New Brunswick election sends province into uncharted territory

First Green caucus and two parties looking to form government complicate the next few months in Fredericton

Following last week’s recounts, the outcome of the Sept. 24 provincial election remains the same: 22 Progressive Conservative seats, 21 Liberal and 3 seats each for the People’s Alliance and the Greens.

Green party candidate Megan Mitton’s 11-vote win in Memramcook-Tantramar was confirmed on Friday, Oct. 5. Mitton’s victory marks the first time this province has seen more than one Green seat in the legislature.

British Columbia’s 2017 general election resulted in a similar deadlock, which was resolved when their incumbent premier stepped down after losing the confidence vote and the lieutenant governor invited the NDP to form a minority government. Louis Sobol/Argosy

The Green and People’s Alliance victories have shaken up a historically two-party province, leaving either the Liberals or the Tories to form a minority government. In New Brunswick’s 49-seat house, 25 seats are required to form a majority government.

The difference between the minority government New Brunswick will now form and the majority government the Liberals had for the past four years is legislative control. A majority government does not need to rely on the support of other parties to pass legislation into law because they have the majority of the votes in the house. A minority government has the most seats of any party, but because they still have less than half of the overall votes they will have to make deals and form alliances with other parties to pass legislation.

The current state of the provincial government is further complicated by the fact that although the PC party won one more seat than the Liberals, the Liberals claimed 37.8 per cent of the overall votes, while the PC party only claimed 31.9.

Following election night, the PC party immediately called for Liberal party leader Brian Gallant to resign as premier and allow PC leader Brian Higgs to form government. The Liberal party did not step down and instead met with Lieutenant Governor Jocelyne Roy-Vienneau to receive permission to continue governing the province, which Gallant said she granted.

However, if the Liberal party is to continue governing, they have to win a vote of confidence from the legislature. This means that they need support from the Greens and the People’s Alliance. Gallant, during his campaign, stated that he would not be open to working with the People’s Alliance party (due to their historically anti-Francophone policy proposals) but he did meet with the Greens this week. If the Liberals lose the vote of confidence, the lieutenant governor will either call for a new election or, more likely, the PC party will be given a chance to form government.

In a press release on Oct. 5, Gallant announced changes he would be making to cabinet portfolios, saying, “During this period of transition, we wanted to ensure that government departments are administered by elected MLAs. We have a strong, capable, experienced team of ministers who will take on new responsibilities on an interim basis to focus on New Brunswickers’ priorities.”

That same day, Higgs responded to the unchanged results of the recount by telling reporters in Fredericton that he was still “calling on the premier to do the right thing, to resign.”

Earlier in the week, after meeting with both parties, Green party leader David Coon released a statement saying, “The people of New Brunswick should rest assured that we will take the appropriate time to ensure that any agreement reached, with either party, is done so with the best interest of New Brunswickers in mind.”

Kris Austin, the People’s Alliance provincial party leader, reflected Coon’s sentiments following the election: “Minority governments are about compromise. It’s about every party having a seat at the table, giving and taking. That’s the way democracy works, and we are just happy to be a part of it.”

None of the four parties have made any official statements indicating what the alliances – and, consequently, the balance of power – will be. Gallant will be going ahead with his throne speech this month while Higgs continues to call for his resignation.

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