Premier Brian Gallant’s Liberals were handed an early setback by the voters in the Saint John East byelection on Monday night.
Gallant has been premier for a little over a month, but his party failed to hold onto a riding that it won by a narrow margin on Sept. 22.
J.P. Lewis, a political scientist at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, said the byelection loss is tough for Gallant, but he said the defeat must be put into context.
“While it was definitely a bad night for the Liberal Party, Brian Gallant will still wake up [Tuesday] morning as the premier of a majority government," Lewis said.
The Liberals had recruited Shelley Rinehart, the deputy mayor of Saint John, to run in the riding.
In the end, Rinehart's candidacy was not much different than another deputy mayor of Saint John, Michelle Hooton.
Hooton had been recruited by former Tory premier Bernard Lord to run in the 2005 byelection to replace Elizabeth Weir in Saint John Harbour. Despite a high-profile Tory candidate in the riding, the then-opposition Liberals won the seat handily.
On Monday night, Progressive Conservative Glen Savoie won the Saint John East byelection by a margin of more than 800 votes.
The Tory tallied 2,225 votes compared to 1,398 for Rinehart.
NDP Leader Dominic Cardy finished in third spot with 1,099 votes. Green candidate Sharon Murphy had 262 votes and People's Alliance candidate Arthur Watson had 38 votes.
The results mean there will be 26 Liberals, 22 Progressive Conservatives and a single Green MLA in the legislature.
Liberal campaign sidetracked
The byelection was relatively quiet for most of the campaign.
Shortly after the Nov. 17 byelection was called, the Liberals admitted that there could be a degree of frustration aimed at the party over the need for a byelection so soon after the general election.
The Liberals were pushed onto the defensive last week when a controversial email was leaked to Opposition Leader Bruce Fitch.
The contentious email, written by Myer Rabin of Forté Law in Moncton, had the subject line “Government Contracts."
The email, which was sent on Nov. 10, describes how it is “usual practice” after an election that road work contracts are “made available to supporters of the government in power.”
Gallant rejected any suggestion that his government will play political favourites in awarding road work contracts.
Gallant issued a statement on Monday night where he said he accepted the byelection results and thanked the riding’s voters for heading out to the polls.
“We continue to look forward to working with the community as we undertake our work to create jobs, improve our fiscal situation and help families,” he said in a news release.
The byelection loss will also sting for NDP Leader Dominic Cardy. Cardy announced his intention to resign on Sept. 22 after he failed to win his home riding of Fredericton West-Hanwell.
He was pressured to run in the byelection by some high-profile NDP members.
But Cardy finished third behind the Tories and the Liberals.
UNB's Lewis said the loss must be very tough on Cardy.
“It must be an incredibly difficult night for Dominic Cardy. Few Canadian politicians have suffered three election defeats in such a short span of time,” Lewis said.
Cardy also finished third in the 2012 byelection in Rothesay.