The contentious appointment of former energy minister Margaret-Ann Blaney as the new president of Efficiency New Brunswick is hanging over the Rothesay byelection.
The byelection is still two weeks away but the Progressive Conservatives are distancing themselves from Blaney’s new job, while the Liberals and NDP are trying to score political points off of the controversial appointment.
The Progressive Conservatives have held the Rothesay riding, and its predecessor, since 1999.
But anger over Blaney’s appointment is injecting new optimism into the campaigns for the Liberals and NDP.
Liberals were erecting campaign signs in Rothesay on Monday afternoon with enthusiasm.
'It's been the defining issue of the election, the question of patronage.' — NDP Leader Dominic Cardy
Rod Borden said Liberals feel confident about their chances in the June 25 byelection.
"The premier making that decision to give this patronage position to a person who wants to retire and go home, I mean the people of Rothesay, it is time to tell all politicians that this has gone beyond level," he said.
The NDP are also using Rothesay as a potential springboard into the legislature for party leader Dominic Cardy.
The NDP has not held a seat in the legislature since 2005, so the party is putting in a serious push to get Cardy elected.
Federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair held a public rally on Sunday and went canvassing in the town with Cardy. Other federal NDP members are expected to be in the southern New Brunswick town before the election to help the provincial leader.
Cardy is not from the area but he promised during the weekend rally that the community would be his top priority if he wins.
The NDP leader said Rothesay voters are tired of patronage appointments changing hands between supporters of the province's two traditional parties.
"It's been the defining issue of the election, the question of patronage," Cardy said.
"And the fact that people feel that after 150 years that they have no choice between … going back and forth between Lib patronage and Tory patronage."
Flemming sides with Higgs
Even the Progressive Conservatives are steering clear of the Blaney appointment.
PC candidate Hugh John (Ted) Flemming III said people are right to be upset about the decision to give the former energy minister a high-paying civil service job.
"People are right, a pox on all of your houses, you can say," Flemming said.
Flemming said his political opponents can focus their attacks on patronage all they want during the byelection. But he said he has no intention of defending Blaney's job.
Instead, Flemming is openly backing Finance Minister Blaine Higgs’s refusal to endorse the Blaney appointment.
When asked about the comparison, Flemming said it is "very fair to say" to say that he is closely aligned with the finance minister.
In fact, Flemming makes a point to be seen with Higgs while campaigning in Rothesay, promising to be independent like him.
The Tory candidate is trying to give comfort to those angry over the Blaney issue that they can still vote Progressive Conservative.
There are five candidates running in the byelection.
Along with Flemming, John Wilcox, a retired police officer, is running for the Liberals.
Sharon Murphy will be running in the riding again for the Green Party and Marjorie MacMurray will be on the ballot as an Independent candidate.