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N.B. government's decision not to call public inquiry into travel nurses disappointing, not surprising: union


The New Brunswick Nurses Union says taxpayers still deserve answers into what led to "exploitative contracts" that saw the province spend hundreds of millions of dollars on travel nurses.

After a legislative committee motioned the province to call a public inquiry into the situation, the New Brunswick government responded Friday, saying it will not be convening a public inquiry.

“An expensive, time-consuming inquiry will not make people remember things differently. We will therefore not be creating a second inquiry into this matter,” wrote Cheryl Hanson, clerk of the executive council in a letter to the clerk of committees at the New Brunswick legislature.

Nurses Union president Paula Doucet says that decision is “disappointing, but not surprising.”

"A public inquiry would reveal the facts and provide a clearer picture of what went wrong and why," she said in an emailed statement. "This is not about assigning blame; it is about learning from our mistakes and committing to fixing the problem. It is time for the government to step up and acknowledge its role and commit to the kind of meaningful reform that would protect New Brunswickers from being exploited again."

Vitalité Health Network also responded to the province's decision, stating the network remains "available and open to participating in a public inquiry or any initiative that would serve the public interest, should the government choose to revisit this decision."

So far, the province has spent more than $173 million on travel nurses to fill gaps in the health-care system. Vitalité Health Network remains under contract with one private agency until February 2026.

At the very end of the committee meeting on June 20, former health minister and progressive conservative MLA Dorothy Shephard said further information was required to move forward on the issue.

“Before we're all done, it's going to be about $340 million, of which about $280 million will be attributed specifically to Vitalité,” she said.

While Shephard acknowledged how difficult the situation has been for Vitalité, and patient and staff safety are “paramount,” she said she’s not “convinced” the problem had been fixed.

Doucet agrees, stating all parties have avoided taking responsibility for the situation.

This has broader impact, says Canadian Federation of Nurses.

Linda Silas, president of the federation, won't weigh in on whether the province should or should not hold a public inquiry, but she says the conversation cannot be over.

She says the use of travel nurses remains a country-wide issue and feels the question of where the money goes still needs to be answered.

"We still don't know. That is the danger box, that black box of private industry into health care. If you don't have public scrutiny on where that money is going, what kind of nurses are coming out of that? Are they registered? Have they had disciplinary action and all of that? It's a black box," she said.

Silas points to other provinces who are attempting to find ways to reduce their need for private agency health-care workers and wants to see New Brunswick learn from those ideas.

"I look at Manitoba, who created a public pool of nurses that are paid for traveling, accommodation when they have to be shipped somewhere else. They do it voluntarily. They're trained to do it, and it's really working well, and they're paid extra to do it," she said.

She said Newfoundland and Labrador is looking to adopt the same concept.

Silas calls it “lazy” to use private agencies rather than work with existing staff.

The New Brunswick Nurses Union and provincial government are currently negotiating a new contract. Both sides have agreed not to speak publicly about those negotiations.

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page. Top Stories

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