Higgs says lieutenant-governor wants quick resolution on who will govern
Party will not enter into any formal coalitions with any other party
The post-election manoeuvring continued Thursday as Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs began carving out a path to power after a meeting with New Brunswick's lieutenant-governor.
Higgs emerged from Government House to tell reporters that Jocelyne Roy Vienneau has assured him she'll "immediately" call on him to form a government, without a new election, if the Liberal government loses a confidence vote in the legislature this fall.
And he used that to push Premier Brian Gallant to summon the legislature quickly, so MLAs can vote on whether to let the Liberal government survive.
Higgs said the lieutenant-governor herself had timelines in mind.
"She said this can't go on," he said. "We can't have this instability in the province. Her role is very much to ensure there is stability. She doesn't want this to drag out. So she gave every indication this is not going to go months. It might go days and weeks."
Asked what the lieutenant-governor will do if she decides Gallant is taking too long, Higgs said, "I can't put words in her mouth. She just said to us there's a sense of urgency, time is of the essence — these words were used — and we can't allow this to just drag on."
Higgs won 22 seats in Monday's election, one more than Brian Gallant's Liberals. Both parties fell short of a majority, but because Gallant leads the incumbent government, he has the right to try to win the confidence of the legislature and stay in office.
The Liberal leader said Wednesday that he wants the house to sit in a few weeks and said it would be November "at the very latest" but "we would prefer to call it sooner than that."
Higgs said Thursday that major issues such as U.S. tariffs on softwood exports and a federal ruling on the Liberal carbon tax are looming this fall.
"And here we are, playing the game of politics when we should be focusing on the future of our province," he said. "The province deserves and needs a functioning government."
Meanwhile, the PC leader sought to shore up his own caucus by announcing a Higgs government would not enter into any formal coalition with any other political party, including the People's Alliance.
If Higgs can win the votes of the Greens or the People's Alliance — each has three MLAs — he can eke out a functioning majority in the legislature.
On Tuesday, new PC MLA Robert Gauvin said he would have "a lot of difficulty associating with" the Alliance because of its criticism of official bilingualism and language duality.
But at the first meeting of the new caucus Thursday, Gauvin told reporters Higgs's promise satisfies him.
"There is no coalition," he said. "There won't be any coalition. No deals. We stand united for the principles of this party."
Language commitment 'solid'
Higgs made similar comments, saying the party's commitment to language rights is "solid. … [Gauvin] doesn't need to worry in any form that we are going to compromise our principles and values that we cherish as a bilingual province."
Gauvin also sounded bullish on how much a PC government would need to compromise with the Alliance.
"They vote along with us," he said. "We put motions forward. We don't vote along with other parties. They vote along with us."
Even without a formal coalition, Higgs said he hopes to work out an arrangement where the smaller parties would let a minority government last at least 12 to 24 months.
Higgs's manoeuvring to position himself as a government-in-waiting came a day after Gallant announced the Liberals would offer to negotiate some kind of agreement with the three Green MLAs to win the confidence of the house.
Willing to deal
Green Party Leader David Coon said Thursday his party is willing to make a deal with either the Liberals or the PCs.
Coon said the Greens would be willing to support a minority government on confidence and budget votes for a fixed period of time.
"We need a stable government that's going to last," he said.
He did not say what his party would be looking for in return, and he acknowledged that a Liberal-Green deal would still not give Gallant a majority in the legislature.
Thursday also saw new accusations of the Liberals and PCs trying to persuade each other's MLAs to cross the floor.
The Liberals released an email sent to MLA Brian Kenny from PC staffer François Robichaud to "discuss the next government."
Higgs said the email was "disappointing for me … I have not authorized anyone to go talk to anyone about crossing the floor. … If people want to join our party, that's fine, but I'm not going to buy their support."