Liberals and PCs continue battle over who will govern N.B.

Premier Brian Gallant says he's going to carry on governing the province, but PC Leader Blaine Higgs insists he's the premier-elect and the Liberal leader is just "prolonging the inevitable."

Brian Gallant says he'll carry on as premier, while PC Leader Blaine Higgs considers himself premier-elect

Brian Gallant met with New Brunswick's lieutenant-governor on Tuesday, the morning after a near-dead heat provincial election, and was given permission to keep governing the province. (Canadian Press)

Premier Brian Gallant says he's going to carry on governing New Brunswick, but Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs insists he's the premier-elect and the Liberal leader is just "prolonging the inevitable." 

The two men clashed Tuesday over how to interpret the results of a provincial election that suggested the PCs had eked out a minority government — 22 seats to the Liberals' 21 — in a legislature requiring 25 for a majority. 

Two third parties — the People's Alliance and the Green Party — each won three seats.

After meeting with Lt.-Gov. Jocelyne Roy Vienneau on Tuesday morning, Gallant said he has permission to continue governing the province while he and his Liberals try to win the confidence of the legislature with fewer seats than his main opponent.

"I am still the premier, and we are still the government," Gallant told reporters after the meeting. "But … we have heard the message loud and clear from New Brunswickers last night. There's some uncertainty at the moment, and I recognize that."

Results were clear

After listening to the premier's words, Higgs said he was told by the lieutenant-governor's office that Gallant hadn't, in fact, received permission to continue governing.

"It's unfortunate we have this time delay, and it's been brought to you by Brian Gallant," he said. "That's the road he's chosen to follow." 

Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs, left, won more seats, but Liberal Leader Gallant still intends to form government. (CBC)

Higgs said he's ready to form a government but plans to wait until recounts are completed Oct. 5 in a few close ridings.

Asked for clarification of the lieutenant-governor's position, Tim Richardson, principal secretary to Roy Vienneau, said she asked Gallant at their meeting whether he has the confidence of the house.

"More discussions need to take place, and we await his decision," Richardson said, adding that would be the only comment.

PC Leader Blaine Higgs speaks about his party's seats and their plan moving forward. 14:19

Higgs said Gallant was desperately trying to save his job and expects the Liberals will be making more promises to try to keep themselves in power.

He said he has already spoken with Green Party Leader David Coon and hopes to speak with others to see where they can work together.

"Let's get on with it," he said. "Let's start fixing a few things."

Higgs said he thought the Progressive Conservatives could find some common ground with both the Green Party and the People's Alliance but would not abandon key principles, including their support for bilingualism.

Green Party Leader David Coon speaks to Power and Politics about the possibility of a minority government. 4:27

When asked if he's ready to make a deal with the Liberals or the PCs, Coon said not quite yet.

"The Liberals and Tories are in an awful rush to try and get control," he said.

"What I've said is, 'Relax, take some time, we've got lots of time to reflect on the opportunities New Brunswickers have presented us with as politicians,'" he said.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson with the People's Alliance has said the party is taking Tuesday to recover from the election.

Gallant to call the legislature

Assuming Gallant carries on — parliamentary convention is on his side — he will have to call the legislature before the end of the year, choose a Speaker, present a throne speech and then hold the standard two-week debate on whether the legislature supports that speech.

Gallant said he expects the New Brunswick legislature will sit before Christmas, and if the Liberals lose the confidence of the house, the government will resign.

The Liberals find themselves in this difficult spot, despite taking a larger piece of the popular vote in the province's 39th general election. With all polls reporting, the Liberals won 37.8 per cent of the votes compared with the PC share of 31.9 per cent.

Brian Gallant speaks to reporters before asking the Lieutenant Governor to allow him to continue governing New Brunswick. 19:15

Gallant said the Liberals would continue to stick to their "progressive" principles while trying to work with other parties to get things done in the legislature.

Voters made it clear none of the five party platforms was "exactly what they wanted," he said, but they sent a strong message they want things to change.

"They did not clearly define who they wanted to lead that change. That is clear. But we did get the plurality of votes."

Gallant seemed optimistic he could win the co-operation of the Green Party.

They disagree about some issues, but Liberals "share Green Party values" on others, including the environment, women and official bilingualism, Gallant said.

The first test

The choice of a Speaker will itself be fraught for Gallant, because if he chooses a Liberal, he'll be down a vote in the house. 

At the end of the throne speech debate, there will be a vote — the first test of whether Gallant can win the confidence of the legislature.

If he loses that vote, the lieutenant-governor could then ask Higgs to form a government rather than trigger a new election.

"If we lose the confidence of the legislature, there will be no hesitation for me to allow another party or parties to form government or for there to be a general election, which I don't think anybody wants." Gallant said.

The PCs and the Liberals were in a dead heat, at 21 seats each, when the final votes were counted Monday night. The last poll in Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin secured re-election for Jake Stewart and the PCs' 22nd seat. 

Gallant has the right to try to govern because his government — the cabinet, or executive — remains in office until it resigns or is dismissed by the lieutenant-governor.

The province's last minority government happened in 1920, when the United Farmers party held the balance of power.

'We've squandered our potential by dividing our province,' says PC leader Blaine Higgs. 8:44

With files from Colin McPhail and Jacques Poitras

With files from Colin McPhail, Jacques Poitras and Rachel Cave