Col­umn / Lori Turn­bull

New Brunswick: Trick or Treat

Policy - - In This Issue - Col­umn / Lori Turn­bull

Who­ever said pro­vin­cial pol­i­tics is bor­ing has had to eat those words over the past year and a half, as elec­tions in Bri­tish Columbia, On­tario and, most re­cently New Brunswick, have pro­duced very in­ter­est­ing, if some­times am­bigu­ous, re­sults.

When the votes were counted in New Brunswick on Septem­ber 24, it was not clear who would form the gov­ern­ment. The magic num­ber for a ma­jor­ity is 25. The in­cum­bent Lib­er­als elected only 21 MLAs and the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives elected 22; the Greens and the Peo­ple’s Al­liance elected three MLAs each.

Pre-elec­tion polls had favoured Brian Gallant’s Lib­er­als to win the night. But as elec­tion day drew nearer, the Lib­eral spread in the pop­u­lar vote con­tracted. Though they ul­ti­mately still led the pop­u­lar vote, it was not enough for them to main­tain a plu­ral­ity of seats.

Who­ever ends up oc­cu­py­ing the premier’s of­fice will need a part­ner to get things done in the leg­is­la­ture. When a sim­i­lar out­come oc­curred in BC in 2017, the NDP and the Greens de­cided against form­ing a for­mal coali­tion and in­stead opted for a co-signed agree­ment of con­fi­dence and sup­ply de­signed to pro­vide sta­ble gov­er­nance for four years.

Among the NB par­ties’ elected mem­bers, it is fair to say that there is no nat­u­ral or easy al­liance. Though all of the par­ties have roughly the same prob­lems and chal­lenges in their lines of sight, their ap­proaches to defin­ing and re­solv­ing these chal­lenges is dif­fer­ent and, in some cases, ir­rec­on­cil­able. The hos­til­ity of the Peo­ple’s Al­liance to­ward bilin­gual­ism makes it a sig­nif­i­cant po­lit­i­cal li­a­bil­ity for the main­stream par­ties that have worked to pro­tect and en­trench bilin­gual­ism in the prov­ince.

The day af­ter the elec­tion, Gallant met with Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor Jo­ce­lyne Roy-Vi­en­neau to ob­tain per­mis­sion to re­main premier for the time be­ing. The pri­mary role of the lieu­tenant gov­er­nor is to en­sure that there is al­ways a premier (the in­di­vid­ual who holds the con­fi­dence of the leg­is­la­ture, re­gard­less of party standings or pop­u­lar vote). As the in­cum­bent, Gallant re­mains in of­fice through­out the elec­tion pe­riod but in a care­taker ca­pac­ity un­til ei­ther an­other premier is sworn in or he him­self has demon­strated that he can hold the con­fi­dence of the Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly. There­fore, he could not drag his feet.

On Oc­to­ber 23, the leg­is­la­ture met and se­lected Lib­eral MLA Daniel Guitard as the speaker. The Speech from the Throne was read the same day. Though the text of the speech bor­rowed heav­ily from op­po­si­tion party play­books, it is not likely to sur­vive a vote; Gallant doesn’t have the num­bers. The premier would then go to the lieu­tenant gov­er­nor to re­quest that the leg­is­la­ture be dis­solved, as Christy Clark did in 2017 af­ter los­ing the vote on the throne speech. Like her, Gallant would say that the cur­rent leg­is­la­ture is un­work­able with an­other elec­tion the only way to sort out this mess. In BC, how­ever, the part­ner­ship be­tween the Greens and the NDP, backed up by the agree­ment of con­fi­dence and sup­ply, made it dif­fi­cult for the lieu­tenant gov­er­nor to deny the NDP the chance at form­ing a gov­ern­ment. In New Brunswick, in the ab­sence of such a part­ner­ship, the lieu­tenant gov­er­nor would have to de­cide whether to give Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive Leader Blaine Higgs a chance to gov­ern or heed Gallant’s ad­vice. If the lieu­tenant gov­er­nor de­nies Gallant’s re­quest for dis­so­lu­tion, Higgs’ num­bers are only marginally bet­ter than Gallant’s. A part­ner­ship with one of the smaller par­ties would bring his to­tal to 25 for a ma­jor­ity. He could gov­ern as long as the part­ner­ship lasts, pre­sum­ing that Guitard chooses to re­main the speaker fol­low­ing a loss of con­fi­dence for the Lib­er­als. If Guitard resigns, forc­ing the Higgs gov­ern­ment to put up its own speaker, this out­come would force the new speaker to break ev­ery tied vote in the dead­locked leg­is­la­ture go­ing for­ward, an un­de­sirous out­come that is in­con­sis­tent with the spirit of re­spon­si­ble gov­ern­ment and the in­de­pen­dence of the speaker’s chair.

If Gallant gets his dis­so­lu­tion, the new elec­tion would kick off in Novem­ber. None of the par­ties has the money for this. Voter turnout would likely be low. The smaller par­ties would have the most to lose, given their his­toric show­ings in the Septem­ber elec­tion. Out of fear of an­other di­vided leg­is­la­ture, vot­ers might choose to park their votes with ei­ther of the two tra­di­tional par­ties, each of which would of­fer a mixed-bag of prom­ises in a power-hun­gry at­tempt to ap­peal as widely as pos­si­ble.

Lori Turn­bull is the Di­rec­tor of the School of Pub­lic Ad­min­is­tra­tion at Dal­housie Univer­sity, fel­low at the Pub­lic Pol­icy Fo­rum, and deputy editor of Cana­dian Gov­ern­ment Ex­ec­u­tive mag­a­zine. She is co-au­thor of De­moc­ra­tiz­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion: Re­form­ing Re­spon­si­ble Gov­ern­ment, win­ner of the Don­ner Prize.

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