N.B. political consensus fractures over temporary foreign workers amid push to recall legislature

Disagreements over the decision to ban temporary foreign workers from New Brunswick are exposing cracks in the political consensus that has ruled the province’s COVID-19 response.

Premier Blaine Higgs announced the decision to bar seasonal foreign workers on Tuesday, which has drawn criticism from opposition parties as well as the industries that employ the workers.

Both the agriculture and seafood sectors depend on foreign labour and have questioned the government’s decision.

On the day of the announcement, Higgs said he had the support of the all-party cabinet. But that support appears to not have been unanimous.

“If there is general consensus it seems that decisions are made,” said Green Party leader David Coon.

“Unanimity is not part of the decision-making process.”

Coon also suggested that the decision was made in a “pressure-cooker situation” where about 175 workers were about to board planes for the province.

Higgs acknowledged that the decision was rushed and said the province moved to eliminate the risk posed by the incoming workers, with the goal of working with producers to mitigate the damage afterwards.

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“We can stop and we can think about it and say, ‘Oh, wish we had down something there,’ or we can react and find a way to mitigate impacts on businesses around the province,” Higgs said.

Party leaders met on Thursday to discuss a date for the legislature to return and the Legislative Administration Committee (LAC) is working on proposals for how sittings could work.

Higgs said he’s proud of the collaboration that has allowed the province to roll out its response almost seamlessly.

“I don’t think there’s any question that the collaboration that’s existed through this cabinet committee has yielded the results,” he said.

“The people that work in the system have benefitted from the fact that we haven’t been firing political barbs at each other.”

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