A seismic shake within the senior ranks of the Higgs government has left the premier with little option.

Minister Jake Stewart spoke out and disavowed the premier’s stance that a full, public inquiry into systemic racism isn’t necessary. Mr. Stewart said he doesn’t agree and he has never agreed.

The call for a public inquiry has been a prime demand of First Nation leaders for months. The urgency hit home after a tragic string of deaths.

Last week, the premier admonished his minister but waffled when asked what action he is prepared to take to reconcile the impasse this disagreement creates in our system of cabinet solidarity.

Minister Stewart said: “I felt from the beginning that a public inquiry was
necessary, I felt we should lead that from the provincial level first.”

“At the end of the day, the premier and I just disagree. He’s the boss, he’s the premier. I gave my opinion, I made it very public, I stand by it. I’ve never changed my opinion.’’

Premier Higgs is very stubborn. It is his way or the highway. He said: “I have never been one to be pushed into a corner, been taken advantage of so to speak. This will be no different. I’ll move in the direction that I believe is right.”

He has placed Minister Stewart in charge of Indigenous policy yet he ignores his minister’s views on this very policy area. He has always been this way, a few months ago he described himself as a cabinet minister as
follows: “I was always pushing the envelope and always trying to change behaviour… on more than one occasion… I was a bit of a difficult case.”

Two prominent scholars in our region have weighed in with legal insight. They called on the Higgs government to stop “passing the buck” on a public inquiry into systemic racism.

The University of New Brunswick’s Kerri Froc says looking to Ottawa to solve his problem doesn’t make sense in this case because the province specifically has jurisdiction for the administration of justice under the Constitution. Dalhousie University’s Naomi Metallic notes the province, under the provincial Police Act, governs policing as it does other applications of the law.

The premier and his minister of public safety declined to respond or even acknowledge these facts. A spokesperson said the premier’s position has not evolved or even changed from the beginning of this debate.

Whether he is at the top of the pile or not, Mr. Higgs is inflexible and difficult. He is part of the systemic bias against our people dating back to his days as finance minister when he tried to unilaterally cancel revenue sharing agreements that fund critical economic and social programs in our

The Premier’s refusal to accept aboriginal policy advice from his minister of Aboriginal Affairs creates a bigger problem for him. Under the principle of cabinet solidarity, he and his minister cannot publicly disagree on a matter of government policy. They are at an impasse that must be resolved.

We recognize the irony that we, as chiefs of the Wolastoqey Nation, must school Mr. Higgs on the Westminster system of government.

As the first solo minister of Aboriginal Affairs in New Brunswick, Mr. Stewart can be proud that he stepped up when the people he pledged to serve needed him most. His contribution to our movement and our public
campaign to end systemic racism will not be forgotten.

We stand with Mr. Stewart, even as the premier attempts to assert near dictatorial power over his crumbling cabinet. It is a desperate attempt to keep his senior ranks in place just long enough to make his summer election preparations.

The Conservative leader hopes to renew his governing mandate within weeks, capitalizing on a bump in the polls following the pandemic outbreak.

The premier needs Jake Stewart right now more than Jake Stewart needs him. In truth, Minister Stewart has the power and he has exercised it by speaking out.

The question is: does the Premier have it in him to do the right thing? Or will he ignore the basic rules of parliamentary government, the advice of his minister and the united calls for justice from Indigenous Chiefs.

Chief Ross Perley,
Neqotkuk (Tobique)

Chief Alan Polchies Jr.,
Sitansisk (St. Mary’s)

Chief Patricia Bernard,
Matawaskiye (Madawaska)

Chief Shelley Sabattis,
Welamukotuk (Oromocto)

Chief Gabriel Atwin,
Pilick (Kingsclear)

Chief Tim Paul,
Wotstak (Woodstock)

Media Contact: Gillian Paul, 506-461-1187, gillian.paul@wolastoqey.ca