New Brunswick Election Results Could Shape Policies on Parental Rights and Modern Gender Theory Around the Country



December 20, 2023
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This year, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs took a stand. In changing a school policy to require schools to talk to a student’s parents before recognizing a student’s claim of a new gender identity, he was the first Canadian premier in years to stand against modern gender identity theory and in favour of parental rights. He has staked the leadership of his party and the province on this issue. So far, he remains standing. But will he remain standing after the next provincial election?

Higgs’ Stand

In May 2023, Higgs’ government changed Policy 713, which laid out the province’s policy on sexual orientation and gender identity matters in public schools. It made three substantial changes:

  1. Students under the age of 16 had to get their parents’ permission to change their name on official school documentation. Students who were unwilling to talk to their parents about a change in their gender identity would be referred to a professional (e.g. a social worker) to help them speak to their parents about their transition.
  2. Wording that allowed students to participate in extracurricular activities “consistent with their gender identity” was dropped, presumably to give schools greater leeway to limit participation in extracurricular activities based on biological sex.
  3. It mandated that every school must have a private universal changing area and washroom and refrain from making all public washrooms gender neutral.

The first change in particular – requiring students under the age of 16 to get parental consent for a name change in school – is a big win for the principle that parents have the responsibility to raise and educate their children. Before this change, students could – and did – socially transition at school (e.g. change their name, use new pronouns, or dress as the opposite sex) but keep this transition hidden from their parents at home. Premier Higgs had specifically mentioned the skyrocketing rates of rapid onset gender dysphoria as a justification for the policy. (Rapid onset gender dysphoria refers to when someone, typically a teenage girl, suddenly identifies as transgender after never giving any prior indication that they were struggling with gender confusion.)

Recent survey data suggests that Higgs’ changes are in line with popular opinion. Forty-three percent of Canadians believe that parents should be informed and give their consent for a school to recognize their child’s new name, pronouns, or gender identity. A further 35% agree that parents should at least be notified of these changes. A mere 14% of Canadians think that children should be able to identify however they want without their parents knowing or consenting.

And yet, there is a debate on whether taking a stand in favour of parental rights and against modern gender identity theory is a winning strategy politically. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe obviously thinks it is. This past fall, his government followed New Brunswick’s lead and went a step further by passing a parental bill of rights in education, with Premier Moe stating, “I believe the leading experts in children’s upbringing are their parents.”

Other commentators suggest that this isn’t a politically winsome issue, citing Manitoba’s recent election results. In that race, former Premier Heather Stefanson campaigned in Manitoba’s October election on a promise to review and update the province’s policies around parental involvement in their children’s education, but lost her re-election bid.

And some other governments are sitting squarely on the fence on this issue. Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce restated that the government of Ontario recognized that parents should be involved in the education of their children. Since then, the Ontario government has been silent on the issue. The Alberta United Conservative Party voted in favour of adopting Higgs’ school policy at their last convention. However, Premier Danielle Smith would not commit to implementing the policy.

Higgs’ Opposition

Premier Higgs has staked the leadership of his party on this issue. In the summer of 2023, he held a comfortable majority government, holding 29 of the 49 seats in the New Brunswick legislature. The change to Policy 713, however, angered many of his fellow Progressive Conservative MLAs and fractured his caucus, leading to “endless meetings” on the topic. Things came to a head when six of his cabinet ministers and two more backbench MLAs failed to show up for their House duty to protest their leader’s handling of the issue, giving the Progressive Conservatives only 20 votes in the legislature and the opposition party 20 votes as well (the Speaker of the House normally does not vote). Two of his cabinet ministers resigned their posts but remained within the caucus. If disgruntled MLAs were to vote with the opposition parties on a confidence vote, the Higgs government could collapse.

Furthermore, a majority of the Progressive Conservative riding association presidents attempted to trigger a leadership race to replace Higgs as leader of their party. That effort failed, albeit narrowly. At the same time, the New Brunswick Children and Youth Advocate released a report reviewing the changes to Policy 713, and strongly opined against the policy changes.

Higgs’ Future

Faced with this precarious situation, Higgs threatened to call a snap election prior to the next scheduled election in October 2024 as a way to force his caucus to fall in line. Such a snap election could be viewed as a referendum on his changes to Policy 713 with the possibility that some of his dissident MLAs would be replaced by MLAs who support his position on parental rights. Higgs even went so far as to hire a campaign manager and to deck out a new campaign bus with his likeness and campaign slogan emblazoned on the side.

A fall snap election didn’t materialize, however, as the Progressive Conservative MLAs who criticized Higgs’ change to the Policy 713 supported his government on other pieces of legislation throughout the fall legislative sitting. Higgs didn’t introduce many new pieces of legislation this fall and finished passing the other bills left over from the spring session, suggesting that Higgs is preparing to call a snap election in the spring. Currently, his Progressive Conservative Party is trailing in the polls but narrowly ahead in the seat projections, suggesting that the next election will be close. In a unique move, Higgs is soliciting campaign donations from not just New Brunswickers but Canadians across the country to support his re-election bid.

Higgs’ stand for parental rights and against modern gender theory drew Faytene Grasseschi, one of the leaders of the Christian political advocacy organization 4MyCanada to seek the Progressive Conservative nomination in one riding in the next New Brunswick election.

Regardless of when the next election is, it very well might be a referendum on parental rights and modern gender theory.

Canada’s Future

As such, the result of the next New Brunswick election could be a bellwether for if and how other provincial parties will wade into this issue. Saskatchewan’s Premier Moe is already championing this issue but Manitoba’s former Premier Stefanson lost an election running in favour of parental rights (albeit as a very small part of her campaign). Alberta and Ontario are sitting on the fence.

Who will break the deadlock? As of right now, it seems like the balance will tilt in favour of whichever side wins the next New Brunswick election. If the Progressive Conservatives under Higgs win on a platform that prominently champions parental rights and pushes back against modern gender theory, it could benefit parental rights in other provinces. If, however, they lose an election that is seen as a referendum on modern gender theory, then we may go back into an era where provincial governments of all stripes are unwilling to touch the issue.

Gender Identity, New Brunswick, Parental Consent, School Policies Email Us 

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