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Premier Blaine Higgs speaks in the legislature on March 26, 2024. Image: Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick video capture

Premier faces questions after encampment deaths

By Brad Perry Mar 27, 2024 | 5:00 AM

New Brunswick’s homelessness crisis dominated question period at the provincial legislature on Tuesday.

It followed the deaths of two people after a fire at a tent encampment in Saint John on Monday afternoon.

Opposition Liberals claimed the government is not doing enough to respond to the province’s homelessness crisis.

“We need real solutions and real solutions are out there,” said Liberal Leader Susan Holt during Tuesday’s question period.

“This government has not responded to the homelessness crisis with the urgency of response it demands.”

New Brunswick’s governing Progressive Conservatives defended the work they have done to deal with the issue.

Premier Blaine Higgs said they have been working with communities big and small to get people off the street.

“The sad reality, Mr. Speaker, is that some people don’t want to come off the street. Some people just refuse to do that,” said Higgs.

“So I think we want to find solutions going forward and we want to find solutions that would require that people shouldn’t have to live on the street.”

The premier referenced yet-to-be-introduced legislation which would allow judges and hearing officers to order treatment “in extreme cases” for those struggling with addiction and “unable to meet their own basic needs.”

Sherry Wilson, the minister responsible for addictions and mental health services, said they also have outreach teams on the ground who are working with those experiencing homelessness.

“If they refuse to come in, we can’t make them come in, but we try to work with them and get to know them so that we can develop a relationship with them so we can encourage them to come in and get the help that they need,” said Wilson.

“There’s been a lot of work done to address the needs, but first of all, we have to encourage them to come in, come off the street, so we can help them.”

The Progressive Conservatives then went on to accuse the Liberals of politicizing and weaponizing the deaths in Saint John.

“This is absolutely not weaponizing a tragedy. This is us doing our jobs as the Official Opposition when, for the last six years, we’ve been pounding the table for more funding for mental health and addiction services, for more help for housing,” said Liberal MLA Rob McKee.