New Brunswick

Saint John Harbour, the 'most interesting' race in the province

The riding of Saint John Harbour is known for close calls. Two of the past three elections have been settled by 10 votes or less.

J.P. Lewis says winning Saint John Harbour is crucial to majority government

Liberal Gerry lowe, right, speaking to PC Leader Blaine Higgs in March. Lowe's decision to leave provincial politics opens up the race in Saint John Harbour. (Jacques Poitras, CBC)

Saint John Harbour is a riding known for close calls.

In 2010, it was won by the Progressive Conservatives by just seven votes. 

The Liberals won it back in 2014 by a 71-vote margin.

In 2018, Liberal Gerry Lowe carried it by a mere 10 votes.

UNB political scientist J.P. Lewis jokes there aren't many other places in Canada where a minivan full of voters can flip a riding.

And while the last 15 years have seen Saint John Harbour traded back and forth between the two major parties, for 14 years before 2005 it was solidly New Democrat, home to party leader Elizabeth Weir.

Factor in a Green vote that has grown steadily each election, along with the traditionally low voter turnout in this inner city riding, and it gets hard to make predictions.

Saint John Harbour encompasses the central peninsula, Waterloo Village, and parts of the north end, along with those areas of the lower west side closest to the harbour.

PC Candidate Arlene Dunn says the next government needs to look at property tax reform. (Dunn's the one, Facebook)

It includes several of the city's lowest-income neighbourhoods and the uptown, which has a growing population and a vibrant arts and restaurant scene.

Adding to the difficulty predicting which way the riding will go, none of the major party candidates who offered in 2018 are reoffering this time around. 

Lowe, a former city councillor who made no secret of his dissatisfaction with provincial party politics, is now considering whether to run again for city council in 2021.

Alice McKim, a teacher at Saint John High, has stepped in as candidate for the Liberals.

Lowe's main opponent in 2018, PC Barry Ogden pulled out of the running for the party nomination at the 11th hour.

Arlene Dunn, who has spent much of her career working with building trades unions, then picked up the PC party's nomination by acclamation. 

The Greens have Brent Harris, new to politics and to the party.

The NDP has Courtney Pyrke, also new to politics, as is Tony Gunn, candidate for the People's Alliance.

There are two independents running, Mike Cyr and Arty Watson.

Of the seven candidates, only Watson has run before.

Liberal candidate Alice McKim stepped in after Lowe decided not to run. (NB Liberal Association)

The key local issues described by the candidates are the same ones that took Lowe to Fredericton two years ago: a new school and community centre for the south end of the central peninsula, and reforms to the property tax system, which sees money drained off by the provincial government and regarded as favouring heavy industry at the expense of homeowners.

As premier, Higgs announced a review of the property tax system but has yet to reveal plans for any revisions.

Dunn has acknowledged the importance of the property tax issue to the riding.

"We need to look at that and overhaul that potentially," she said. "Don't know what that looks like yet, but I've got some ideas around that, that hopefully I can discuss with the premier at some point."

Dunn said she's "100 per cent for" the new south end school.

She lives outside the city in the community of Willow Grove, but said she spent much of her career working in the riding,  regularly helping people with issues such as drug and alcohol addiction.

Liberal McKim is more forceful when it comes to the issue of tax reform.

"I'm business friendly, but if you're running a big business and pulling down hundred- million-dollar profits, then you know I'm coming for you tax-wise," said McKim. 

McKim lives just outside the riding in nearby Saint John Portland.

Tax reform and poverty are also identified as key issues by the Green, NDP and People's Alliance candidates.

"I think we've been kind of hamstrung by certain tax laws and by assessment issues and things like that," said Gunn, an accountant, running for the Alliance. "I think if those issues were dealt with, I think you would really see the area take off."

A bearded man wearing a T-shirt and ball cap leans on a fence.
Green candidate Brent Harris says his opponents care about the issues. (Brian Chisholm, CBC)

Green candidate Brent Harris is founder of the Saint John Tool Library. The library is a social enterprise, an organization that sells memberships but also does volunteer work such as fixing up homes for people in need. Along with Industrial tax reform, he's pressing for affordable, livable housing and funding for public transit.

He too lives outside the riding on the city's west side.

Opponents Courtney Pyrke and Alice McKim both serving with Harris on boards overseeing the tool library's operations.

"To me it's amazing," said Harris. "I mean there's been some derisive stuff on Twitter from friends and I'm like, OK, that's just how politics go. But for the most part I'm like: these are people who care about issues."

Pyrke is a PhD student who grew up in Hamilton, Ont., an NDP stronghold, and is a longtime party supporter, especially on issues like "fair" taxation, access to health care, and assistance for students struggling with debt loads.

Independent Arty Watson said he is concerned with social issues such as affordable housing development, a living wage, funding for public transit and the creation of more nursing home beds in the province. 

Mike Cyr, the other independent, is a barber and part time standup comic.

He said he's interested in fighting poverty and in re-establishing film and television credits to revive the industry in New Brunswick. 

Like Dunn, he lives outside the riding, but said it is a temporary measure. He's moved to assist elderly parents.

He too works in the city centre and spends most of his time there.

Lewis, the political scientist, said the short campaign is giving the candidates very little time to sell themselves. 

And the snap election meant months of preparation time for all the parties has been lost.

He said Saint John Harbour is one of the few seats in the province that both the Liberals and Conservatives have a real shot at winning, and it's crucial to either party in forming a majority government. 

In this particular election, he said, it can safely be called a bellwether riding.

"I think it's the most interesting riding to watch in the province," said Lewis.

For complete coverage | Links to all New Brunswick votes 2020 stories



  • An earlier version of this story used the pronoun she in reference to NDP candidate Courtney Pyrke. Pyrke uses the pronouns they and them.
    Sep 03, 2020 3:25 PM AT


Connell Smith is a reporter with CBC in Saint John. He can be reached at 632-7726