Author by : ALAN COCHRANE TIMES & TRANSCRIPT
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Smacks of political interference – David Coon
Cecile Cassista, executive director of the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents’ Rights, says the grassroots effort to stop privatization of health care will continue.
The CEO of New Brunswick’s francophone community college system has apologized to organizers of a public meeting on privatized health care, who were told they couldn’t use the Dieppe campus building.
“I would like to confirm that neither the Dieppe campus nor the CCNB received any political pressure to cancel the rental of the hall,” Liane Roy said in a news release Tuesday. “The decision was unfortunately based on a misinterpretation of the internal policy.”
Roy apologized to the N.B. Francophone Seniors Association and its president, Jean-Luc Bélanger for misunderstanding. The public meeting was scheduled to take place Tuesday evening at the Dieppe campus as part of a series organized by seniors associations to provide information on the government’s proposed privatization of health-care services. The college accepted the group’s booking but on Monday organizers were told that they couldn’t use the building because the intent of their meeting violated the college’s internal policy regarding the room rentals in government-owned college buildings.
“Apologizing doesn’t undo the situation,” Cecile Cassista, the executive director of the Coalition for Seniors’ and Nursing Home Residents’ Rights, said Tuesday. “It’s not acceptable and I’m furious about how they did this at the last minute.”
Cassista said the meeting room was booked weeks in advance and organizers were only told they couldn’t use the room on Monday morning. That led to a social media campaign telling people the meeting was cancelled and would be rescheduled. College officials changed their mind later Monday and said the meeting could be held, but by then it had already been rescheduled. The meeting is now set for Nov. 20 at 6:30 p.m. at the Wingate Hotel in Dieppe.
Cassista said the meetings are being held to provide information, not to incite anti-government protest. She said it was unacceptable for a government-run institution to tell people they can’t use a public building for a public meeting to explain and discuss proposed government policies.
In her statement, Roy said the decision to cancel the booking at the Dieppe campus was based on a misinterpretation of the policy. The organizers were told about the decision in an e-mail, which said that since the college is a government-owned building, it cannot permit activities or events that are contrary to government policies. However, she said the message should have said it could not allow “political partisanship meetings or events.”
She said the CCNB room rental policy states that the the organization recognizes the right of everyone to express their opinion in a spirit of tolerance and respect for others; however, it requires that all citizens as well as all public and private organizations that rent a space commit themselves to respect the principles of secularism and neutrality in ideological, political or religious matters. Roy said the CCNB is an open institution which hosts, among other things, public meetings by community organizations.
Cassista said the meetings have been getting crowds of 100 to 200 people and the organizers will continue in their mission to stop the provincial government from privatizing health-care services.
“Don’t tamper with the grass roots movements like this. We have a goal and an agenda and we are going to accomplish it.”
Suzie Proulx-Daigle, president of the New Brunswick Union which represents provincial government employees, said she was happy to hear that the CCNB had apologized.
“It seems like they’ve done the right thing but but decision itself was wrong,” she said. “The college should be encouraging free speech and debate on government policies.”
As a gesture of support, the union offered to pay the room rental cost for the next meeting.
The controversy led question period at the New Brunswick legislature Tuesday, with Tory opposition leader Blaine Higgs asking whether the Liberal government had ordered the meeting’s cancellation.
Roger Melanson, minister responsible for post-secondary education, said the decision had been entirely the college’s and that no political interference had taken place.
“We did not get involved,” Melanson said.
Afterwards, Higgs said he accepted the minister’s word.
“That was an inappropriate decision by the college because these facilities are there for people to use to express their opinions,” Higgs told reporters.
The Tory leader said when he was the finance minister under the previous government he routinely used publicly-owned facilities, including community colleges, to hold meetings and public consultations.
“I had lots of people who would come and express their opinions and it wasn’t all favourable. But that’s our system. That’s democracy.”
On the floor of the house, Green Party Leader David Coon said blocking the seniors group from using the college building “smacks of political interference” and sends the worst possible message to students.