Two minor parties, the People’s Alliance and the Green Party, caused a political earthquake in New Brunswick’s provincial elections overnight. For the first time in nearly a hundred years, parties other than the Liberals or Progressive Conservatives have more than one seat in the Legislative Assembly, resulting in no one party having a majority.
More people vote People’s Alliance and Green
A cosy political duopoly for much of its history, the Canadian province of New Brunswick has elected alternating Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments every four years for decades. Now, for the first time, two minor parties hold the balance of power.
With a total of just 49 seats in the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly, every race in yesterday’s election was key. Before the election, the ruling Liberal Party led by Brian Gallant had held a slim majority with 27 seats. After last night’s vote tallies were in they had held on to only 21.
But the opposition Progressive Conservatives, led by Blaine Higgs, fared only marginally better with 22 seats. Meanwhile the Green’s raised their tally from 1 to 3, and the populist People’s Alliance went from no seats to 3.
Gallant: I’m going nowhere
Despite technically losing the election and despite the tradition that the party with the most seats forms the next government, Premier Brian Gallant says he plans to stay on.
“I will tomorrow, meet with the lieutenant-governor,” he said. “I will discuss with her my plans to do everything I can to work collaboratively with the other political parties to ensure that we are able to pass legislation.”
It is not clear that Lieutenant Governor Jocelyne Roy-Vienneau will be willing to accept Gallant’s proposal to continue as a minority government, but a political science professor at the University of New Brunswick, Donald Wright, thinks it likely she will let him try.
If Gallant can forge some sort of agreement the the Liberal’s more natural ally, the Greens, that would still leave him a vote short of a majority (and two short if the government provides the speaker, as is normal). A Liberal government is a far from certain proposition.
But things are no less certain for the New Brunswick PCs.
Higgs was quick to claim victory last night saying, “As in any race, the one who has the most numbers wins.”
But the PCs may also struggle if Gallant is cannot form a government. A coalition with the People’s Alliance would only create a government of 25, which would go down to 24 after providing a Speaker.
And, perhaps even more problematically, one of the People’s Alliance’s populist policies is to increase the number of free votes for in the Legislative Assembly. Even if the People’s Alliance is technically part of a coalition, their MLAs may not reliably support government legislation on key topics.
“This is uncharted territory for New Brunswick,” said Professor Erin Crandall of New Brunswick’s Acadia University, who said the emergence of the two smaller parties was the biggest story of the night. “It’s always been a question of who’s going to be in a majority government — the PCs or Liberals.”
What is the People’s Alliance?
While the Green Party is reasonably familiar feature in Canadian politics, this is the first time the New Brunswick-based People’s Alliance has elected a member to a Legislative Assembly.
The party’s policies are not easily pigeonholed. Formed in 2010 and led by Baptist minister Kris Austin, the party favors fiscal responsibility, but also wants to eliminate fees for ambulance calls and opposes a second reactor at Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station in southern New Brunswick.
The party has also caused controversy by its perceived antagonism to New Brunswick’s large french-speaking minority, which makes up over 30% of the province’s population.
This makes the People’s Alliance a less-than-perfect coalition partner for the Progressive Conservatives. The PC leader, Blaine Higgs, has already stirred up resentment among francophones for his inability to speak French in Canada’s only officially bilingual province.
For now at least the next New Brunswick government remains uncertain. Blaine Higgs may have summed up the lack of clarity best when he said, “Perhaps Brian Gallant and I will both be lining up at the lieutenant-governor’s in the morning.”