N.B. Association of Social Workers responds to ‘unacceptable’ comments from PETL Minister

    Miguel LeBlanc, the executive director of the New Brunswick Association of Social Workers, said the comments made by Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Minister Trevor Holder are “unacceptable.” (Aaron Sousa/AQ)

    The New Brunswick Association of Social Workers put out a statement after The Aquinian released an article about the Jan. 21 St. Thomas University Senate. In the article, President Dawn Russell exposed “slanderous comments” made by Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Minister Trevor Holder.

    In an interview with The Aquinian, Miguel LeBlanc, executive director of the NBASW, said the comments are “unacceptable.”

    One of the comments specified in the NBASW’s statement was when Holder said, “social services employees working in income assistance don’t seem to have the skills necessary to get those clients off of social assistance,” according to Russell’s report to Senate.

    “The impact [of the comments] is that it puts into question the value of the profession of social work, when in reality, the issue of people living in poverty is a system issue,” said LeBlanc. “You don’t blame nurses for people who are getting sick in New Brunswick, so [it’s] the same concept as in this situation.”

    LeBlanc said the members of the NBASW were reaching out to the organization because of the comments from Holder which warranted the statement, he said. He said a significant portion of the organization’s members graduated from the STU Bachelor of Social Work program, himself included.

    “I think the statements by [Holder] were unacceptable. Not only to St. Thomas Social Work graduates, but as a profession as a whole,” said LeBlanc. “We’re over 2,100 social workers in New Brunswick and those comments put into question our profession and it’s incorrect.”

    In the statement released by the NBASW, it said they were already in contact with PETL to discuss having a meeting about the comments.

    On Feb. 9, the president of NBASW, LeBlanc, the deputy minister of PETL and Holder met to discuss the comments.

    “Our members feel hurt,” he said. “We’re hopeful that we’re going to get clarification and then an apology [from] the Minister.”

    In the meeting, LeBlanc said it was a good discussion about the importance of the social work profession and how the NBASW can potentially help with any anti-poverty work that needs to be done.

    LeBlanc said the meeting that lasted around 30 minutes gave some clarification to some of the remarks by Holder.

    “It’s our understanding we’re going to be working with PETL, the department, … on how we can move forward in a positive light and recognizing the important work that social workers are doing,” he said.

    The Aquinian reached out to Leigh Watson, Holder’s communications officer, on Feb. 9, but he didn’t respond in time for publication.