Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs’s snap election gamble has paid off as New Brunswick’s governing party wins a majority Monday night, CBC News projects.
Higgs has won his coveted majority after two years of leading the province’s first minority government since 1920. The victory ends a streak of four consecutive single-term governments.
The PCs have been elected in 27 ridings, two more than the 25 needed for a majority.
The Liberals, under first-time leader Kevin Vickers, have been elected in 17 ridings, four fewer seats than 2018.
But Vickers lost his first run at a seat, losing to People’s Alliance candidate Michelle Conroy, who took the riding of Miramichi in the last election.
Green Leader David Coon was re-elected in Fredericton South, and the party maintained its three seats in the legislature. Kevin Arseneau held Kent North and Megan Mitton retained Memramcook-Tantramar.
Alliance Leader Kris Austin was re-elected in Fredericton-Grand Lake, but the party has lost one of its three seats. Rick DeSaulniers was defeated by PC Ryan Cullins in Fredericton-York, a key victory for the Tories.
I’ll say again what I said on TV: nine female PC MLAs means Higgs can achieve gender parity in his cabinet if he chooses to. https://t.co/sSRowTHUPi
Touting the importance of stability in a tumultuous year, Higgs spent the abbreviated four-week campaign championing his government’s successful handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in New Brunswick and the province’s ongoing economic recovery.
Those are two factors that put him in a strong position when he called the election on Aug. 17, sending New Brunswickers to the polls amid the pandemic.
It’s the first general election in Canada since the emergence of COVID-19, and the snap election call itself has become one of the key points of contention in the four-week campaign that couldn’t be defined by a single prevailing issue.
The PCs are hovering around 40 per cent of the popular vote, a considerable bump compared to the 31 per cent share in 2018, and the party has gained seats in different regions of the province, including the three major centres: Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John.
The party, however, lost the lone seat — Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou — it won two years ago in the predominantly francophone northern New Brunswick, showing Higgs continues to have trouble reaching francophone voters.
PC Daniel Allain came through in a big way for his party Monday, flipping the Liberal-held riding of Moncton East. Allain, as it stands, will be the party’s only francophone MLA.
Daniel Allain is still the only francophone PC leading or elected at the moment. He’s a shoo-in for cabinet & will be vital to the party’s attempts to overcome its huge challenge in francophone ridings.
Every PC minister was re-elected in another vote of confidence for the party. Thirteen of the 15 members of cabinet received more than 50 per cent of votes cast in their ridings.
« I look forward to working closely with the provincial government as we recover from the global COVID-19 pandemic, » Trudeau said. « Together, we will continue to safely restart the economy and lay the groundwork to keep New Brunswick communities strong and healthy. »
Higgs dissolved the legislature on Aug. 17 following unsuccessful talks between political parties to uphold the PC government until the official end of the pandemic or next the fixed election date in October 2022.
Previous polling suggested the PCs were in a strong position amid the generally successful management of the outbreak in New Brunswick and economic recovery — something the Tories mentioned often in the past four weeks.
Instead, the opposition parties are quick to praise Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical officer of health, and the importance of the all-party cabinet committee struck to oversee COVID-related decisions.
Third parties, like the Greens and People’s Alliance, have routinely used that point to extol the virtues of minority governments. Austin, who offered support for the PC government, and Coon have said the arrangement allows for greater government accountability, while arguing Higgs can’t be trusted with a majority.
Vickers used that refrain at almost every opportunity on the campaign trail, warning voters of Higgs’s « secret plan » to make deep cuts to public services, including health care in rural areas despite a PC pledge not to do so.
Vickers had hoped to flip enough seats to regain power and extend the run of one-term premiers.
The Brian Gallant Liberals’ unsuccessful bid to form government following the 2018 election furthered the streak governments held to a single term to four. Prior to the 2006 election, New Brunswick political parties have managed at least two consecutive terms in office since Confederation.
Meanwhile, interim leader MacKenzie Thomason spent the campaign redefining the NDP as the party of the left after recent shifts in ideology. The NDP, which was chasing its first seat since 2003, is on track to be shut out in the fifth consecutive election.
Although Fredericton North has yet to be called, Thomason is not in contention, and the party failed to crack the top three in all but one riding.
The PCs won the most seats in the 2018 election with 22, three short of the 25 needed for a majority. The Liberals won 21, the Greens and Alliance took a historic three each.
At dissolution, the PCs were down two seats after the death of Saint Croix MLA Greg Thompson and the departure of former deputy minister Robert Gauvin, who sat as an independent in Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou but is now running for the Liberals in Shediac Bay-Dieppe, a seat vacated by Gallant and unfilled prior to the campaign.
The Liberals carried the popular vote in 2018 with a 37.8 per cent vote share — six points higher than the PCs. The Alliance received 12.5 per cent, the Greens earned 11.8 per cent and the NDP mustered five per cent.
No party entered election day with a full roster of 49 candidates, after the PCs, Liberals and Alliance dismissed a candidate each last week over offensive social media posts targeting marginalized groups.
Colin McPhail is a web writer with CBC New Brunswick. He is based in Saint John. You can reach him at [email protected]
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