Guest Post: New Brunswick (Canada) 2014

I didn’t have time to cover an interesting provincial election in New Brunswick held on September 22. Luckily enough, Kyle Hutton – who blogs on Blunt Objects – was nice enough to write a fantastic guest post which explores every facet of New Brunswick’s political history and 2014 electoral campaign. Please contact me by email if you would like to write a guest post on any electoral event. 

Provincial elections were held in the Canadian province of New Brunswick (fr. Nouveau-Brunswick) on Monday, September 22nd. Like all other Canadian jurisdictions, New Brunswick uses the first-past-the-post method for electing members to legislatures, whereby having a simple plurality of the votes means you have won

In the last provincial election in 2010, 55 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) were elected, however a redistribution in 2013 overseen by an independent commission reduced that number to 49 to reflect a smaller but more urban population. The redistribution was not without controversy in Canada’s most bilingual province (65% English to 32% French Acadian), with challenges to the new boundary law launched by Acadian advocacy groups and local movements who claimed discrimination due to the loss of clout for Francophones in the province with the merger and elimination of ridings from Acadian regions. In the end however, the commission dismissed many of the complaints on the basis that the “predominate language of a riding does not qualify as a special circumstance” to change the boundaries.

Historical Background

New Brunswick is one of Canada’s four “founding” provinces, being brought into Confederation on July 1st, 1867, along with Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia – though like the latter it isn’t entirely clear that it was supported by the population at the time. The province is nestled between Quebec to the north, the US state of Maine to the west, and Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to the east, and has a long history of settlement by First Nations (such as the Mi’kmaq) and European colonists.

New Brunswick has a unique set of circumstances as previously mentioned, with an Anglophone majority and significant Francophone minority, and lots of sore history between the two.

The Saint John River Valley in New Brunswick was primarily settled by British Loyalist refugees from the United States following the American Revolution, and New Brunswick was created as a separate crown colony from Nova Scotia in 1784 to accommodate Loyalist refugees (much like Upper Canada/Ontario).

The predominately Francophone and Catholic Acadian minority, descendants of the original French settlers and expellees in the region with Métis (mixed First Nations and European) heritage are centered around the north and east of the province, particularly in the modern counties of Madawaska, Restigouche, Gloucester, Kent, and Westmorland, with smaller pockets in Victoria and Northumberland counties. Acadian history is a fascinating, complex, and tragic tale that is often overlooked as most in the Rest of Canada tend to think about Quebec when the subject of English/French relations comes up. If you’re interested more in the history, I suggest looking for the book The Lion and the Lily by historian Peter Landry. It focuses more on Nova Scotia’s Acadian history, but a lot of it connects back to the groups we’re talking about here.

The Acadian population presented a problem for the Protestant and Anglophone majority that government the province, many of them hostile to their Catholicism and, unlike in Quebec, able to push forward with an agenda to roll back the Church’s influence. Government policy such as the Common Schools Act of 1871, which abolished religious schools in the province (an act that was favoured by Protestants and hated by Catholics) often led to riots.

Political parties were not officially formed in the province until the 1930s, but there existed clear caucus affiliations since before Confederation. Early Conservative (Tory) and Liberal caucuses tended to have their bases among the two demographics, with the Conservatives sweeping most Anglophone counties and the Liberals sweeping Acadian counties, but this was by no means set in stone and support ebbed and flowed during various periods. The two parties regularly alternated power with each other, and like in Ontario the control of the Legislature often reflected the trends of the Parliament in Ottawa.

Early Conservatives were, unsurprisingly given their base of voters, usually less supportive of Francophone equality while the Liberal opposition was more supportive. As time went on however, both parties generally supported gradual inclusion of minorities in government, with progress made under both parties – however this tended to be piecemeal reforms or appointments that, while respectful, did not necessarily change the actual standard of living for many Acadians. This led to continued resentment and agitation among residents, who sought to at least be treated equally by the Anglophone-dominated parties.

1960s to 2010

Louis Robichaud (1960-1970)

The movement for equal rights came to a head in 1960 with the election of Louis Robichaud, the first elected Acadian Premier and a Liberal (Peter Veniot, the first Acadian Premier and also a Liberal, served briefly as Premier from 1923 to 1925 but failed to get re-elected). Robichaud was a reformist Premier, modernizing the province’s rather backwater health, education and social service infrastructure throughout many areas of the province, but specifically in the Acadian counties (often called the Equal Opportunity program). Robichaud also moved to introduce key rights and support for the Acadian minority, such as the 1969 Official Languages Act that enshrined official bilingualism in the province, and the establishment of the Univserité de Moncton, the province’s French-language university, among other initiatives.

Though praised by many, critics called Robichaud out as “robbing Peter to pay Pierre,” as Robichaud’s method to pay for his reforms included a restructuring of municipal tax transfers that funnelled money away from the richer Anglophone municipalities to pay for improvements in the Francophone areas of the province (though, in reality, the funds went to every part of the province that needed it). This raised a lot of resentment to the Robichaud government, and by extension Acadians, among certain parts of the province, leading to some not-so-nice campaigns. Robichaud’s Progressive Conservative opponent in 1967, Charles Van Horne, often campaigned around the province lambasting Acadian’s Métis heritage (literally calling Acadians “half-breeds” and drunks – classy).

In the 1970 election, Robichaud called a snap election, banking on an unprepared and disorganized opposition, which had just elected a new leader in Richard Hatfield. But the government ended up with a major gaffe on their hands by not having their own platform prepared in time, missing the publishing deadline for newspapers, many of whom ended up running blank pages where the Liberal platform was supposed to be. Hatfield also had the advantage of not being a buffoon, as he was fluently bilingual and friendly to Acadian interests instead of an English-speaking boogeyman. Still, the 1970 election results showed how starkly divided the province had become, with the province split right down the middle in terms of support.

Richard Hatfield (1970-1987)

Though he was elected with little support from Francophones in the province and arguably because conservatives had simply had enough of Robichaud’s administration, Hatfield continued to promote his predecessor’s Equal Opportunity program and expanded the promotion of Acadian rights and culture. Hatfield established historical Acadian villages, reorganized school boards on linguistic lines, and opened up more government positions to Francophones, while cementing many of Robichaud’s previous acts in law. None of these things impressed much of his base, but they likely continued to prefer Hatfield to another Liberal government.

Hatfield was also well known on the national stage, promoting various inter-provincial forums and became an ally of Pierre Trudeau’s when the Liberal Prime Minister moved to repatriate the Canadian constitution in the 1980s. Hatfield was also instrumental in the creation of the Charter of Rights, and is credited for the inclusion of minority language rights and equalization payments (the federal oversight of provincial transfers from richer, or ‘have’ provinces, to poorer, or ‘have-not’ provinces).

However, Hatfield didn’t always have it easy, falling into scandals throughout his tenure, including the infamous Bricklin debacle. In this, the government moved to subsidize a local car manufacturer to build and provide a cheap alternative vehicle in the province and beyond, but it backfired completely due to cost overruns, poor management, and frankly a ridiculous design. In the end, the company ended up costing taxpayers $23-million.

Hatfield also had a number of personal scandals, especially in his last term. In 1984, he was charged with the possession of nearly 30 grams of marijuana found in his luggage during a royal visit. Though acquitted, rumours popped up soon after that he had given cocaine to possibly underage boys at a Montreal hotel – an allegation that played off other numerous rumours about his sexuality. These personal scandals combined with general fatigue with the PC government over seventeen years led to an historic defeat in 1987.

Frank McKenna (1987-1999)

Though they had been out of power for a decade and a half, the ‘70, ’74, ’78 and ’82 elections had been relatively close affairs for the Liberals. The party still had a strong Acadian base to work off of, and there was an undercurrent of discontent among other voters with the Hatfield government – however the Liberals were hampered by Hatfield’s truly progressive Progressive Conservativism, as well as the growing support of the fledgling New Democratic Party (NDP). The Liberals needed to craft a different kind of message to get the support they needed to form another government.

In 1985, the Liberals chose former lawyer and Chatham MLA Frank McKenna as their next leader. McKenna crafted his campaign around a focus on the perceived Hatfield government failures on the economy and job creation, accusing the PCs of being poor economic managers (Bricklin a stark example) and forcing New Brunswickers to leave the province to find a steady job elsewhere (outmigration). McKenna was also able to successfully tie Hatfield to the at-the-time unpopular Mulroney government, which had just come out of the controversial Meech Lake negotiations and was being blasted on all sides for various issues.

Calling the 1987 Liberal campaign “successful” is a vast understatement. With just over 60% of the vote, McKenna’s Liberals won all 58 seats in the Legislature, sweeping away Hatfield’s Tories and creating an awkward situation for the new government, which had no Opposition to contend with for at least four years. The solution was the creation of an “unofficial opposition” of backbench MLAs who would hold the government to account – more or less.

As Premier, McKenna was not too focused on the issue of Acadian rights (though he was widely respected by Acadians for defending a local boxing champion in a widely-publicized trial), but instead on the issue of jobs, growth, and improving the government’s relationship with the public. Under his leadership, the Liberals made wide investments to encourage small and large business growth in the province, creating viable long-term jobs for New Brunswickers, and reduced the size of bloated government departments. McKenna also worked on improving the government’s relationship with the public, though was criticised for expanding communications personnel on the public payroll and his gimmicky toll-free 1-800-MCKENNA number.

However, in the 1991 election the ugly issue of the Anglophone/Acadian divide came back to the forefront in the form of the Confederation of Regions Party, or CoR. Previously a fringe right-wing party with little support, the party grew after Tories disillusioned with Hatfield’s legacy of Acadian accommodation flocked to the party, including a few former cabinet members. In the 1988 federal election, the first signs of the coming rise of CoR came when the federal party scored 4.3% in New Brunswick, playing off the provincial Acadian divide as well as Mulroney’s image as a Francophone/Quebec appeaser, somewhat mirroring the rise of the Reform Party in Western Canada.

With the provincial Tories still in disarray and stained by unpopular association with the federal PC government, CoR managed to become the Official Opposition with 8 seats – all Anglophone ridings – on 21% of the vote while the PCs clawed their way back, barely, with three seats at 20%. The split vote among the two conservative, Anglophone-based parties allowed the Liberals to return with another strong majority, a situation that, again, would end up mirroring federal results. CoR didn’t last long however, falling to internal discord between the party’s moderate nuts and nuttier nuts over leadership of the party, and by 1995 fell to under 10% of the vote and zero seats.

McKenna won final re-election in 1995 versus now-federal cabinet member Bernard Valcourt at the helm of the PCs, but in 1997 announced his surprise resignation, ten years to the day since he was elected. McKenna went on to work in the private sector and eventually became the Canadian ambassador to the US, as well as the federal Liberal Party’s mythical saviour for a while. He was replaced on a permanent basis as leader and Premier by Kent South MLA Camille Thériault, who led the “unofficial opposition” in the legislature after the 1987 sweep and served as a cabinet member after 1991. Thériault tried to take a slightly different tack than McKenna, focusing on improving social services in the province, though banked on the the McKenna legacy’s continued appeal to muddle his government through the next election. Instead, Thériault’s Liberals fell to the Tories led by a young Moncton lawyer named Bernard Lord, who used the government’s complacency to score a massive upset in the 1999 election.

Bernard Lord (1999-2006)

Lord, elected as Tory leader in 1997, campaigned on a theme of “change” from the tired Liberal government with great success, promising “200 Days of Change,” in which Lord made twenty specific commitments his government would accomplish within 200 days of taking office. These promises ranged from providing a breakfast program for elementary school students, halving government communications staff, and creating 300 nursing positions, though some promises like the elimination of an unpopular highway toll between Moncton and Fredericton apparently went unfulfilled. Though the government’s laser-like focus on the “200 Days” platform caused critics to say that the government was focusing on gimmicks rather than actual governing, the claimed success earned praise for the Lord government from most corners of the province.

However, the new Tory government soon ran into trouble as time went on and issues started to pile up. Lord’s government started facing off against stiff opposition after the Liberals, under new leader Shawn Graham, capitalized on voter anger over skyrocketing auto insurance rates in the province going into the 2003 election. The Liberal campaign ran flawlessly against the fumbling Tories, whose changing positions on key issues contrasted starkly with Graham’s focused platform and government criticism. In the end the Lord government was re-elected with a bare majority – 28 seats to 26 seats for the Liberals and one New Democrat, a virtually untenable position. Just 4,000 votes separated the two main contenders from each other across the province, though unlike previous polarized elections in the Hatfield era, this one did not feature as stark a divide between Anglophone and Francophone counties – the Liberals and PCs were both led by fluently bilingual men from the southeast of the province, and there was little real difference between the party platforms.

The Tory government continued to function, barely, and started dropping in the polls as the government was forced to take unpopular stances, notably with changes to the health care system that closed beds at hospitals in rural areas and unpopular consolidations of hospitals in the Upper Saint John River Valley (areas surrounding Fredericton, Carleton, and Victoria). Graham’s Liberals continued to gain in popularity while Lord was forced to call a snap election in 2006 after the resignation of one of his members reduced his government to a minority in the legislature.

Shawn Graham (2006-2010)

The 2006 campaign featured a tight, too-close-to-call race throughout five weeks that had everyone on the edge of their seats. The Tories campaigned on jobs, healthcare, and Lord’s leadership (and Graham’s lack of it), and by copying some of the tactics from their successful 1999 campaign, including the “twenty promises” idea. The Liberals put out an extensive platform with 250 promises, but most focused on specific themes of education, economic development, and the emerging issue of energy prices (an issue that jumped to the forefront due to the government’s introduction of gas price regulation at the beginning of the year). In the end, Graham managed to lead his Liberals to a majority government with 29 seats to the PC’s 26, though the Liberals lost the popular vote by 1,300 votes. This election continued the positive trend for the party in Anglophone ridings, with the Liberals winning a large number of districts, including sweeping Fredericton and holding three of Saint John’s four seats.

Shawn Graham enjoyed a popular honeymoon early upon taking office, at one point leading with two-thirds popular support in polls. The new Premier acted on some of his promises quickly, cutting the excise tax on gasoline, reduced student tuition, setting aside funds to improve ferry service, and a bunch of other things aimed at pleasing everyone he possibly could. Things continued to go well, with by-election wins and defections from the PCs testifying to the government’s popularity, but issues started piling up one by one. The refurbishment of the Point Lepreau Nuclear Reactor, a costly and controversial venture, started coming into focus; changes to French early immersion in favour of universal curriculum caused considerable opposition (and made Kelly Lamrock, then Education Minister, a popular person to hate); the economic downturn then hit and turned the province’s $12-million surplus into a $285-million deficit; costly bailouts to unpopular corporations caused people to question the government’s judgement; and then, finally, the sale of NB Power to Hydro-Québec.

In fairness to the Graham government, this idea seemed like a good one at first, with Hydro-Québec promising to take on the massive debt of NB Power and freezing residential electricity rates in the province for five years. In exchange, most of the energy-related assets (including generation, transmission, and distribution) owned by the province would be transferred to Hydro-Québec’s – essentially giving the government of Quebec control over power and transmission in the province. This of course raised the heckles of other Premiers, specifically Danny Williams of Newfoundland & Labrador, who opposed the deal for several reasons (Quebec and NL have a longstanding rivalry over energy in the region), but provincial business groups widely supported the move, and the decision was supported by audits from independent sources showing that ratepayers would save over $5-billion thanks to the deal.

However, the Tories and New Democrats, under new leaders David Alward and Roger Duguay respectively, saw their opportunity and vigorously stated their opposition to the sale of NB Power, calling it a reckless sellout. Local advocacy groups started to encourage New Brunswickers to build up popular pushback against the government, holding protests outside the offices of government members and cabinet ministers. Eventually a poll showed that nearly 60% of residents opposed the deal, compared to just 22% that supported it. This lead initially to an attempted renegotiation of the deal, but eventually the entire thing fell through. Discredited and unpopular, the Liberals and Shawn Graham then had to call an election.

2010 Election

Eric has a good post on the provincial election from 2010 that I’d recommend people visit to get more detail, but essentially it went really, really poorly for the Graham Liberals. The attempted NB Power sale had completely ruined the government’s reputation, leading many to question Graham’s judgement as Premier and his overall competence. The early opposition from the PCs, even if somewhat hypocritical given the Lord government’s own similar attempts to sell off assets, gave David Alward and his strategists an easy attack line versus the government, while overall playing up a cautious platform. Many of the less severe issues during Graham’s tenure came back to haunt the government, leading to a death by a thousand cuts – vigorous local campaigns targeted several ministers, including Kelly Lamrock and Energy Minister Jack Keir, for their roles in Liberal debacles.

Alward and the Tories ended up winning a fairly impressive victory over the Liberals, with 48.8% support over the Liberal’s 34.5%, a massive swing from 2006 and the lowest recorded level of popular support for the Liberals in their history. Their previous gains in Anglophone New Brunswick were also rolled back, with all but one of the Liberal’s remaining thirteen seats located in Acadian ridings. A rise in support for the New Democrats, as well as the arrival of two new parties – the provincial Greens under former Liberal Jack MacDougall and the People’s Alliance under former Tory Kris Austin – took chunks out of the two major parties’ support. And to add insult to injury, Graham’s government became the first one-term government in the provinces history.

Alward Government

Like his predecessor, Alward came into power with an impressive honeymoon period, but it didn’t last long. By mid-2012, the Tories were already falling behind in the polls as the fairly hapless government stumbled into issue after issue with little to else to say. While the Alward government introduced some popular reforms to pension programs and a prescription drug program, the former of which received quite a bit of support from all sides, the government’s popularity nosedived after a rise in the income tax (that Alward promised he wouldn’t do in 2010), somewhat shady backroom deals (particularly with the forestry industry), and patronage appointments to campaign managers and former MLAs, things that as Opposition leader Alward had criticised Graham for doing. The continuing sad state of the government’s budget, increasing outmigration due to high unemployment, and other various issues also chipped away at the government’s confidence.

In late 2013, escalating protests and RCMP intervention near Rexton made national headlines. The protesters, many of whom were members of the Elsipogtog First Nation nearby, were angry over continuing shale gas exploration and hydraulic fracturing development (“fracking”) in the area, concerned about its impact on the environment after media reporting on the mining process raised alarms in the public. This issue had been stewing for a while and finally exploded after the RCMP intervened to clear road blocks, only furthering the protesters’ anger.

The Alward government, despite popular opinion generally being on the side of the protesters, continued to defend fracking as safe and the best way to create jobs in the province, especially in the Acadian east. The New Democrats and new leader Dominic Cardy seized on the opportunity to make hay out of the issue, calling for legislated bans and moratoriums on fracking and expressing support, if somewhat guarded, for the protests. The Liberals, under new leader Brian Gallant, were much more reserved with their opinion, though finally settled in opposition to continued fracking until more studies were complete. The issue also breathed new life into the Green Party and its new leader, David Coon, a well-known environmentalist who made vocal statements against the industry and its potential impact.

By the time the 2014 election was called, the Alward Tories were sitting behind the Liberals by, in some cases, twenty points or more. Combined with the unpopularity of the federal Conservative government’s EI reforms and the rise of federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, the Alward government looked pretty much cooked – however that was far from the only story, as we’ll get into now.

The 2014 Campaign – Parties, Leaders & Platforms

Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick

pc-logoThe New Brunswick Progressive Conservatives, like their cousins in other Atlantic Canadian provinces, tend to be more moderate (sometimes called “Red Toryism”) than the current incarnation of the federal Conservative Party, though by comparison they are probably the most “conservative” of the Conservatives in the region, simply by nature of their party base in the rural, religious areas in the southwest of the province (Upper Saint John River Valley) and their pro-business base in cities like Saint John, Moncton, and Fredericton. Since Hatfield, they also retain support in a few Acadian ridings with popular local members, such as Madeliene Dubé in Edmundston or Paul Robichaud in Lamèque-Shippagan-Miscou. However the PC base is undoubtedly located in the rural south of the province, with strong support in Carleton, York, Charlotte, Sunbury, Queens, Kings, and Albert counties, with significant support in Victoria and Northumberland as well.

As mentioned above, David Alward led the Tories to government in 2010 but failed to remain popular as issues piled up at his government’s feet. There seemed to be a sense of “drift” with the government, despite proposing some good reforms here and there – there just didn’t seem to be a major motivation to do, well, anything, and the government instead had to react to issues to get itself moving, taking controversial but polarizing stances on things like support for fracking in the province. This could have been due to the general feeling that the government was going down to defeat no matter what, and only until the campaign did that idea ever turn around.

The PC platform was released halfway through the campaign reflected this malaise, with the uninspiring slogan of “Say Yes!”. The platform focused mostly on general accolades about improving the economy, job creation, and how awesome they are compared to the mess left behind by the Liberals. The platform also showed that the PCs were ready to double down on their support for fracking, with clear support for the industry and various promises about supporting it and other industries (forestry, the Energy East pipeline, etc.) as a way to employ New Brunswickers. The calculation here is slightly puzzling, given fracking’s unpopularity in the province – though at the same time, it’s likely they believed it couldn’t hurt any worse than they already were.

New Brunswick Liberal Association

liberal-logoThe Liberals in New Brunswick are, and remain, the traditional opposition to the Tories, though often times the differences between the two are hard to decipher. Many Liberals are proud of their history of supporting Acadian equality and the progress made under Robichaud, though many previous Liberal Premiers served impressive terms as well. Like most other Canadian Liberals, the NBLA has its bout of reformist impulses but generally carries forward a status-quo agenda, leading to accusations of being a party of government rather than ideology, unlike the New Democrats and various conservative parties. The Liberal base is in the rural Acadian counties – Madawaska, Restigouche, Gloucester, Kent, and Westmorland – as well as pockets of support in Victoria and Northumberland counties. The Liberals also do well, on a good day, in Saint John, Fredericton, and Moncton, but the cities remain a battleground. As an aside, the NBLA is also officially linked with the federal Liberals, a rarity these days, but a useful one as the two sides share resources during elections.

After such a stinging defeat in 2010, the Liberals remained in some disarray as they tried to refocus. Graham resigned as Leader and was replaced by Shediac-Beaubassin-Cap-Pelé MLA and former Finance Minister Victor Boudreau until the leadership selection in October 2012. Three people entered the race, all of them not members of the Legislature – Brian Gallant, who previously ran against Bernard Lord in 2006; Mike Murphy, former cabinet member and MLA; and Nick Duivenvoorden, former mayor of Belledune, an Acadian town in northern New Brunswick. Many other prominent Liberals declined, which was taken to be a bad sign. Gallant ended up cruising to an easy victory over Murphy, though there was some controversy over the electronic voting process – kind of a theme as we’ll see – leading to hilarity when the Tories’ executive director managed to register his dog and vote online in the contest.

Gallant, a young Moncton lawyer with no previous political experience outside of his run in 2006, won a subsequent by-election in the riding of Kent, vacated by former Premier Shawn Graham. Kent, of course, is right in the heart of the protests against fracking (though the by-election was before the protests erupted into riots), making for a possibly interesting race (it wasn’t). He immediately became popular as opposition to Alward continued to grow, and comparisons were made favourably between him and federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau when the latter was elected in April 2013 – both were young, bilingual up-and-comers who seemed to earn accolades for doing nothing.

The Liberal platform is fairly insipid – and I say that as a Liberal supporter. Much like the PC platform, it focuses on bland assurances that we’ll invest money into this and that to create jobs and make your life better, unlike those dastardly Tories. This election campaign is boring in terms of party platforms, with all the parties sprinkling goodies around here and there but lacking anything inspiring to say. A couple things stand out, such as lowering the small business corporate tax rate to just 2.5% and increasing the taxes on the “richest 1%,” a clear attempt at populism that kind of falls flat, but that may just be me.

On the outstanding issues, the Liberals took the stance of proposing a moratorium on fracking in the province, a position that gave them some breathing space as it was/is the popular position to take, at least among their base, and provided clear contrast with the PCs. Another issue, though mostly among the Liberals and New Democrats and a select few advocacy groups, was abortion services in the province; New Brunswick has some of the most restrictive policies on abortion in Canada (though not as bad as PEI), and the closure of the Mortengaler Clinic in 2013 highlighted the issue among activists on both sides. Gallant, though himself pro-choice and supportive of removing barriers to abortion services, initially waffled back and forth on whether he would whip his caucus when it came to a vote. He eventually relented and said he would, but not before he was knocked around by the NDP and others for being unclear on the issue, and gaining opposition from anti-choice groups in the meantime.

As the campaign went on, Gallant ended up becoming something of a gaffe-machine and less-than-inspiring on the campaign trail, causing support for the Liberals to shrivel quite a bit. The most severe incident occurred during an interview with Gallant on CBC News on September 12th, just nine days before the vote. In it he incorrectly stated numbers relating to his promise to increase taxes on the richest residents, and had to ask for a “redo” (similar to Dion’s infamous interview, though this wasn’t unfairly characterised as that was) five hours later to give the correct numbers. Obviously this didn’t help his reputation at all, and caused a lot of worry up at Liberal HQ (as well as in Ottawa I imagine, where federal Liberal minders worry about Justin’s own gaffe-making tendencies).

New Brunswick New Democratic Party

ndp-logoIf you’ve read everything above, you’ll notice that I rarely mention anything about the NDP in the province’s political history. This is because the NDP’s particular brand of social democratic politics had a rough time catching on in Atlantic Canada, despite strong support for government intervention, fairly robust labour industries (fishing, logging, shipbuilding, etc.), and a need for effective for social services. Part of the problem is the traditional “red-blue” division and patronage, but also that the Liberals and Tories in the eastern provinces tend to be moderate, and the need for a more radical reform party like the NDP isn’t necessary. That said, the New Democrats have had recent success in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, taking the place of the Liberals in major urban centres with left-leaning populations and making inroads among rural ridings as well – well, they were successes, but have unfortunately been rolled back with the defeat of the Dexter government in Nova Scotia and the collapse of the NDP in Newfoundland.

Outside of PEI, the New Democrats in New Brunswick are the weakest provincial cousins, having never held more than two seats in its entire history (the second came from a by-election win in 1984, who crossed the floor to the Liberals in the same term), and reached a previous high of  only 11% under the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, or CCF, banner in 1944. The party earned its first seat in the 1982 with a surprise win in Tantramar, a seat which was lost in the 1987 Liberal sweep. Greater success came when Elizabeth Weir was elected leader and won her seat in Saint John Harbour in 1991, and held it until her resignation in 2005. Since Weir’s resignation however, the NDP have been shut out of the Legislature.

Weir resigned both her party leadership and then her seat after being appointed by the Lord government to head up Effiency NB, a crown corporation. She was replaced as leader by Allison Brewer, a Fredericton-based social activist who incredibly, somehow, managed to decide to not run in the by-election to replace Weir in Saint John Harbour, which the NDP subsequently lost – badly. Brewer then led her party to its worst result since 1974 in the 2006 election, and resigned shortly thereafter.

The next NDP leader was Roger Duguay, an Acadian and former Catholic priest who earned the most votes as an NDP candidate in the province in 2006. Duguay led the party to mild success in 2010, improving the NDP vote in Acadian areas of the province but overall falling short of winning any seats, himself going down to defeat in Tracadie-Sheila by a fairly wide margin.

In 2011, the NDP took another shot at this leadership thing, acclaiming NDP activist Dominic Cardy as their leader. Cardy had previously worked as a campaign director in 2010 and co-founded moderate internal factions inside the federal NDP (modeled after the politics of Gary Doer, Tony Blair, and Gerhard Schröder). In a 2012 by-election in Rothesay, Cardy finished a strong third in a traditionally Tory riding, impressing many despite falling short.

Following his debut, the NDP were hitting highs in public support not seen previously, reaching 27% support – two points behind the PCs, though fourteen behind the Liberals – in May 2013. This confirmed Cardy as a serious contender in the eyes of a lot of pundits, but his changes to party policy, especially in the last year, have alienated former supporters, including former leader Allison Brewer. Their complaints stem over the direction the party was heading, especially in tone, with Cardy adopting “right-populist” appeals, taking on the language of the right – lower taxes, effective but lean government, fiscal responsibility – while combining it with general social democratic values on services and social issues. Though the party started dropping in the polls following Gallant’s arrival, Cardy was successfully able to recruit ex-Liberals (including Kelly Lamrock) and ex-Tories, most notably sitting Hampton-Kings MLA Bev Harrison, to run for his party in this election.

The NDP platform, to its credit, is much more fleshed out than its major party competitors (to the point of being a wall’o’text). The focus is definitely on job creation, balancing budgets, and providing strong support for small businesses, while paying lip service to the traditional NDP muses of social justice and improving government services.

Much like the Liberals, the NDP’s stance on shale gas exploration and fracking changed over the course of the last year, though in the opposite direction. In October 2013, Cardy had stated that he would push for and sign an immediate moratorium on all development; by the time the campaign had rolled around, the NDP had a more nuanced position, calling for a two-year waiting period on development, royalties, and a free vote in the Legislature. This opened up a critical flank on the NDP’s environmental left, with the Liberals and Greens calling out Cardy as “flip-flopping” on the issue. It’s obvious why the direction was taken, however – one of the biggest opportunities for jobs in the province comes from resource development, and that’s what the NDP are all about.

Green Party of New Brunswick

green-logoThe NB Greens are one of the latest additions to the Canadian Green family, forming following a November 2008 convention in Moncton. The party was created at the spurring of federal and provincial organizers, in particular Jack MacDougall, a former Liberal Party organizer and leadership candidate in 2002 who switched parties and became the Maritimes Organizer for the federal Greens in August 2008.

The Green Party in Canada has been around for a couple of decades, but has only really come into focus – especially in Atlantic Canada – in the last decade. In the 2004 election, the first featuring the new leaner and meaner Conservative Party of Canada (the result of the merger between the Progressive Conservatives and Canadian Alliance/Reform parties), the federal Greens managed an impressive breakthrough, winning over 4% of the vote across Canada, though no seats. Under Torontonian Jim Harris, the Greens combined pro-environmental policies with fiscal conservatism (“blue greens”), appealing to a fair number of different demographics – the Greens manage to win support in both cities and rural areas, with their biggest trouble spot being in Quebec.

Following two unsuccessful elections, Harris stepped aside and was replaced by Elizabeth May, an environment activist and lawyer from Nova Scotia. May has an appeal about her that many appreciate – she is a friendly, positive, and open-minded person who has found a way to connect with voters, though she has faced criticism over perceived centralization of the Party around her. She ran unsuccessfully in a 2008 by-election in London, Ontario, but ended up a surprisingly close second to the Liberals, increasing her profile by leaps and bounds. May ran in the riding of Central Nova in the 2008 federal election against Conservative cabinet member Peter MacKay, ending up an impressive second once again, though nowhere close to winning. The important aspect of that election, however, was her inclusion in the televised leaders’ debates – May was now a major federal player, and the Greens had increased profile across the country, including in New Brunswick.

In 2011, May became the first elected Green parliamentarian by winning a seat in British Columbia, despite her party losing nearly half of its vote from the 2008 election. This strategy of pouring resources into one riding has shown some success; not only has it netted May a win, but in 2013 a Green was elected in the BC provincial election. At the same time, it is fairly controversial, given that other ridings suffer to put up a good showing without any resources – according to some estimates, over half of the federal Green Electoral District Associations have become inactive or deregistered in the past few years.

The New Brunswick Greens made a significant splash in the 2010 provincial election under leader Jack MacDougall, winning 4.5% of the vote and posting impressive numbers, but no wins, in several ridings. MacDougall resigned in 2011 and was replaced by David Coon a year later. Coon is well-known in New Brunswick, heading up the Conservation Council of New Brunswick for nearly three decades and spearheading several initiatives, such as one to make the fisheries working in the Bay of Fundy sustainable, or establishing nature parks and forests near local communities. Much like the federal Greens, Coon focused on prioritizing the Green’s resources on getting him elected in his riding for this election.

The Green platform reflects left-of-centre Green politics, which in addition to being environmentally focused includes a lot of community-based policies, anti-corporate measures, and citizen activist stands. This particular platform makes promises that you don’t see anywhere else, such as capping corporate ownership of print media to 40%, an overhaul of the Right to Information Act, and taxing junk food. It is by far the most left-wing platform of the parties on record, and of course includes admonishments against fracking and what it sees as unsustainable primary industries practices.

People’s Alliance of New Brunswick

panb-logoThe People’s Alliance (or PANB) is a small populist party founded in 2010 by Kris Austin, an interdenominational minister and Deputy Mayor from Minto, a town in central New Brunswick. Austin unsuccessfully ran for the PC nomination in the riding of Grand Lake-Gagetown in 2009, but lost to eventual winner Ross Wetmore. He formed the PANB in response to the NB Power debacle of the Graham government, citing the PC’s uninspiring opposition to the sale and calling for open votes and more MLA independence in the Legislature.

The PANB is a strange creature. Though characterized sometimes as “Tea Party populist,” it seems a tad unfair. The party is certainly right-wing in nature, but it is not a social conservative outfit nor is it really libertarian in economics, though it can be when it comes to certain government decisions. Most of the Alliance’s rhetoric focuses on the perceived entitlement of the two major parties, MLAs, and bureaucrats. It is, in many ways, kind of a right-wing mirror of the Green Party.

One way it is not is in its anti-bilingualism policies. Since 2010, some – particularly in the Acadian media – have said Austin is attempting to emulate the CoR Party of the 90’s. Two party members, including a prospective candidate, made a public split with the party in 2012 over perceived anti-Francophone sentiments from Austin, including his opposition to duality in the education and health care systems, and that the province should loosen restrictions on language requirements for those in the civil service (saying Anglophones are discriminated against). However, that is countered with the PANB’s platform which, while somewhat criticizing bilingualism requirements, proposes to increase education and training to meet the demands of requirements, while also freeing up private businesses to do as they please.

Speaking of, the PANB platform this year focuses on the economy, with upfront calls to reduce the corporate tax rate, eliminate the small business income tax, and bring in a Saskatchewan-style royalties system for resource extraction in the province. Many of their platform statements also end with “Cost Estimate: Zero cost the government,” and promotion of fiscally sound policies. The party also proposes to repeal the “mandatory” aspect of the PC government’s recently introduced prescription drug program, instead making it available on a voluntary basis (which kind of misses the point). This is all in addition to the previous calls for more legislative freedom, community solutions, and so on – including a referendum, not just a free vote, on shale gas fracking.

Polling

polls-nb

Unlike in the larger provinces or federal politics, polling in New Brunswick (and the other Atlantic provinces) is scarce with just one company, Corporate Research Associates of Halifax, NS (CRA), doing a poll of voting intentions every three months. We got a little but more in the campaign as CRA put out a couple of polls mid-campaign alongside ones from Forum Research, a Toronto-based company that is probably the most regular pollster in Canada, and as such tends to receive a lot of flak for when pollsters get elections wrong.

That situation didn’t change, with Forum’s final poll for September 21st showing a tied vote, at 40% a piece for the Liberals and PCs. However, the overall trend was pretty clear – as the campaign went on, the PCs started gaining steam while the Liberals and NDP fell back.

Results

Turnout was 65.38%, down just over 4% from 2010, a continuing trend across the country, though New Brunswick remains slightly above-average in terms for voter participation.

Liberal – 42.73% (+8.31%) – 27 seats (+14)
PC – 34.65% (-14.19%) – 21 seats (-21)
Green – 6.61% (+2.07%) – 1 seat (+1)
NDP – 12.98% (+2.57%) 0 seats (nc)
PANB – 2.14% (+0.97%) 0 seats (nc)
Others – 0.89% (+0.28%) 0 seats (nc)

new brunswick-2014

And so New Brunswickers woke up on September 23rd with a new Liberal government, and yet another one-term Premier being shown the door. However, no one knew what was happening on election night itself.

New Brunswick was piloting electronic voting tabulators for this provincial election, a new idea in Canada that has been slow to gain traction outside of municipal elections. Most elections, including federal, are counted by hand at polling divisions within ridings, verified and sent back to a riding elections officer, and then on to Elections Canada through various routes. It is a laborious process that takes time and a lot of volunteers, but issues with the tabulators on September 22nd did not help convince many that changing to these newfangled technology machines was a good idea.

Roughly an hour and a half into the election night broadcasts, voting tabulation stopped dead for two hours, right at the point when there were just a handful of votes in about four ridings separating either the Liberals or PCs from a majority government – literally it was at a tie in seats. Elections New Brunswick defended the tabulator machines (which are used in places like Toronto), saying instead the problem related to the computer program used to enter in the results coming in from the tabulators. Concerns led to calls for manual recounts, but in the end, the results were certified by Elections NB and the PCs had to concede defeat.

Despite holding an impressive margin of 8% over the PCs, the Liberals came away with a bare majority, holding an effective 26 (minus the Speaker, usually a member selected from the government caucus) seats versus 22 for the opposition. Had a handful of votes gone another away, flipping just three seats over to the PCs, the Liberals would be in a minority territory – one more, and they’d be facing a majority PC government instead.

Gallant had a very rough campaign, with his judgement and effectiveness questioned at every turn by a well-run PC campaign that had the unfortunate job of rolling a huge liability up a very steep hill indeed, plus the addition of a stronger NDP and Green presence which didn’t help matters.

In the end though, the Liberals did win, mostly by taking back their old Acadian strongholds from the PCs. Huge swings in ridings such as Tracadie-Sheila (43% PC to Lib), a heavily Francophone riding that was contested by former NDP Leader Roger Duguay in 2010 but went PC, flipped over early on in the night, as did Kent South (23.3%), Restigouche West (35.4%), Madawaska-Les Lacs (34.4%) – all four of which had incumbent PC members – as well as many others.

The Liberals did have some successes in Anglophone ridings, in particular Carleton-Victoria (23.7%) and Charlotte-Campobello (20.6%), but these were the exception rather than the rule. Among the Francophone ridings, the swing to the Liberals from 2010 was just under 25%; among Anglophone ridings, it was only 15.1%. If we were to break down the Anglophone swing even more, we’d likely see that most of it comes from Moncton and Miramichi, while in Fredericton and Saint John saw the Liberals lose votes, raising serious questions about their future, under Gallant, in those two cities. The three saints won in those cities – Fredericton North, Saint John Harbour, and Saint John East – were all won with super-slim margins, including just 8 votes (!) in Saint John East. Some of this can be attributed to the rise in NDP support in those cities, however a lot of the blame for this fumble rests on the Liberal campaign (and its leader).

On the bright side, they took back control of most of the Moncton ridings, which had been in Tory hands since Bernard Lord was Premier. Moncton is a city split by the bilingualism, and though the Liberals did well in the two Francophone ridings in 2010 – Dieppe and Moncton Centre – and the rurban conglomeration of Shediac Bay-Dieppe (where Gallant ran this election), they lagged behind the Tories in the city’s other four ridings (five if you include Riverview, a town across the Petitcodiac River). This year they increased their majorities in their held ridings, while knocking off two notional Tory holds from 2010 and threatening the others with close calls. You can either contribute this rise to Gallant’s connections to Moncton or a general settling back of a pattern of Liberal support in the area.

The Tories certainly had to enjoy election night, despite losing. They maintained a very strong presence in the Legislature, and were really only a handful of votes away from being re-elected. At the same time they took a lot of beatings across the province, especially in their Acadian ridings, losing long-time and presumably safe incumbents to massive swings – they even nearly lost Madeleine Dubé, the safest Francophone incumbent, who won re-election by just 243 votes – in 2010 she won by over 3,000 votes.

However the Tories did end up with some very close calls in Anglophone ridings. In Oromocto-Lincoln, where redistribution dropped incumbent MLA (and probably leadership candidate) Jody Carr’s majority from 81% to 56.5%, the Liberals put a strong challenge, probably mostly inside the friendly Fredericton suburban community of Lincoln. The PCs also faced strong challenges in their two remaining Moncton seats (Southwest and Northwest) from the Liberals. Yet the biggest challenge for many PCs in their ridings occurred not just because of the Liberals gaining ground, but because the NDP saw their support rise intensely in these otherwise strong Tory ridings, showing how well Cardy’s right-populist message appealed. Ridings like Kings Centre, Hampton, Fredericton-York, and Fredericton West-Hanwell (where Cardy ran) saw huge increases in New Democrat support, threatening to topple long-time Tory incumbents in ultra-safe ridings had the Liberals managed just a few hundred more votes in each. With a traditional campaign and traditional rhetoric, the NDP would not have seen those increases in popular support. Alward, after the business with the tabulators was done, announced his resignation from the PC leadership.

Despite their impressive success in many ridings across the province, the NDP, and Dominic Cardy, ended up with nothing to show for it. No New Democrat came within 5% of winning a riding – the closest margins being Cardy in Fredericton West-Hanwell, who lost by a margin of 5.6% or 469 votes, followed by Gary Stackhouse in Saint John Harbour (10.8% margin, or 566 votes) and Kelly Lamrock in Fredericton South (10.9%, or 807 votes). They lost support in most Acadian ridings from Duguay’s previous highs in the region, while falling prey to vote splitting with the Liberals and Greens everywhere else, especially in ridings like Saint John Harbour where an ex-NDP candidate ran and garnered 13% for the Greens. Cardy immediately announced his resignation on election night, probably for the best – despite leading the NDP to their best-ever result in popular support (13%), they remain irrelevant without an actual member in the Legislature, a fact now even more compounded by the success of the smaller Greens.

Outside of the Liberals winning a majority, the two smaller parties had their best nights ever. There is the obvious surprise win for Green Leader David Coon in Fredericton South, the party’s first win outside of British Columbia, an amazing event that knocked off a Tory minister and cemented yet another milestone in the Green Party’s continued momentum across the country, which is patchy but clearly on the upswing. Though it’s just one seat, it’s one more than the NDP, who garnered almost twice as much support across the province, have in the next Legislature. As a CBC commentator pointed out on election night, the Greens will now be treated as the third party in the province, with the media going to Coon for his opinion on the government’s actions rather than the next NDP leader.

The Greens also posted strong numbers in other ridings, including the aforementioned Saint John Harbour; Kent North (second place with 18.2%) and Kent South (third place with 10%), the two ridings at the epicenter of the fracking protests; Memramcook-Tantramar (third place with 15.3%); and Fredericton North (fourth place with 10.3%). Whether Coon’s presence in the Legislature can turn into more victories remains to be seen, but still it must definitely an exciting time to be a Green.

Coon’s success overshadows the near-miss for the other small party leader, Kris Austin. The PANB managed to run a few more candidates in this election (14 in 2010 to 18 in 2014), but there seemed to be a definite upswing for the populist party across the province. Austin managed to make his run in Fredericton-Grand Lake (his base is in Minto, a town located in the riding on the shores of Grand Lake) supremely close, with the PC incumbent, Pam Lynch, winning with a bare 0.3% or a mere 26 vote difference, in a tight three-way race with the Liberal candidate less than a 80 votes behind. Across the province the party earned an extra 3,500 votes (around 1,200 of which came from Austin alone), which is impressive for a party without any federal ties and little name recognition. However, without Austin in the Legislature, and this election likely being his best chance to win a seat, it’s hard to see that success continuing in the future, especially if Austin decides to not run again.

Conclusion

This election has takeaway lessons for every party. The Liberals were ultimately successful, but Gallant’s gaffes and inability to counter the Tory attacks nearly cost them; the PCs lost but were able to use wedge issues like fracking and leadership to retain significant support; the NDP increased their share of the vote among conservatives and became more credible on certain issues, yet failed to motivate their traditional base and impress enough voters to actually gain a seat; and the Greens won yet another seat with a popular activist, but poor results everywhere else show that their movement may not have the broad support needed to affect the change they want. All of these lessons can be, and very likely will be, taken into account for the federal parties’ strategies in the upcoming federal election.

For now, Gallant has the challenge of governing a province that is, more or less, on the decline, all without the ability to outright switch his position on the crucial issue of fracking. The new government was sworn in on October 7th with a smaller cabinet but much larger responsibilities – if Gallant wants to remain in charge in four years, he and his ministers need to forge a different path than the previous two one-term governments before him did. Whether it is in them remains to be seen.

A more immediate concern for the Liberals is a by-election – yes, a by-election. Barely successful Liberal candidate Gary Keating in Saint John East, who won by eight votes, decided to resign his seat two weeks after being elected due to family and health problems, and being unable to do the work he was elected to do. Thanks to this poor foresight on his part, Liberals must be shaking their heads – there is a fairly good chance they’ll lose this by-election, reducing their majority from 27 to 26 seats, effectively 25 with the Speaker as a neutral member, versus 23 members of the Opposition. Yikes.

Finally, the results in New Brunswick represent the fifth straight major election that a party with the name “Liberal” has won in Canada, reversing a previous trend that saw every provincial Liberal party suffering some sort of defeat (culminating in the historical third-place loss for the federal Liberals in May 2011). It is also the third straight vote in which an incumbent government lost re-election. Both these trends look set to continue with the upcoming Newfoundland & Labrador provincial election and polls indicate the same for the 2015 federal election as well.

Voters across the country seem relatively displeased with their governments in the last few years, though when offered a different choice at election time, the incumbents or traditional parties seem to retain a lot more support than expected by pollsters and pundits. It will be very interesting to see how this all plays out.

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Posted on October 24, 2014, in Canada, New Brunswick. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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