The Progressive Conservative government defeated a motion on Thursday calling for the full restoration of the Petitcodiac River.
The river's future is a divisive topic for many people living in southeastern New Brunswick and it is also controversial inside David Alward's government.
Alward has admitted some of his PC MLAs are dead set against Petitcodiac restoration, while others feel less strongly about it.
The Opposition Liberals introduced the symbolic motion to restore the silt-choked river in an attempt to embarrass the Tories.
When they were in power, the Liberals started the project to restore the river to its natural tidal flow by opening the causeway, which was built in 1968, and eventually replace it with a bridge.
Opposition Leader Victor Boudreau challenged Alward to let his MLAs express themselves during the debate on the opposition motion on Thursday.
"Put your money where your mouth is, practise what you preach, let the members have a free vote on this resolution," Boudreau said.
'This wasn't a confidence vote on a budget item. I mean this was simply on supporting the restoration of the Petitcodiac River.'— Opposition Leader Victor Boudreau
During the election, Alward promised more free votes in the legislative assembly. However, Alward's commitment to boosting the number of non-party line votes was limited to amendments to government legislation, not symbolic opposition motions.
"That will take place. I am very proud that this will be the first time we will see free votes taking place in the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick," Alward said.
All the PCs ended up voting against the motion to support restoration and unanimously in favour of their own amendment in favour of continuing to "monitor" the situation.
Boudreau said the premier's decision to force a strict party-line vote on the river restoration motion was telling.
"I don't think their commitments were sincere at all. They said very clearly they wanted to allow more free votes," Boudreau said.
"This wasn't a confidence vote on a budget item. I mean this was simply on supporting the restoration of the Petitcodiac River."
When the causeway's gates were opened in April, people lined up along the river's banks, some were cheering and others booed the historic event.
Some Riverview residents and fishermen lost a last-minute legal challenge to keep the causeway gates closed.
Once the gates were opened, the group monitoring the restoration said the process was moving along quickly.
AMEC Earth and Environmental, the firm overseeing the river restoration, said the river banks were widening at a noticeable pace and the Petitcodiac's famous tidal bore was also growing.
The Liberals promised during the fall election campaign to follow through with the upcoming stages of the river restoration.
The next phase would be a new four-lane bridge, which is estimated to cost $68 million, between the two communities to replace the causeway. The construction of the bridge was originally expected to start next year.
In 2008, the New Brunswick government committed $20 million to the first stage of a restoration project for the 3,000 square-kilometre watershed.
While the causeway gates are closed now because of the ice expected during the winter, a provincial government spokesperson said the gates will reopen as planned in the spring.