For the first time in almost 100 years, New Brunswick is set to form a minority government, with PC leader Blaine Higgs in Saint John suburb Quispamsis claiming a slim victory in the province’s 49-seat legislature, winning the election by just one seat. The last time third parties held the balance of power in the province was in 1920: two farmers’ parties managed to win 11 seats.
Despite winning the popular vote and favourable polls leading up to the election, Brian Gallant’s Liberals must court either New Brunswick’s three Green Party MLAs or the three People’s Alliance of New Brunswick members to form government. The latter party made history by winning seats in Fredericton-Grand Lake, Miramichi and Fredericton-York. The People’s Alliance is a populist party with aims to curb the province’s bilingual status. NB’s NDP leader Jennifer McKenzie was the only party leader who failed to win a seat, earning 14.7% of the vote in Saint John. The NDP historically fared poorly in New Brunswick.
Language a Dividing Line
Ridings were largely divided along French- and English-speaking lines. In New Brunswick’s mostly French-speaking half north of Moncton, the province’s largest city, Liberals were elected almost exclusively. The province’s English-speaking southern half, including Saint John, voted for Higgs’ Tories. Fredericton and its surrounding ridings were largely divided between Green Party and People’s Alliance members.
Third parties across provincial elections, especially the Green Party, are faring unusually well, especially in progressive, urban ridings with young voters. Ontario, British Columbia and New Brunswick have all seen gains by a third party, though New Brunswick is the only location where a third party holds significant sway over who will be Premier.
What’s Next for Gallant’s Liberals
In the morning following the election, both Higgs and Gallant met with Lieutenant-Governor Jocelyne Roy Vienneau. Vienneau announced Gallant’s continued role as premier, but the Liberals will try to gain the legislature’s confidence with fewer seats than the PCs in the coming days. Gallant said he expects the New Brunswick legislature will sit before Christmas. Should the Liberals lose the confidence of the house, the government will resign.
Gallant’s first political test under this relatively untested system will require the premier to choose a speaker. If Gallant chooses a Liberal, he will be down a sorely-needed vote. At the end of the throne speech debate, there will be a vote — the first test of whether Gallant can win the confidence of the legislature. If he loses that vote, the lieutenant-governor could then ask PC Leader Blaine Higgs to form a government rather than trigger a new election.
“If we lose the confidence of the legislature, there will be no hesitation for me to allow another party or parties to form government or for there to be a general election, which I don’t think anybody wants.” Gallant told reporters Tuesday morning.
Gallant will likely try to court the Green party to vote for him and could potentially nominate a PC speaker to give him the edge in a vote of confidence, should the People’s Alliance vote for the PCs.
PCs Look to Have a Chance to Form Government
If Higg’s PCs form government, it will be another province geared to fight against Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax. Gallant ran on a free-spending platform and inclusive like Trudeau’s, while Higgs ran a Doug Ford-esque campaign, promising to not bring in new taxes, put money back into taxpayer’s pockets and fight federal carbon pricing in court. The province’s bilingual status will likely no longer be a fringe issue with PCs potentially courting the People’s Alliance to solidify its hold on power.
Trudeau’s Atlantic Wall might have some cracks leading into the 2019 election. While the Liberal leader won every Atlantic riding federally in 2015, provincial elections across the east coast are often structured as referendums on Trudeau’s leadership. Especially in ridings where young voters largely voted for Green Party members, it likely indicates a trend for young, progressive voters turning against Liberals with a Trudeau-ian message. Federally, the Liberals will need to re-capture those voters heading into 2019. With demographics turning against Trudeau in the Atlantic provinces – young people leave the east coast regularly for better economic prospects in other provinces – crucial Atlantic seats may return to the Tories.
Come next October, Trudeau’s allies – young, progressive voters and a sympathetic provincial system – may be thin when he could potentially need them most.