New Brunswick’s electoral landscape was thrown into chaos Monday, as both the Progressive Conservatives and the incumbent Liberals hope to form government after the first minority legislature in almost 100 years.
It came down to the final poll in the final riding, when the Progressive Conservatives eked out an apparent minority government, 22 seats to the Liberals’ 21, in a legislature where 25 is required for a majority.
The Tories claimed victory, but both parties plan to visit Lt.-Gov. Jocelyne Roy Vienneau tomorrow in an attempt to form government.
“As in any race, the one who has the most numbers wins,” said Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs.
However, Liberal Leader Brian Gallant said he intends to speak with the lieutenant-governor about working with other parties to pass legislation on a vote-by-vote, issue-by-issue basis.
“Clearly there is some uncertainty tonight,” Gallant said, noting there will be automatic recounts.
The balance of power could now shift to two smaller parties that had breakthrough nights: The Green Party, which previously had one seat, and the People’s Alliance, which had none, won three each.
“We have heard New Brunswickers loud and clear,” Gallant said. “New Brunswickers have sent third parties into the legislature in a way they haven’t before. They want us to work collaboratively with third parties.”
The Liberals find themselves in a difficult spot despite taking a larger piece of the popular vote in the province’s 39th general election. With all polls reporting, the Liberals received 37.8 per cent of the votes compared with the PC share of 31.9 per cent.
The PCs and the Liberals were a dead heat at 21 seats when the final votes were counted in the 39th provincial general election. The last poll in Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin secured re-election for Tory Jake Stewart and the party’s 22nd seat.
The province’s last minority government happened in 1920, when the United Farmers party held the balance of power.
An automatic recount is triggered if a riding is won by 25 votes or less. Saint John Harbour, which was won by Liberal candidate Gerry Lowe, and the Greens’ win in Memramcook-Tantramar were decided by 10 and 11 votes, respectively.
The Tories are close behind in Saint John Harbour, while the Liberals could overtake the Greens in Memramook-Tantramar if a recount goes in their favour. So the PCs could extend their lead or the Liberals could draw even again, depending on the outcomes.
Parties can make a case for a recount if it’s not triggered automatically.
There are three other ridings — Oromocto-Lincoln-Fredericton, Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou and Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin — that were decided by fewer than 100 votes.
Smaller parties have breakthroughs
Monday was a night to remember for New Brunswick’s smaller parties.
With 12.6 per cent of the vote, the People’s Alliance won three ridings. The party had never won a seat before, and only captured 2.1 per cent of the vote in 2014.
The People’s Alliance made history as party leader Kris Austin captured Fredericton-Grand Lake, Rick DeSaulniers took Fredericton-York and Michelle Conroy won Miramichi, home to Liberal minister Bill Fraser.
Austin discussed partnering with another party in a minority-government scenario.
“I’m willing to work with any party that has some of the ideas that we have been pushing,” Austin said in a speech to supporters.
“We’re going to make New Brunswick better than it’s ever been”
The Green Party, with 11.9 per cent of the vote, won three ridings.
Green Leader David Coon retained his Fredericton-South seat, Kevin Arseneau won Kent North and Green candidate Megan Mitton defeated Liberal incumbent Bernard LeBlanc in Memramcook-Tantramar.
In 2014, Coon became the first Green MLA elected in New Brunswick.
“The people of Fredericton South voted for hope, not fear,” he said during his victory speech in downtown Fredericton. “They voted for kindness. They voted for change, not the status quo.”
NDP Leader Jennifer McKenzie, sitting third in Saint John Harbour, conceded in front of a room of supporters. The party received five per cent of the vote.
“Tonight, people have decided to send others to the legislature,” she said.
The last seat the provincial NDP won was in 2003.
4 Liberal ministers lose seats
The Liberals, who had 24 seats before the election, have lost four ministers.
- In Fundy-The-Isles-Saint John West, PC candidate Andrea Anderson-Mason defeated longtime MLA Rick Doucet;
- In Saint Croix, former federal cabinet minister Greg Thompson, a PC, ousted John Ames.
- In Miramichi, the People’s Alliance’s Conroy defeated Fraser.
- And, in Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou, PC candidate Robert Gauvin defeated Wilfred Roussel Gauvin by 99 votes.
The Progressive Conservatives had hoped to take back the legislative assembly from the Liberals and extend the recent string of single-term governments.
The last provincial government to be re-elected was the Bernard Lord Tories in 2003.
When the legislature dissolved, there were 24 Liberals, 21 Progressive Conservatives, one Green, one independent and two vacancies.
The PCs dominated the predominantly anglophone southern New Brunswick, except for the urban riding of Saint John Harbour, while the Liberals maintained their grip on the primarily francophone northern New Brunswick.
Higgs’ inability to converse in French posed a significant hurdle for the PC leader’s attempt to make inroads in francophone ridings. Yet, the PCs managed to flip Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou for a rare win in the Acadian Peninsula — one of the three Liberal ridings the party flipped Monday.
Liberals, Tories trade jabs
The Liberals chose a pro-spending campaign in the face of concern from economists and the public to improve the province’s finances. The party promised heavy spending on infrastructure, health care, nursing homes and education, while also pledging to freeze power rates.
If Gallant wasn’t touting his record or making a spending pledge, he was attacking Higgs. The Liberals routinely targeted the PC leader’s record as finance minister as well as his connections with big business and warned the electorate of cuts to public services.
The PCs were just as active in criticizing Gallant, saying the province “can’t afford” another four years of “reckless” Liberal spending.
Higgs stood by his record and even said – in rather dramatic fashion- the Liberals approached him about taking a job in their government following the 2014 election. Gallant denied the claim.
Stabilizing provincial finances and boosting the economy were the pillars of Tory messaging. The party promised to balance the budget two years into their mandate without making cuts to education and health care.
Higgs also campaigned against the “job-killing” carbon tax.
A two-party province no longer
New Brunswick has been a two-party province for, well, forever. Only twice in the past 100 years has a third party held more than one seat in a legislature.
Two parties other than the Liberals or Tories occupying seats in a legislature at the same time had also only happened twice before Monday.
Feeling the smaller-party pressure, both Gallant and Higgs had cautioned against vote splitting.
Coon made history in the 2014 election, becoming the first Green MLA elected in the province by winning Fredericton South. The party built off Coon’s growing profile and name recognition after four years in office.
During the campaign, Coon emphasized party’s economic policies, letting voters know they’re well beyond a single-issue organization.
The People’s Alliance leader was defeated in Fredericton-Grand Lake by 26 votes in the last election, but Austin has returned with a groundswell of support behind him as the party sought its first seats in the legislative assembly.
The Alliance has gained a fervent following in the past eight years, culminating in its largest field of candidates (30) this year. However, some of its policies, particularly on language issues, have spurred controversy and alienated voters.