New Brunswick 2010
A general election for New Brunswick’s 55 provincial legislature was held on September 27, the first fixed-date election in the province. In the 2006 election, Shawn Graham’s Liberals had defeated Bernard Lord’s two-term Progressive Conservative government in a narrow election which saw the PCs win the popular vote but lose the seat count to the Liberals 26 to 29.
New Brunswick politics have remained remarkably stable, with the Liberals and Conservatives alternating in power since Confederation. With the exception of the 1991 election in which a third party, the Confederations of Regions (CoR) enjoyed a brief success, third parties have been largely unsuccessful in New Brunswick, with the NDP holding only one seat at its height and being shut out since 2005. Shawn Graham, who had succeeded his father in the riding of Kent in 1998, had come close to throwing out Bernard Lord after only one term in 2003, but the PCs narrowly held on with 28 seats to the Liberals’ 26 and 1 New Democrat.
Shawn Graham enjoyed a rather long honeymoon, lasting into the spring of 2009, but fell apart in October 2009 when he announced that his government had signed a back-room deal with Quebec to sell NB Power to Hydro-Quebec. The deal was extremely unpopular and was finally scrapped, but it remained a potent issue due to the fashion in which the government handled the deal – negotiating behind closed-doors (and breaking an electoral promise in doing so) and then announcing it in pomp. The government’s decisions in matters such as post-secondary education, French immersion were also controversial. Lastly, New Brunswick is doing very badly economically, with the government having announced a $749-million deficit.
The Progressive Conservative opposition was not all that spectacular, and its leader elected in 2008, David Alward, is not extremely charismatic. Tellingly, in ‘best PM’ polls, Alward or Graham rarely broke 30%. Late last year, this situation of little love for both main parties and their leaders briefly contributed a NDP boost which went up to 22% in polls (at a time where most Atlantic Province NDPs saw their numbers go up, right after the NDP win in Nova Scotia). The NDP, indeed, after having had an inept leader in 2006, turned to a well-liked and amiable former priest, Roger Duguay, who was also a Francophone. It was also during this time that the People’s Alliance of New Brunswick (PANB) was formed by Kris Austin, who had lost the PC nomination in Grand Lake-Gagetown. The PANB took a populist platform which some compared to that of the CoR in 1991, though the PANB is not anti-bilingualism as the CoR was.
The PCs entered the campaign tied with the Liberals, and despite not performing extremely well in debates, built up a comfortable lead over the Liberals, leading the incumbent by around 1o points overall. The Tories, knowing that promising too much is never a good idea, went down the easy road of promising things which will be hard, very hard, to do: balancing the books without cutting spending, for example. The Liberals promised to create 20,000 new jobs to balance the budget, which is also another good example of a promise which is unlikely to be kept. The Tories also played a lot on the unpopular botched NB Power fiasco, something which probably really hurt the Liberals even if some downplay the potency of the issue. In fact, only the NDP and the Greens came up with serious and realistic plans to balance the budget, including, for the Greens, tolls on roads.
Here are the results, with seat counts compared to the 2006 election (seat count at dissolution was PC 21, Liberal 32, vacant 2):
Progressive Conservative 48.92% (+1.44%) winning 42 seats (+16)
Liberal 34.39% (-12.74%) winning 13 seats (-16)
NDP 10.35% (+5.22%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Green 4.53% (new) winning 0 seats (new)
PANB 1.18% (new) winning 0 seats (new)
Independents 0.62% (+0.37%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The PC victory, while predictable, was much larger than anybody had predicted. In fact, even though the PCs had a large lead in polls and trends all pointed towards a PC majority, the high proportion of undecideds even in the last days out led some to predict that the election could be closer than predicted. On the contrary, undecided voters and late deciders broke heavily for the PC and gave them a landslide larger than any serious prediction had given them. Even though the PCs, in terms of votes, barely gained vis-a-vis 2006, the huge margin which now separated them from the Liberals allowed them, thanks to the workings of FPTP, to win a landslide in terms of seats. This huge margin also prevented the NDP from winning any seats despite winning its best popular vote result since 1991. The Liberals were reduced to a rump of seats, largely concentrated in Francophone areas of the province, which is, traditionally, the Liberals’ strongest areas though their strength in Francophone New Brunswick is not universal nor is it set in stone. While Shawn Graham held on in traditionally Liberal Kent, nearly a dozen cabinet ministers were defeated, most notably Energy Minister Jack Keir (of the NB Power fiasco) who went down in flames in Fundy River-Valley, winning just 29% to the PC’s 57.5%. Kelly Lamrock, the former Education Minister (of French immersion fiasco fame), also went down in flames 47-36 to the Tories in Fredericton-Fort Nashwaak. Ironically, the Liberals picked up Dieppe-Center-Lewisville from a retiring PC incumbent, and won the vacant seat of Rogersville-Kouchibouguac, which was Tory in 2006. It also held on in Moncton East, Bernard Lord’s old seat, which they had won in a by-election. PC-to-Liberal floorcrossers in Moncton West and Petitcodiac, however, lost their seats to their former party. In my mind, one of the biggest defeats of the night was the defeat of a six-term Liberal incumbent in Victoria-Tobique – who had won over 70% of the vote in 2006. He lost to the Tories by a 12.5% margin, though the seat isn’t historically a Liberal stronghold.
NDP leader Roger Duguay had set his hopes in Tracadie-Sheila, a coastal Acadian seat held by the Tories, a seat which the NDP hadn’t even contested back in 2006. He put up a tough fight, but won just 32.3% to the Tory incumbent’s 48.8%. In Saint John Harbour, traditionally the NDP’s best seat in the province, the NDP’s Wayne Dryer finished a narrow third with 27.6% while the Tories won 30.7%. Though the NDP did well in the Acadie-Bathurst area (which they hold federally, with Yvon Godin), an area where they barely even contested in 2006 (Yvon Godin had bad relations with former NDP leader Allison Brewer), their failure to win a seat this time around is bad news for the party – though it did double its vote share. While it is doubtful that it will happen, certain pundits even called the NDP’s existence into question last night, questioning the viability of a party shut out of the legislature for two straight terms. Yet, arguably, Duguay is the best the NDP have and they’d be fools not to stick with him even if he didn’t win them any seats.
Green leader Jack MacDougall won 9.46% in Fredericton-Nashwaaksis, while PANB leader Kris Austin won 19.63% in Grand Lake-Gagetown. Both parties did surprisingly well for new third parties, but it is likely explainable by the fact that both leaders participated in the leaders’ debates (Kris Austin, who speaks only English, did not participate in the French debates),which gave them a chance to shine a bit.
Shawn Graham will go to the dustbin of history as New Brunswick’s first Premier to lose after only one-term. Not too surprisingly, he won’t stay on as leader and the Liberals have a much reduced caucus from which to choose their next leader. While David Alward has a huge majority, he has tough work on his hands, especially if he intends to stay with his promises. The Tories have promised to balance the budget, which boasts a $749-million deficit, in four years, but while freezing property tax assessments for seniors and freezing NB Power rates for three years. The Tories also campaigned heavily on increasing citizens involvement in government.