Since the last provincial election in New Brunswick in 2018, the PC government led by Premier Blaine Higgs was bound to be turbulent. For the first time since 1920, no party came out with a clear majority mandate. With the then-incumbent Liberals indicating that they were going to seek confidence of the legislature to attempt to form a minority government, even though the PCs beat them out by one seat, they were allowed to seek a minority mandate. That confidence from the legislature never came to fruition, and Blaine Higgs took his position as Premier of a PC minority government.
With partisan friction boiling over in the eastern province last month, Premier Higgs called for an election to be held in an attempt to consolidate power. He was successful in this endeavor, leading the New Brunswick PCs to a majority mandate, winning 27 of the 49 legislative seats. In a hard fought and definitely unorthodox campaign, provincial Liberal leader, Kevin Vickers, who had not held a legislative seat since taking the role in 2019, failed to win a seat and subsequently resigned as leader after a short-lived spell at the helm.
“Tonight, we have a newfound commitment to each other and to our government’s plan”, Premier Higgs proclaimed. “Come what may in the months and the years ahead, we know we’ll have stability and experience leading us through these challenging times.” The Premier never seemed to falter since calling the election, sowing trust and transparency with the voters. Despite some perceptions that the public would frown upon holding an election during a pandemic, New Brunswickers understood that the bold actions desperately needed could not be taken if constant political bickering was taking place. Higgs rode his wave of pandemic popularity into a majority government, and brought the people a sense of stability and experience at the helm.
As can be expected, recent years have brought political contrast between many provincial governments and the federal government. While the federal Liberals have held much of the maritime districts in recent years, this stale blue wave out east has the potential to translate to what is becoming a looming federal election.
Federal conservatives have had trouble engaging with progressives to tend to live in suburban and urban areas, in addition to out east. This is why the Liberals have had an edge in the region since 2015. New Conservative leader, Erin O’Toole has strongly pledged to be the end to this social struggle, and to refine the party’s image to better represent more Canadians. Though, O’Toole has largely directed his priorities to western Canada, Ontario, and Quebec. Even though these regions can be agreed upon around the nation to be of pressing importance for conservatives right now, it doesn’t necessarily garner much extra support out east.
The Blaine Higgs government has also been the subject of much criticism on the topic of bilingualism in the province. New Brunswick, being the only officially bilingual province, has in recent years failed to uphold that standard. With only one francophone member of Higgs’ PC caucus, the party is brushing off the assertions of some that they are sowing a language divide in the province. Instead of a language divide, the Premier says it’s “not so much a language problem as it is a political problem.” Daniel Allain, the lone francophone member of the provincial PC caucus, admits that although there may be a “divide”, it isn’t an “issue”. It seems as though if a pandemic wasn’t at the centre of life at the moment, language would be a decisive issue in New Brunswick, but the pandemic, obviously, precedes cultural things of this sort.
Even though New Brunswick PCs got off with a majority government without really addressing bilingualism to the degree that many hoped, this is not a strategy that other Canadian conservatives, provincially or federally, should think to employ. Specifically, it seems as though the federal Conservatives’ best chance at forming government is to make strides in Quebec and suburban Ontario. Thankfully, Erin O’Toole seems poised to prioritize Quebec in the coming election, as he named Gérard Deltell, highly respected Quebec MP, as leader of the party in the House of Commons. As well, Quebec votes, however disproportionate to the rest of the nation’s conservative membership, played the decisive role in putting Erin O’Toole over the top in his leadership campaign, beating out his formidable rival and high profile former cabinet minister, Peter MacKay.
All in all, the conservative win in New Brunswick was more aided by pandemic-related voting factors than by the real underlying social sentiments in the province. Rightfully so though, in such uncertain times, economic and political stability must be prioritized over social and cultural issues. Setting a precedent for holding pandemic elections, New Brunswickers showed that a pandemic does not halt democracy, and this realization will likely be considered with other minority governments.