New Brunswick

Gallant banks on throne speech gamble to draw opposition support

Premier Brian Gallant's Liberal government laid its cards on the table Tuesday, gambling with a grab-bag of multi-party promises that it can win enough votes from opposition MLAs to hang on to power past next month.

Liberals offer a little to everyone as government strives to stay alive

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant is hoping a throne speech that draws from the platforms of the other political parties will be enough to keep the Liberals in power. (Kevin Bissett/Canadian Press)

Premier Brian Gallant's Liberal government laid its cards on the table Tuesday, gambling with a grab-bag of multi-party promises that it can win enough votes from opposition MLAs to hang on to power past next month.

The government introduced a throne speech that borrows heavily from the campaign platforms of the Progressive Conservatives, the Green Party and the People's Alliance.

The Liberals, reduced to just 20 votes in the 49-seat legislature after MLA Daniel Guitard was acclaimed Speaker on Tuesday morning, needs at least four opposition MLAs to break ranks and support the speech.

Liberal MLA Daniel Guitard was acclaimed as the Speaker of the legislature on Tuesday morning. (Government of New Brunswick)

PC Leader Blaine Higgs has already said his 22 MLAs will vote against it, leaving the Liberals' fate in the hands of three Green and three Alliance members.

The uncertain dynamic follows the Sept. 24 provincial election in which no party won a majority and the Progressive Conservatives eclipsed the Liberals in the seat count.

A call for collaboration

The speech, read by Lt.-Gov. Jocelyne Roy Vienneau but prepared by Gallant's staff, called for collaboration — but the kind of collaboration that would allow the Liberals to win a confidence vote next week.

It includes proposals for electoral reform favoured by the Greens, a faster elimination of the deficit proposed by the Progressive Conservatives, and a push to end paramedic shortages advanced by the Alliance.

Lt.-Gov. Jocelyne Roy Vienneau delivers the throne speech at the New Brunswick Legislative Building. (CBC)

It also appears to abandon two key Liberal campaign promises. There is no mention of commitments to freeze NB Power rates for four years or to extend an infrastructure program for two more years and another $150 million.

"By embracing the minority government situation, members of the legislative assembly have an opportunity to find common ground while bringing more perspectives to the legislature," Roy Vienneau said, reading from the speech.

"New Brunswickers have called on their representatives to collaborate more than ever before, and this must be the mission for the members of the legislative assembly."

MLAs will vote on a motion to support the throne speech on Nov. 2, a move that will amount to a confidence vote in the Liberal government. If the motion is lost, Roy Vienneau is expected to ask Higgs to form a PC government.

Green Party on Liberal throne speech

4 years ago
Duration 1:11
Green Party MLAs David Coon and Megan Mitton both say they will need some time before decide whether to support the Liberal throne speech. Green Party MLAs will be voting independently.

MLAs respond

Members from the two smaller parties said after the speech that it's too soon to decide whether to support it.

Green Leader David Coon said it's not clear the Liberal promises can be implemented effectively.

"That's the question. One will have to reflect on that."

"I'll need some time to think about it," said Memramcook-Tantramar Green MLA Megan Mitton. "We just heard it."

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin said there were "certainly some good things in the throne speech, no question about that."

But he said some of the ideas were vague and it was clear that voters want the province to move in a "different direction."

"In the next few days, we've got a lot to think about."

Kris Austin on Liberal throne speech

4 years ago
Duration 0:51
People's Alliance leader Kris Austin says he will be thinking about the wishes of New Brunswickers the next few days while his party decides how to vote.

Liberal cabinet minister Roger Melanson said the government is hopeful some opposition MLAs will vote in favour of the speech.

"We're confident, we're certainly optimistic, but it'll be their decision."

Drawing from other parties

Among the other promises in the throne speech that the Liberals say are supported by at least two political parties:

  • Increases to the minimum wage and the requirement for private-sector employers to implement pay equity, two Liberal campaign promises.
  • A review by a legislative committee of paramedic shortages, an issue raised by the PCs, the Alliance and the Greens during the campaign, with a deadline of Dec. 15.
  • A study of whether to eliminate the so-called "double tax" on apartment buildings, an issue the Tories raised during the election.
  • A review of forest royalty rates to balance economic growth with the needs of private woodlot owners, a PC promise.
  • A committee study of how to phase in a ban on the herbicide glyphosate, another issue raised by the Tories, Greens and Alliance.

The promise to study reforming the voting system, by lowering the voting age and adopting either proportional representation or a ranked ballot, is a reversal for Gallant's Liberals.

The government studied the issue but did not move ahead with it in its first mandate. 

Another notable promise in the speech is a vow to "fully implement" a 2016 report on climate change, a document that recommended a made-in-New-Brunswick carbon tax.

That commitment came on the same day the federal government ruled that the pricing system Gallant developed — a shifting of existing gas tax revenue into a climate fund — did not meet Ottawa's requirement for a higher cost on carbon.

That means the Trudeau government will impose its own higher carbon tax on New Brunswick, along with a system of rebates.

The speech also promised motions to reflect the lack of a majority in the house, including giving the two small parties official party status. The threshold for that is normally five seats, but each of them won only three.

Party status will give the Greens and Alliance the right to take part in more house business, including committee sessions where the government will not hold a majority.

The Liberals also promised an overhaul of how committees work and said an all-party committee would hold budget consultations.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.

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