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Top Saint John minister quitting Higgs cabinet, legislature seat

Arlene Dunn says she made the decision to resign 'after much consideration and discussion with my family' but did not provide any reasons in a statement released Friday morning.   (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)
Arlene Dunn says she made the decision to resign 'after much consideration and discussion with my family' but did not provide any reasons in a statement released Friday morning. (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)

A top minister in Premier Blaine Higgs's government says she is resigning from cabinet immediately and will also quit as a member of the legislature "in the near term."

Arlene Dunn says she made the decision "after much consideration and discussion with my family" but did not provide any reasons in a statement released Friday morning.

She said she made the decision "with mixed emotions. … Serving the people of New Brunswick and representing the wonderful people in my riding of Saint John Harbour has been a true privilege and honour of a lifetime."

Dunn told CBC News she would not be granting interviews about her resignation.

Higgs was scheduled to speak to reporters about her decision later Friday morning.

The premier is not required to call a byelection to fill a vacant seat in the 12 months before a scheduled general election.

Arlene Dunn arrives at government house for a cabinet shuffle on Tuesday, June 27, 2023.
Arlene Dunn arrives at government house for a cabinet shuffle on Tuesday, June 27, 2023.

Arlene Dunn can be seen here arriving at government house for a cabinet shuffle where she took on the post-secondary education, training and labour portfolio. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Dunn's riding is considered a key battleground in the provincial election scheduled for this fall.

The Liberals have nominated Saint John city councillor David Hickey to run there while the Greens have chosen Mariah Darling, an activist and education co-ordinator with a local LGBTQ organization.

Dunn was seen as a star candidate when she was elected in 2020 and was handed several cabinet responsibilities including economic development, immigration and Indigenous affairs.

She took on post-secondary education, training and labour in June 2023 after Higgs shuffled his cabinet in the wake of a revolt over his changes to the education department's Policy 713 on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Dunn opposed the changes but was not in the legislature the day six other Progressive Conservative MLAs voted against the government on the issue.

Higgs said the fact she was not there for the vote was why he kept her as a minister after dumping two of the others who broke ranks.

"I didn't think we should have touched that. I think we should have stayed away from it," she said of Policy 713 the day of the shuffle, but beyond that, "I do have confidence in the leadership of the premier."

Dunn's announcement came just hours after Natural Resources and Energy Development Minister Mike Holland announced he'll be leaving politics when the provincial election is called this year.

Holland said he's accomplished everything that was on his to-do list when he became minister in 2018 and it's time to pass the baton.

Energy Minister Mike Holland introduced legislation Tuesday that would turn a temporary freeze into a permanent ban, if passed.
Energy Minister Mike Holland introduced legislation Tuesday that would turn a temporary freeze into a permanent ban, if passed.

Energy Minister Mike Holland says he'll be bowing out of politics this coming election. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Elected politics "is meant to be, you come in, you do your work and you pass it on," Holland said.

"When I looked at the work that I've done, I feel like it's a comprehensive body of work we can stand on … and I feel I can sit back and say 'job well done' and then move on."

The Progressive Conservative party has scheduled a candidate nominating meeting in the Albert-Riverview riding for Feb. 14. The riding on the new electoral map is a redrawn version of Holland's current Albert riding.

Holland, first elected in 2018 and re-elected in 2020, said his decision was also driven by the fact that his partner lives in Nova Scotia.

"It's been challenging to be able to make sure that we invest in each other to the degree that we need to," he said.

He added that his decision was "not whatsoever" influenced by divisions in the PC caucus and cabinet over Premier Blaine Higgs's handling of Policy 713.

Holland said he wouldn't have been able to accomplish initiatives such as the doubling of protected areas on Crown lands without Higgs's support.

"I know that as I walked through the work that I did, I had the support that I needed. There were times that Blaine Higgs and I might not have agreed on something, but we found mutually agreeable paths where we could continue to make progress."

Environment Minister Gary Crossman said in October he will retire when Higgs calls the election, which is scheduled for Oct. 21.

Health Minister Bruce Fitch also hinted last fall that he will not run again.

"There'll be an announcement on that in the not-too-distant future," he said this week.