Liberals intend to form government despite Tory minority

Liberals intend to form government despite Tory minority
Tories win most seats in N.B. election
New Brunswick's electoral landscape was thrown into chaos Monday, as both the Progressive Conservatives and the incumbent Liberals hope to form government after the first minority legislature in almost 100 years.

It came down to the final poll in the final riding, when the Progressive Conservatives eked out an apparent minority government, 22 seats to the Liberals' 21, in a legislature where 25 is required for a majority. 

The Liberals won the popular vote, taking in 37.8 per cent of the ballots, but it did not translate into seats. In keeping with traditional voting patterns, too many of the Liberal votes were concentrated in French-speaking ridings. In the Miramichi and Acadian Peninsula, the Liberals won 46 per cent of the vote.

The Tories claimed victory, but both parties plan to visit Lt.-Gov. Jocelyne Roy Vienneau tomorrow in an attempt to form government. 

The NDP, led by Jennifer McKenzie for just over a year, failed to make much of an impression on voters, winning only five per cent of the popular vote and no seats. She ran in the same Saint John riding where Elizabeth Weir was the NDP member until 2005 — the last time the party had a seat in the legislature.

Race tightening on eve of New Brunswick election

"As in any race, the one who has the most numbers wins," said Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs.

However, Liberal Leader Brian Gallant said he intends to speak with the lieutenant-governor about working with other parties to pass legislation on a vote-by-vote, issue-by-issue basis.

"Clearly there is some uncertainty tonight," Gallant said, noting there will be automatic recounts.

Voters in New Brunswick have turned have their backs on the provinces entrenched two-party system for the first time in a generation, electing enough third party candidates to leave the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives in a virtual dead heat in a minority legislature.

The balance of power could now shift to two smaller parties that had breakthrough nights: The Green Party, which previously had one seat, and the People's Alliance, which had none, won three each. "We have heard New Brunswickers loud and clear," Gallant said. "New Brunswickers have sent third parties into the legislature in a way they haven't before. They want us to work collaboratively with third parties."

The Liberals find themselves in a difficult spot despite taking a larger piece of the popular vote in the province's 39th general election. With all polls reporting, the Liberals received 37.8 per cent of the votes compared with the PC share of 31.9 per cent.

However, the Tories and the third parties also have the option of combining forces, either through a coalition or some less formal arrangement, which would set in motion a high-stakes process that could see the Liberals returned to the opposition benches.

The PCs and the Liberals were a dead heat at 21 seats when the final votes were counted in the 39th provincial general election. The last poll in Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin secured re-election for Tory Jake Stewart and the party's 22nd seat.

The province's last minority government happened in 1920, when the United Farmers party held the balance of power.

When asked during the campaign what would happen if his government was reduced to a minority, Gallant said he wouldnt work with the Progressive Conservatives or the Peoples Alliance, saying those parties dont share Liberal values.

An automatic recount is triggered if a riding is won by 25 votes or less. Saint John Harbour, which was one by Liberal candidate Gerry Lowe, and the Greens' win in Memramcook-Tantramar were decided by 10 and 11 votes, respectively.

"As in any race, the one who has the most numbers wins," he said as supporters roared their approval from a former warehouse in Quispamsis. "Ive been speaking with some constitutional experts — so were good."

There are three other ridings — Oromocto-Lincoln-Fredericton, Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou and Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin — that were decided by fewer than 100 votes.

With 12.6 per cent of the vote, the People's Alliance won three ridings. The party had never won a seat before, and only captured 2.1 per cent of the vote in 2014.

The People's Alliance made history as party leader Kris Austin captured Fredericton-Grand Lake, Rick DeSaulniers took Fredericton-York and Michelle Conroy won Miramichi, home to Liberal minister Bill Fraser. 

A total of 25 seats is needed for a majority in the 49-seat house, which means the third parties were poised to play a key role in deciding who governs the province: incumbent Liberal Brian Gallant or Progressive Conservative Blaine Higgs.

"I'm willing to work with any party that has some of the ideas that we have been pushing," Austin said in a speech to supporters.

More than three hours after the polls closed, the Tories were leading or elected in 22 seats, the incumbent Liberals had 21, the right-of-centre People’s Alliance had three and the Greens three. The NDP was shut out of the race.

Green Leader David Coon retained his Fredericton-South seat, Kevin Arseneau won Kent North and Green candidate Megan Mitton defeated Liberal incumbent Bernard LeBlanc in Memramcook-Tantramar.

But Gallant said he plans to meet Tuesday with the province’s lieutenant governor to explain that he intends to continue governing the province by securing support in the legislature on a vote-by-vote basis.

"The people of Fredericton South voted for hope, not fear," he said during his victory speech in downtown Fredericton. "They voted for kindness. They voted for change, not the status quo."

I need you to give every ounce of energy you have right to the final tick of the clock to get those votes out. I believe there are more Liberal votes in New Brunswick for tomorrow. The question is, are we up to the challenge to get them out?, he said, prompting the crowd to begin chanting Four more years.

NDP Leader Jennifer McKenzie, sitting third in Saint John Harbour, conceded in front of a room of supporters. The party received five per cent of the vote.

Keep it up, and double-down over the next 24 hours. We can take no vote for granted, Liberal Leader Brian Gallant told supporters at a rally in Moncton Sunday. He is looking to become the first New Brunswick premier to win a second term since 2003.

The Progressive Conservatives had hoped to take back the legislative assembly from the Liberals and extend the recent string of single-term governments.

So look around this room. Its easy to wrap your arms around 16 people. Thats the difference tomorrow in some of those ridings, Mr. Ball said. Lets not wake up on Tuesday morning and say, Could we have found 16 more votes? “

When the legislature dissolved, there were 24 Liberals, 21 Progressive Conservatives, one Green, one independent and two vacancies.

The PCs dominated the predominantly anglophone southern New Brunswick, except for the urban riding of Saint John Harbour, while the Liberals maintained their grip on the primarily francophone northern New Brunswick.

There will be close ridings. There will be close votes. There may be people who dont get around to getting out to vote without the effort that everyone in this room will give, said Prince Edward Islands Wade MacLauchlan.

Higgs' inability to converse in French posed a significant hurdle for the PC leader's attempt to make inroads in francophone ridings. Yet, the PCs managed to flip Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou for a rare win in the Acadian Peninsula — one of the three Liberal ridings the party flipped Monday.

Elections New Brunswick was hoping for a better voter turnout after the historic low of 64.7 per cent in 2014.  Turnout was positive, chief electoral officer Kim Poffenroth said mid-voting.

The economy and jobs, along with fiscal management, have been key issues during the campaign, while the question of language in the officially bilingual province played a lower-grade role on the hustings.

As of 2 p.m. ET Monday, more than 177,000 ballots had been cast — higher than normal at that point on election day, she said.

The month-long New Brunswick election campaign neared the finish line with a final day of campaigning in whats seen as a tightening race between the rival Liberals and Progressive Conservatives.

The figure is in part fuelled by a larger turnout in advance voting. More than 87,000 voted early this year compared to 67,317 last election.

Three ridings reported issues with tabulation machines. Elections New Brunswick said the issues in Hampton, Saint John Harbour and Fredericton North have been resolved.

Mr. Higgs touched on familiar themes to applause from the crowd, touting a fiscally conservative agenda aimed at bringing back a provincial economy he said lags behind the rest of Canada.

Liberals, Tories trade jabsThe Liberals chose a pro-spending campaign in the face of concern from economists and the public to improve the province's finances. The party promised heavy spending on infrastructure, health care, nursing homes and education, while also pledging to freeze power rates.

Its desperation, said Mr. Higgs. [Mr. Gallant] brings in political friends from the other provinces, but are they going to stay and help him? Is that the plan if he wins?

If Gallant wasn't touting his record or making a spending pledge, he was attacking Higgs. The Liberals routinely targeted the PC leader's record as finance minister as well as his connections with big business and warned the electorate of cuts to public services.

The PCs were just as active in criticizing Gallant, saying the province "can't afford" another four years of "reckless" Liberal spending.

Higgs stood by his record and even said — in rather dramatic fashion — the Liberals approached him about taking a job in their government following the 2014 election. Gallant denied the claim.

Stabilizing provincial finances and boosting the economy were the pillars of Tory messaging. The party promised to balance the budget two years into their mandate without making cuts to education and health care.

New Brunswick has been a two-party province for, well, forever. Only twice in the past 100 years has a third party held more than one seat in a legislature.

Two parties other than the Liberals or Tories occupying seats in a legislature at the same time had also only happened twice before Monday.

Coon made history in the 2014 election, becoming the first Green MLA elected in the province by winning Fredericton South. The party built off Coon's growing profile and name recognition after four years in office.

During the campaign, Coon emphasized the party's economic policies, letting voters know they're well beyond a single-issue organization.

The People's Alliance leader was defeated in Fredericton-Grand Lake by 26 votes in the last election, but Austin has returned with a groundswell of support behind him as the party sought its first seats in the legislative assembly.

The Alliance has gained a fervent following in the past eight years, culminating in its largest field of candidates (30) this year. However, some of its policies, particularly on language issues, have spurred controversy and alienated voters.

Colin McPhail is a web writer with CBC New Brunswick. He is based in Fredericton. You can reach him at [email protected]

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