The Progressive Conservatives are lowering expectations about their chances of winning next week’s byelection in the eastern riding of Kent.
Kent voters will be voting to replace former premier Shawn Graham in the April 15 byelection, but the Tories are now refusing to predict they'll win the seat despite some bold talk just a couple of weeks ago.
Deputy Premier Paul Robichaud would not give the usual partisan prediction of victory when asked by reporters on Wednesday.
"Normally a byelection, it's not a good situation for any government, especially in the riding of Kent," he said.
The Progressive Conservatives did win the Rothesay byelection held last year.
However, Kent has voted for the Liberals for the better part of a century and four of the party's MLAs from the area have served as premier at various times.
Robichaud pointed to the riding’s long history of voting for the Liberals when trying to ratchet down expectations.
"I believe the riding has been represented by Liberals since 1914. So we don't have a strong history as a party to represent that riding," he said.
The Tories have 41 seats in the legislature, the Liberals have 12 MLAs and there is one independent.
The Kent byelection will fill the only vacant seat in the legislature.
Robichaud’s attempt to lower his party’s expectations is a contrast to Premier David Alward’s decision to set the bar higher when he announced the date for the byelection. Alward urged voters to punish the Liberals over Graham’s involvement in the Atcon scandal.
"They will have an opportunity to really send a verdict for the Liberal Party for their handling of the Atcon scandal," Alward said at the time.
Liberal Leader Brian Gallant is trying to hold the seat for his party. The Progressive Conservatives candidate is Jimmy Bourque Susan Levi-Peters is running for the NDP.
The byelection has been dogged by various questions of conflict of interest.
But the Tories found themselves also embroiled in questions of conflict of interest.
The Liberals raised the issue of Bourque’s business dealings with the provincial government during his time as executive assistant to Robichaud.
Bourque originally admitted to making an honest mistake that put him into a conflict of interest. But Robichaud came out this week to say on further investigation by Bourque’s lawyer, he was never in a conflict.
The Liberals are still pursuing the question with the conflict-of-interest commissioner.
The controversy revolves around Bourque's company, which has rented equipment to the provincial government and provided other services. The company has billed the government roughly $500,000 in the last two years.
New Brunswick’s conflict of interest law says executive assistants are in a conflict of interest if they own a company doing business with the government. However, the law allows them to sign a declaration to avoid being found in a conflict.
Bourque told CBC News he thought an earlier declaration he signed for a different minister in the former Bernard Lord government still applied.