When he was finance minister Blaine Higgs had a secret plan to make cuts in education that included laying off more than 500 teachers and closing as many as 79 schools.
As a member of the Conservative government cabinet, Higgs appointed a team of consultants called the project management office to report directly to him on 12 projects he viewed as a personal priority.
One of these projects was to find savings by cutting services to the most vulnerable New Brunswickers at the department of Social Development. The consultant hired for that project was EY and the millions of dollars wasted in that enterprise was the subject of an auditor general’s report. In response to the report, Higgs said of the cuts proposed by EY for both Education and Social Development: “absolutely they’d have come back” if he had remained in power.
Some of the cuts identified for Education in the EY report are:
- eliminating 545 teachers, 259 educational assistants and 85 school librarians;
- closing up to 79 schools;
- privatizing school bus services and school custodial services;
- cutting daycare funding by up to $2 million;
- cutting austism services by up to $2.1 million.
The report was never made public by Higgs. It indicates that the implementation of the report would save $14.2 to $22.7 million in 2014-15, the first year proposed for its implementation. The amount being tracked that year for savings in the report of Higgs’ project management office was $17.9 million, almost precisely in the middle of that range.
It appears clear that these were the cuts Higgs wanted to make and that these were among the cuts he was referring to when he said “absolutely they’d have come back”. These cuts are radical and would completely unravel our public education system.
If Higgs denies that this was his plan, he has a responsibility to spell out exactly where he intended to find the $17.9 million he cut from the education budget if not from the detailed plan prepared from his own hand-picked consultants. He also needs to explain why he hid this report from New Brunswickers when he was finance minister.
And Higgs needs to be clear with New Brunswickers if these plans “absolutely will come back” if he gets another chance to implement them.
A copy of the report is available here.