The Progressive Conservatives finished a distant third in Monday's Kent byelection and suffered one of the worst showings of a governing party in a byelection in decades.
Liberal Leader Brian Gallant won by roughly 1,900 votes over the NDP’s Susan Levi-Peters and Jimmy Bourque of the Progressive Conservatives. The victory was decisive for the Liberals, but the numbers were troubling for the Tories.
Bourque finished a distant third and garnered just 837 votes. The collapse of the Tory vote meant Bourque suffered one of the biggest byelection defeats ever for a governing party.
The Progressive Conservatives did not hit the 15 per cent threshold, which means they did not qualify for their expenses to be reimbursed by Elections New Brunswick.
Voter turnout in the Kent byelection was 69.5 per cent, according to Elections New Brunswick.
The Tories had sounded upbeat about the party's chances when Premier David Alward announced the date of the byelection. He said it would be an opportunity for voters to send the Liberals a strong message about the Atcon scandal.
Former premier Shawn Graham resigned his Kent seat following a scathing report from the province's conflict-of-interest commissioner over his handling of the Atcon file.
Just before the byelection, however, the Tories started to downplay their chances of winning the Liberal stronghold.
Alward said the Kent byelection result means his government needs to continue to rebuild the economy.
"It certainly is a message to us as government on the work that we need to continue to do, to work hard on behalf of all New Brunswickers right across the province, to rebuild our province," he said.
"There are concerns about the economy and that's why we are as focused on building the economy as we possibly can be."
Alward said the federal reforms to the Employment Insurance system hurt Bourque's candidacy.
NDP vote growing
Liberal Leader Brian Gallant may have won the Kent byelection but his victory may be foreshadowing problems for the province’s two traditional parties.
The Progressive Conservatives lost 985 votes compared to the 2010 general election and the Liberals lost 274 votes. By contrast, the NDP saw the party’s vote total increase by 575.
This is the second byelection in the province where the NDP failed to win a seat, but improved on its vote total.
NDP Leader Dominic Cardy finished third in 2012’s Rothesay byelection with 1,158 votes, an increase of 623 votes. The Tories held the seat but saw their vote total drop by 1,749 votes and the Liberals finished second but lost 366 votes.
While the NDP has performed well in the two byelections, it still trails the two main parties in recent public opinion polls.
Corporate Research Associates issued a poll in March that showed a three-way race with the Liberals at 35 per cent, Tories at 32 per cent and the NDP at 26 per cent.