Four years good, eight years bad

October 18, 2010 11:41 AM

David Alward's PC government has taken office, and the Liberal soul-searching, and leader-searching, is underway. And for the first time since Confederation, both parties operate under a new paradigm, one that presents a challenge for the Tories and an opportunity for the Liberals.

No longer will we hear the refrain that "New Brunswick voters don't defeat one-term governments." There was considerable discussion about this on election night, that this year's result marked the first time since 1866 that a party has been booted from office after a single mandate. But it's now, and over the next four years, when this watershed moment may actually change the political dynamic for the better.

I moderated a panel last week that featured, among others, UNBSJ political scientist Don Desserud, one of the province's best thinkers on politics. Desserud observed that first-term governments have traditionally made decisions based on an assumption that they simply can't lose the next campaign.

Conversely, parties that find themselves in opposition tend to go into a funk in the first four years after their ouster. They assume they don't have a real shot at winning, so they slack off. This assumption can also scare off potential leadership candidates, meaning the party faces a poorer field when the race happens.

Interestingly, Desserud said he didn't think it was this year's election that shattered the guaranteed-second-term myth: it was 2003, when the Liberals came within one seat (a seat they lost by 18 votes) of holding first-termer Bernard Lord to a minority, and possibly forming a government with the support of NDP leader Elizabeth Weir. But this year's election proves once and for all that the pattern is broken, and it should lead to a better quality of politics.
-- Jacques Poitras