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Higgs government faces caucus revolt over changes to LGBTQ school policy in N.B.


New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, facing a revolt from eight members of his caucus over changes made to the province's policy on sexual orientation in schools, said Thursday he is willing to call an election on the issue.

Higgs told reporters he stands by the changes made to the policy, which he said were "taking a strong position for families."

One major change is that students under 16 who identify as Trans and nonbinary won't be able to officially change their names or pronouns in school without parental consent.

The previous policy said teachers needed a student's informed consent before discussing the student's preferred name with a parent.

The eight Progressive Conservative dissidents, including six ministers in Higgs's 18-member cabinet, sat out question period and other legislative business Thursday in protest against the changes announced by Education Minister Bill Hogan.

The changes come into effect July 1.

They said in a statement their absence was a way to express their "extreme disappointment in a lack of process and transparency" in the review of the three-year-old guidelines known as Policy 713.

The members said they would not comment further, but some of them have previously called for Policy 713 to be left alone.

Earlier in the day, Higgs maintained the caucus and cabinet had "endless meetings" before arriving at Thursday's announcement. Adding that the disagreement within his party "potentially could force an election."

The Tories hold a majority with 29 of the legislature's 49 seats, and an election is not due until next year.

"That's a possibility," he said when asked if he was prepared to fight an election over the issue. "I believe that strongly in the case of finding a solution here where we do not exclude parents in their child's life."

Hogan defended the changes, which have stirred protests in the province since it was first revealed last month that the policy was under review.

"We believe that is fundamentally wrong to not share this information with the parents if we are using (a student's preferred name) on a daily basis," Hogan told reporters. "If we are using it on a daily basis, it puts teachers in a really challenging position."

The new policy is unclear on gender identity and participation in sports activities. "All students will be able to participate in curricular, co-curricular, and extracurricular activities that are safe and welcoming," it reads.

The previous version added that student participation could be "consistent with their gender identity."

When questioned at the news conference, Hogan said organizations governing sports were doing a "wonderful job" ensuring that all students can participate in the sport they identify with. "We don't intend to interfere with that," he said.

The new policy will also require universal washrooms to be private. Previously it said all students would have access "in a non-stigmatizing manner" to washroom facilities that align with their gender identity, and that all schools would have at least one universal washroom.

"There's a lot of bullying that occurs in our washrooms, any place where students are out of the sight of our professionals," Hogan said. "Then there's things that happen that we'd prefer not to happen."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2023.

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