Plenty of ‘what-ifs’ as gov­ern­ment heads back to di­vided leg­is­la­ture

Lib­er­als, Con­ser­va­tives have chal­lenges ahead to hold onto power


As Brian Gal­lant leads a di­vided leg­is­la­ture back to work this week, can his Lib­er­als make this un­ten­able sit­u­a­tion work? And if not, what next? Will Blaine Higgs be given the op­por­tu­nity to take his shot? And will he be able to get the num­bers on his side? Or are we just doomed for an­other elec­tion?

These are just some of the ques­tions on the minds of New Brunswick­ers this week as Gal­lant takes his first stab at try­ing to gain a bal­ance of power from a mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment sit­u­a­tion.

“Mr. Gal­lant has a big chal­lenge ahead of him,” says Mario Levesque, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of pol­i­tics and in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at Mount Al­li­son.

Levesque, one of three pan­elists in­volved in a lun­c­hand- learn dis­cus­sion at the univer­sity on Mon­day, says as Gal­lant headed back to the Leg­is­la­ture Tues­day, it seems like the clock is al­ready tick­ing for his Lib­er­als.

Al­ready Gal­lant has been strug­gling to find a mem­ber to sit in the Speaker’s chair and so it seems doubt­ful he will be able to cob­ble to­gether enough sup­port for his Throne Speech, says Levesque.

Af­ter the polls closed on elec­tion night, the Tories had won 22 seats, the in­cum­bent Lib­er­als had 21, the Peo­ple’s Al­liance earned three and the Greens had three seats. Twenty- five seats are needed for a ma­jor­ity in the 49-seat house.

Levesque says even if he man­ages to sway the three Green Party mem­bers to vote in his favour, it wouldn’t be enough – so he’d ei­ther need sup­port from the Peo­ple’s Al­liance or the Con­ser­va­tives.

“That looks very un­likely to hap­pen,” he says. “I mean, it could, but not very likely.”

Gal­lant would need a “Hail Mary pass” to sur­vive the elec­tion of the Speaker and the vote for the Throne Speech in or­der to con­tinue to gov­ern, says Levesque. If he does some­how man­age to do so, then he’d need to sus­tain those votes to pass a bud­get later this fall.

Since that’s an un­likely sce­nario, Levesque says he fore­sees Gal­lant re­sign­ing sooner than later.

“That’s likely what’s go­ing to play out here in this process.”

But Levesque also pre­dicts Higgs will face an up­hill bat­tle as well to gain the con­fi­dence of the house when it’s his turn. If the Con­ser­va­tives do man­age to gain enough sup­port from the third par­ties, will it be enough to al­low Higgs to gov­ern for any pe­riod of time?

Levesque says mi­nor­ity govern­ments, his­tor­i­cally, don’t last more than 18 months to two years. And if things break down sooner than that, an elec­tion could come even sooner.

So, how did New Brunswick get in the sit­u­a­tion it’s in?

Brad Wal­ters, ge­og­ra­phy and en­vi­ron­ment pro­fes­sor at Mount Al­li­son, says there were many causal in­flu­ences that led to the mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment sit­u­a­tion the province finds it­self in.

First, lo­cal cam­paigns and can­di­dates re­ally mat­tered in this elec­tion.

“Where the Greens and Peo­ple’s Al­liance won, they had smart, ded­i­cated and charis­matic can­di­dates that did the hard work of door-to-door can­vass­ing and gen­er­ally show­ing up and es­tab­lish­ing clear pres­ence at pub­lic events and in me­dia cov­er­age.”

El­e­ments of so­cial ge­og­ra­phy were also clearly at play, says Wal­ters, who also pre­sented at the lunch-and-learn ses­sion on Mon­day.

“This is ap­par­ent provincewide in the no­table di­vi­sion be­tween Lib­er­als, who dom­i­nated most Fran­co­phone and bilin­gual ju­ris­dic­tions like Monc­ton-dieppe, as com­pared to Con­ser­va­tives, who dom­i­nated in pre­dom­i­nantly An­glo­phone re­gions.”

The Greens won two of their three seats in dis­tricts home to univer­si­ties, Wal­ters says, while the Peo­ples’ Al­liance gained votes in north­west N.B., in pre­dom­i­nantly ru­ral and An­glo­phone com­mu­ni­ties.

Wal­ters also points out that the rise of non- tra­di­tional par­ties and un­con­ven­tional ‘ lead­ers’ is some­thing we are wit­ness­ing across many other ju­ris­dic­tions in Canada and the wider world.

“Some very big shifts in pol­i­tics are un­der­way and the story that re­cently played out in New Brunswick in many re­spects mir­rors these wider na­tional and in­ter­na­tional trends.”

Cen­tral among the causal fac­tors, says Wal­ters, is the rapid in­crease of avail­able in­for­ma­tion via the In­ter­net and so­cial me­dia. This has led to peo­ple be­com­ing in­creas­ingly cyn­i­cal and dis­trust­ful of ex­ist­ing in­sti­tu­tions and lead­ers.

“Just about ev­ery­body seems to be pissed off at their gov­ern­ment and rul­ing elites. This gen­er­ally sour mood opens the door for new en­trants who chal­lenge the sta­tus quo and pro­pose to do things dif­fer­ently.”

New Brunswick­ers are get­ting frus­trated and im­pa­tient with the par­ties as they wres­tle for power.

Sackville res­i­dent Bill Cross­man, via Face­book, says the child­ish an­tics are dis­ap­point­ing and he wishes the vol­ley­ing back and forth for power would stop.

“Time for them to put on their big boy pants and work for the peo­ple that elected them. Get it to­gether.”

Bon­nie Stiles, also of Sackville, com­mented on Face­book that Gal­lant should have con­ceded the win and moved on.

“He should ac­cept the loss, an­other elec­tion could prove worse for him.”

Michael Arsenault of Riverview sim­ply had this to say: “I smell an­other elec­tion.”


Brian Gal­lant, left, shown here at a Mount Al­li­son foot­ball game with Lib­eral MP Do­minic Leblanc and re­cently-ousted MLA Bernard Leblanc dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign, will be try­ing to keep his Lib­er­als in power as he heads back to the Leg­is­la­ture this week, de­spite only hav­ing 21 seats to the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives’ 22.

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