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New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs is seen in this file photo. (Image: Zoom Screen Capture)

Varma’s Report Should Bring About ‘Meaningful Change’: Higgs

Dec 28, 2022 | 12:27 PM

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said last week he has not read a report issued earlier this month that outlines 86 recommendations on understanding and addressing systemic racism.

The provincial government appointed Manju Varma as its independent commissioner on systemic racism in 2021 to understand its impact and what government can do about it. In her final report, released on Dec. 16, Varma found a lot of division and hate.

“We heard hundreds of stories from people such as a seven-year-old child who was chased off a playground, while adults stood around and pretended not to notice, or the senior citizen who had her hijab yanked while she was at the grocery store,” she said on Dec. 16.

During a year-end interview last Wednesday, Higgs said he had not read the report but has looked through its recommendations. In a diverse province like New Brunswick, he said the presence of division and hate is “alarming.”

Higgs said he wanted to narrow down priorities that would result in what he calls “meaningful change,” noting that he looks at the report as a “work in progress.”

“With 86 recommendations, sometimes you can miss the forest for the trees because there’s so much there, so I’ll be interested to work with the team, including the commissioner, to focus on where do we have the biggest impact,” said Higgs.

Varma told a press conference at the time that she has concerns about her report ending up like others and sitting on a shelf, which she also said was echoed by participants of all backgrounds.

Higgs said the province needs to ensure those impacted the most can make a difference and have their voices heard.

“We need to work with many of the folks that have that concern and say, ‘Okay, what is it we can take out of this report that we can actually implement and make a difference,'” he said.

“That doesn’t mean you don’t look at all of them, but it means that you  don’t lose sight of the ones that can have the biggest impact.”

Higgs said he wants to narrow the recommendations down five to 10 priorities to begin.

“We will be looking at that in the first half of the year and and understand what we can do and I know that we’ll have meetings in the new year once we come back after the Christmas break,” he said.

A partial response to Varma’s report is likely in the first six months of 2023.

With files from Brad Perry and Allan Dearing.


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