National Newswatch

FREDERICTON — Just a day after New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs conceded that a growing backlash to his government's health-care reforms could hurt him politically, one of his own backbenchers spoke out against the changes.

Bruce Northrup issued a statement Thursday to say he cannot support the decision to eliminate the overnight emergency hours at the Sussex Health Centre in his riding.

"As the MLA for the riding of Sussex-Fundy-St. Martins, for the past 13-plus years, I have always put my constituents first, and will continue to do so," Northrup wrote. "Over the past few days, I have done a lot of soul-searching, gathered information at meetings from Horizon Health and various stakeholders, and most importantly I have listened to the people I represent."

Sussex is one of six communities that will lose their emergency rooms in the overnight hours, from midnight to 8 a.m., effective March 11. The others are Sackville, Perth-Andover, Ste-Anne-de-Kent, Caraquet and Grand Falls.

"This is one of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make in my political career," wrote Northrup. "I realize that difficult decisions must be made to move our province forward and I will continue to support the government in other areas in my capacity as MLA for this riding."

Deputy premier Robert Gauvin has also publicly expressed concerns with the health reforms and said he'll have an announcement about his political future on Friday.

The closures announced this week by the Horizon and Vitalite health networks are intended to address a shortage of human resources.

A defiant Higgs addressed reporters Wednesday, saying his government is convinced it is doing the right things to ensure the sustainability of the province's health-care system.

Higgs repeated his position Thursday, but acknowledged the possibility the issue could prompt an election for his minority government.

"If through it all, it comes down to there's no other avenue than an election, then so be it. We are doing this for a reason. We are doing this for reasons that are very evident. We are doing it for reasons that are going to give better health care to our citizens," he said.

Higgs said he was pleased Northrup had decided to remain in caucus and support the government on other matters.

The premier said he had spoken with Northrup a number of times in the hours ahead of his announcement, but had not spoken with Gauvin in several days and had no idea what his deputy premier would announce on Friday.

The six affected communities will get added mental health services, and 120 acute care beds will be converted to long-term chronic care beds, mainly for seniors awaiting a nursing home.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 13, 2020.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press

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