Liberal Leader Brian Gallant won a tight New Brunswick election campaign beset by a vote-counting fiasco that may take more time to settle.
- 5 N.B. election races decided by fewer than 100 votes
- Liberal wave ousts 9 cabinet ministers
- N.B. election sees 8 female MLAs elected in 49 ridings
The unofficial results on Tuesday have Gallant’s Liberals holding 27 seats compared with 21 for David Alward’s Progressive Conservatives, in what had been a tight contest.
On Tuesday afternoon, Alward conceded defeat and announced he would resign as leader of the Progressive Conservatives.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper congratulated the premier-designate in a statement released Tuesday.
"I would like to convey my sincerest congratulations to Brian Gallant and his party on their election victory," Harper's statement said.
"I look forward to meeting and working with premier-designate Brian Gallant on issues of importance to New Brunswickers and all Canadians, including promoting jobs, growth and long-term prosperity."
New Brunswick voters also made history by electing Green Party candidate David Coon in Fredericton South. The well-known environmentalist has become the first Green Party member of the legislature in New Brunswick.
The unofficial results of the vote show:
- The Liberals won 42.7 per cent of the vote.
- The Progressive Conservatives took 34.6 per cent.
- The NDP won 13 per cent,
- The Green Party had 6.6 per cent.
- The People's Alliance was at 2.1 per cent.
Vote counting suspended for 2 hours
Before the results were declared, however, the tabulations of ballots were suspended late Monday for almost two hours over concerns about technical issues with memory cards and discrepancies with the vote-counting machines.
The issue led the Tories to call for the ballots to be counted by hand, but the Liberals demanded that Elections New Brunswick be left alone to determine the result.
Michael Quinn, the province's chief electoral officer, told a news conference Tuesday morning that the results now on the election website are accurate. Official results don't come for another four days in any case, he said, until returning officers have gone over everything.
"At 10:15 or 10:30 [p.m.], we noticed a discrepancy," he said, between initial returns that had been phoned in and "memory card" results from vote-counting machines. By 1 a.m. AT, the discrepancy, which was caused by a problem with the Dominion Voting company's processes, had been resolved.
"So the results on the web are correct."
Gallant did his best to quell any questions about the legitimacy of the Liberal win when he spoke to reporters early Tuesday morning.
The premier-designate said Elections New Brunswick believes in the fairness of the results and he will leave it up to the independent agency to explain the vote-tabulation debacle.
“Obviously there was a delay, but that doesn't deny the results tonight. So we believe that Elections New Brunswick will certainly let New Brunswickers know as to why there was a delay,” Gallant said.
“But we believe we clearly had a convincing plurality of the votes and we certainly have a majority of the seats. So it makes it very clear that New Brunswickers have asked for change and that's exactly what we'll try to deliver for them."
There were problems with how a number of memory cards, which contained votes from across the province, were being uploaded.
Quinn said said he understood that many people were concerned about the vote-counting process.
“Those are valid concerns. We have complete faith in it,” Quinn said of the results.
Jason Stephen, president of the Progressive Conservatives, took the stage in Woodstock on Monday night and questioned what was then a narrow Liberal lead.
The Tories said the party would wait until later on Tuesday to decide whether they would accept the result or challenge it.
Tom Bateman, a political scientist at St. Thomas University, said the independent agency must account for the vote-counting problems.
“If you cannot trust that the technology has indicated exactly how New Brunswickers wanted their vote expressed, how do you say to the people of New Brunswick this is an election and these are the results you can have faith in?” Bateman said.
The Progressive Conservatives were not alone in expressing concern with the count. The People’s Alliance of New Brunswick had also called for ballots to be counted by hand.
This was the first time the vote-tabulation machines were used in a provincial election, although they were used in the last New Brunswick municipal election.
Brian Gallant prepares for transition
The Liberals did not waste any time on Tuesday morning to make it clear they were ready to start governing.
Gallant thanked Alward for his time as premier on Tuesday morning before raising the topic of transition.
“I would like to thank Mr. Alward for his service and dedication to our province and our country. I look forward to meeting with him in the coming days and I hope that what happened tonight does not stand in the way of a smooth transition,” Gallant said.
Gallant will also have to start looking at his roster of successful candidates as he builds a cabinet.
All the Liberals who re-offered in this election won their seats on Monday. Many of the returning Liberals held cabinet positions in the former Liberal government of Shawn Graham.
Gallant emerged from Monday’s election with a significant power base in northern New Brunswick. The Liberals dominated in the region and knocked off Paul Robichaud, who served as the province’s deputy premier, in Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou.
Liberal Serge Rouselle won in Tracadie-Sheila, the first time the Liberals have held that seat since 1994.
Rouselle is the only lawyer, aside from Gallant, in the Liberal caucus, which should put him in good position for a cabinet post.
The Liberals, however, were not as fortunate in southern New Brunswick, particularly in Fredericton and Saint John.
Gallant's party won Saint John East by eight votes and Saint John Harbour by 71 votes. The only Liberal in Fredericton is Stephen Horsman, who won Fredericton North.
The Liberals also won seats in northwestern New Brunswick. Francine Landry was elected in Madawaska les Lacs-Edmundston.
Focus on David Alward’s future
If the election results stand, the senior Tory cabinet ministers who lost on Monday include Robichaud, Craig Leonard (Energy), Claude Williams (Transportation and Infrastructure) and Marie-Claude Blais (Education).
Other cabinet ministers who were defeated include Mike Olscamp (Agriculture, Fisheries and Aquaculture), Sue Stultz (Government Services), Troy Lifford (Justice), Robert Trevors (Human Resources Minister) and Danny Soucy (Environment).
Alward followed in the footsteps of other premiers by resigning on Tuesday.
Former premiers Bernard Lord and Shawn Graham wasted no time in announcing they would step aside as party leaders after they were defeated in 2006 and 2010.
Alward said he plans to remain as the member for Carleton, despite stepping aside as party leader.
"I will do everything that I can do to continue to work to build our province and to make my community stronger," Alward said on Tuesday.
NDP leader resigns after failing to win seat
NDP Leader Dominic Cardy seemed as if he had momentum heading into the final week of the election campaign, but after losing his riding, he told supporters Monday night that he would allow for a new leader to be picked.
"I'm taking accountability for that by announcing this evening my resignation," he said.
Cardy placed second in Fredericton West-Hanwell riding, more than 400 votes behind Tory Brian Macdonald.
While the party can point to an increase in the popular vote to 13 per cent from 10.8 per cent in 2010 as a moral victory, it once again failed to elect any MLAs.
Cardy had been picked by many as the winner of the first televised leaders’ debate. Just last week, he issued a statement outlining his demands for participating in a coalition government.
But Cardy had to apologize after one of his candidates was linked to a parody video that portrayed the Liberals as Nazis. He also had to deal with one of his candidates, who raised questions about the party’s shale gas policy.
The NDP ran a moderate campaign and had even recruited three former MLAs to run.
Former cabinet minister, Tory Bev Harrison, finished second in Hampton, former Liberal Abel LeBlanc finished third in Saint John Lancaster and former Liberal cabinet minister Kelly Lamrock finished fourth in Fredericton South.
Green Party leader elected in Fredericton South
Coon joins B.C.’s Andrew Weaver as the only other politician to be elected to a provincial legislature as a Green Party MLA.
Coon defeated Progressive Conservative Craig Leonard in a close race in the riding of Fredericton South.
“It’s been a night to remember on many counts,” Coon said.
“And certainly a historic night to remember for the people of Fredericton South, for New Brunswick and really for Canada.”
Gallant recognized Coon’s achievement when he spoke to reporters on Tuesday morning.
“To Mr. Coon in particular, I offer a special congratulations,” Gallant said.
“Although I definitely would have liked to see our candidate win, his victory is truly historic and our democracy will benefit from having his voice in the legislature."
Third parties only elected one MLA on Monday but, overall, each party increased their share of the popular vote over the results from four years ago.
In addition to the NDP, the Greens saw their vote jump up to 6.6 per cent from 4.5 per cent and the People’s Alliance almost doubled its vote to 2.1 per cent from 1.2 per cent.
Several candidates from third parties finished second in their ridings.
People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin finished 26 votes behind Tory Pam Lynch.