New Brunswick Liberals have work cut out for them
Three interesting takeaways from New Brunswick’s provincial election
Liberals will continue governing – for now
The Liberals will get the first chance to govern a divided legislature, but their success will depend on a lot of negotiation and compromise.
Even though Brian Gallant’s Liberals ended the night with fewer seats than the Progressive Conservatives, political scientist Mario Levesque said parliamentary convention states that if the current government is returned with a minority, it has the right to attempt to govern and try and gain the confidence of the house.
“This is the right decision and the right process here,” said Levesque of the Lieutenant Governor’s decision to grant Gallant permission to continue running the province for now.
Levesque, who teaches at Mount Allison University, said the Liberals have a challenge ahead to make this tenable situation work and will need to be open to listen to other political parties.
“He’s got some work ahead of him to try and cobble together some support.”
After the polls closed Monday, the Tories had won 22 seats, the incumbent Liberals had 21, the People’s Alliance earned three and the Greens tripled their presence with three seats. A total of 25 seats are needed for a majority in the 49-seat house.
Levesque said when the Legislature resumes later this fall, Gallant will need to somehow garner a few more votes his way. If he forms any type of coalition with the Greens or the People’s Alliance, that would still only give him 24 votes; and that’s not factoring in that he will have to elect a Speaker.
Levesque said the Liberals could possibly try enticing a couple of Conservatives to vote their way, particularly if they vote on an issue-by-issue basis, but “that’s going to be a tough sell for him.”
There is also the possibility of swaying a couple of PC candidates to cross the floor with the promise of prominent cabinet positions. But again, Levesque isn’t sure that’s a likely scenario.
“So I see him having a really hard time.”
not likely to last
If Gallant cannot find the confidence of the house, then it will be Blaine Higgs’ turn.
Rather than call for an election, it is likely Higgs will be called upon by the Lieutenant Governor to try his hand at governing without a majority.
Levesque said he believes Higgs has a “better opportunity” to make things work than the Liberals, as the Conservatives might be able to garner together more support from the third parties.
But whether that support will be enough to allow Higgs to govern for any period of time is the big question.
“We will see how that plays out,” he said.
There is always the possibility, albeit a very unlikely one, that the Conservatives and Liberals could form a coalition and develop an agenda, putting specific issues on the table, which they would agree to follow for a set period of time.
“But do they have it in them?” Levesque said he’s uncertain that could happen, as he believes there’s too much bad blood between the two.
If neither party can gain the confidence of the house, then it will be off to the races again – and that could happen sooner rather than later.
“Minority governments, historically, don’t last more than 18 months to two years,” said Levesque. “So I think another election is coming whether we like it or not.”
Megan Mitton will have great learning opportunity With Memramcook- Tantramar’s new Green MLA unseating the Liberal candidate by such a slim margin on election night, by a mere 11 votes, a recount will take place before Megan Mitton is officially declared the winner.
But Levesque said he would be surprised if, with the new electronic tabulators now being used in New Brunswick, the numbers change by much, if at all.
“She will get her term on government,” he said.
The question will be, how long that term will last?
Many options are open for the Greens in a minority government situation, said Levesque, but it will be a challenge to be able to make it all work. He said it will definitely be a great learning opportunity for Mitton, who is venturing into provincial politics for the first time.
“I’m just not sure how much will get done.”
Levesque said the Greens may have a chance to work with one of the other major parties and push some of their priority policies to the forefront – particularly as it relates to a carbon reduction plan and a continuation of the fracking moratorium.
If the Greens do make a deal with the Liberals or the Conservatives, Levesque said Mitton will likely have to vote along party lines, bound by any agreements made on certain issues. He said she may not be able to have as strong an influence as she would like because “she’ll be limited based on the situation she finds herself in.”
And just how did Mitton pull off the upset in the riding, ousting the Liberal incumbent who has served two terms as MLA for Memramcook-lakeville-dieppe and one term for the new Memramcook- Tantramar riding?
Levesque said it was a combination of things – Mitton had a really good campaign team behind her; she had some exposure from running in the last provincial election and serving on town council for the last three years; and there was general dissatisfaction with the Liberals.
Levesque said this riding, which encompasses a large area of both Francophone and Anglophone voters and includes Mount Allison University, is much more progressive-oriented than people think, so making the switch to Green was seen as a solid viable option by voters.
“If any riding was going to change, it would have been us.”