A trio of professors at Mount Allison University addressed a packed lecture hall today in Sackville as they strove to explain what happened in last month’s inconclusive New Brunswick election and what might come next.
Politics professor Mario Levesque predicted Liberal Premier Gallant will try to use this week’s Speech from the Throne to gain the support of at least five non-Liberal members he would need in order to survive a confidence vote expected early next month.
“Mr. Gallant going in, even if he elects a Speaker, he has to try what I would call a Hail Mary pass,” Levesque said, adding that the Liberals are unlikely to succeed. “I do think [PC leader] Higgs will get a chance to form the next government.”
In the September 24th election, the Liberals won 21 seats, the Progressive Conservatives 22 with the Green and People’s Alliance parties each winning three.
Levesque noted that before they can present their Throne Speech, the Liberals will need to elect a speaker, reducing their seat count to only 20 in a legislature in which 25 votes are needed to avoid defeat.
Levesque said that minority governments typically last about 18 months to two years, but in this case, an election could come sooner.
Politics professor Geoff Martin agreed.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the next election comes in the spring,” he said. “Blaine Higgs is so eager to get the reins of government, I’m not sure how well he’ll manage the situation.”
Martin suggested the Liberals are already positioning themselves for an early election.
“I think it’s fair to say that from Brian Gallant’s perspective, the election campaign actually has not ended,” he said, adding that the Liberal Throne Speech will be designed to appeal to Green, NDP and even People’s Alliance voters who care about rural areas.
Martin said the Throne Speech would send a message that Liberals are going to respect and invest in rural New Brunswick: “‘Unlike Higgs, we’re not going to close what little you have left in Service New Brunswick, in schools, in hospitals and so on.'”
He predicted the Liberals would seek to make a spring election a stark choice between the two old-line parties.
“So it’s going to be like, ‘Are you really going to vote Green or NDP and risk a Higgs government?’ I think that’s what the next election will be about.”
Will Green gains last?
Martin also warned the Greens that their breakthrough in this election might not last.
“The major parties will run better people next time,” he said. “It won’t be a tired old Bernard LeBlanc running for the Liberals.
“They’ll get a better candidate and they will go at it and if they can manage it, they’ll have the election when the students aren’t here to vote.”
However, geography and environment professor Brad Walters argued that a “political earthquake” is underway in Canada and the rest of the world, surprising pundits with the election of right-wing populist leaders such as Donald Trump on the one hand, along with progressive Green party members on the other.
“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 and so, needs to be understood in light of them,” Walters said.
“We’re entering, I think, a fairly unpredictable period and I’ll just mention Megan [Mitton] for example,” he added.
“It’s true the student vote pushed her over the edge, but I mean it represented maybe 10 per cent of all the votes she got so it’s not like the only reason she succeeded was because of students. She succeeded because she won remarkable support from across the riding,” Walters said.
He added that political scientists haven’t yet explained why habits are changing with voters switching away from traditional parties.
“The more people start to switch,” he said, “there’s a possibility it will encourage others to follow. So there’s also the possibility we could see further surprises down the road.”
Sackville by-election update
Elections New Brunswick announced last Friday that it will be holding municipal by-elections on Monday, December 10th to fill vacancies arising from the provincial election.
Earlier, Elections N.B. said it would postpone municipal by-elections until May because it may need to conduct another provincial election in the meantime.
However, it decided to go ahead with December by-elections after the Union of Municipalities of New Brunswick expressed concerns about vacancies causing a loss of quorum on some municipal councils.
The change means that voters in Sackville will be going to the polls on December 10 to elect a replacement for Town Councillor Megan Mitton.
Nominations for municipal by-elections close at 2 p.m. on Friday, November 16th.
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