” said Lisa Harris, a former PSAC member who was re-elected as Liberal MLA for her riding of Miramichi Bay-Neguac on September 14.
Harris, a Service Canada employee who resigned to run for office in 2018, thinks back to the tense nursing home workers’ labour dispute last year as a sign of what’s in store for workers over the next four years.
With bargaining at a standstill, CUPE members staged a sit-in at the Fredericton office of the social development minister. But for three days, union members inside were denied access to essential supplies like food, medicine and hygiene products by police posted at the doors.
The sit-in was also marred by several physical confrontations between union members and officials.
“It was like we were in a war zone,” says Harris, who previously served as Minister of Seniors and Long-Term Care. “It just sickened me to my stomach.”
Harris says opposition parties will need to be vigilant that the rights of workers aren’t further eroded under a Conservative majority.
“Blaine Higgs is a ‘my way or the highway’ kind of leader; he’s not about listening, he’s about the bottom dollar only,” said Harris. “We’ll do everything we can to be a really strong opposition and hold them accountable.”
Colleen Coffey, Regional Executive Vice President for the Atlantic, shares similar concerns now that the Conservatives secured power in the province.
The Conservatives campaigned on a promise to cut provincial spending, and Coffey expects labour unions will have their work cut out for them over the next four years.
“We will need to keep a close eye on this government and ensure that their post-COVID-19 recovery includes strong public services,” said Coffey.
PSAC is also bracing for a fight over language proficiencies for public sector workers in the province. Coffey is wary that Higgs – who actively shunned francophone voters during the election – may introduce cuts to bilingual services and French requirements for government positions that impact PSAC members.
“The Conservatives announced their platform just four days before the election, after tens of thousands of voters had already cast their ballot in advanced polls,” said Coffey. “That gives you a very good idea of the level of transparency we can expect from Mr. Higgs’ government.”