New Brunswick

New Brunswick premier won't rule out snap election call

The province has had a minority government for 19 months, which traditionally would be considered getting long in the tooth. But COVID-19 has made the premise of holding any mass gathering, like voting, potentially hazardous.

Premier Blaine Higgs has said he hasn't made a decision about going to the polls sooner rather than later

Premier Higgs hasn't ruled out an early election, but none of the other parties seem keen on the idea. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

New Brunswick's political parties seem to have mixed views on the possibility of a snap election in the coming months. 

The province has had a minority government for 19 months, which traditionally would be considered getting long in the tooth.

But COVID-19 has made the premise of holding any mass gathering, like voting, potentially hazardous.

In an interview on Information Morning Fredericton last Friday, Premier Blaine Higgs wouldn't rule out holding an election sooner rather than later.

"I haven't made a decision on that at this point," Higgs said.

Under the province's fixed-election date act, the government does not have to hold an election until October 2022

Few expect the minority government to last that long and the province does need to hold at least two byelections soon, with a third seat possibly opening up in the fall.

"My ability to stay in office is really at the desire of those who are supporting me in the opposition parties because I don't have numbers by myself to do so," said Higgs. 

"That obviously plays a role in the decision as well. So there's a number of factors."

Opposition reacts

For his part Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers said he does not want an election this year and said his party would not force an election in 2020. It's a drastic shift from earlier this year when he swore to help bring down the government.

"No one's eyes should be on an election right now," Vickers said in an interview Thursday. "This is the last thing this province needs."

Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers says his party won't force an election in 2020. (CBC)

VIckers said he believes the two byelections should be held, and that Elections New Brunswck should use those as test cases for how to proceed is a general election is required later in the pandemic.

Green Party Leader David Coon also said this isn't the right time for an election and he would be surprised if Higgs chose to go that route. 

"The people of the province I don't think have any appetite for an election during a pandemic," he said.  

Green Party Leader David Coon said New Brunswickers don't want to go to the polls. (CBC)

"They want us to focus on keeping them safe and secure and healthy,"

In an email to CBC News a spokesperson for the People's Alliance said while leader Kris Austin did not think New Brunswickers want an election, if one is called, his caucus will be ready.

Uncharted waters

J.P. Lewis, a political scientist at University of New Brunswick Saint John, said the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and a lack of polling data make it difficult to determine what the governing Progressive Conservatives are likely to do, or if it's a good idea politically.

He said in normal circumstances he would say the likelihood of a snap election would be high, but these aren't normal circumstances.

"If we didn't have a pandemic I would say the odds are really good, if we were waging on this I would say I'll take that we're going to have an election," said Lewis. 

Normally J.P. Lewis, a political scientist at the University of New Brunswick Saint John, would bet on an election happening now, but given COVID-19 there's too many unknowns to make a prediction (Graham Thompson/CBC)

"But just because of the situation we're in I think they almost need to wait and maybe the party will do a poll to figure that out because I think that's what they need to know."

Lewis said the fact the Liberals have said they wouldn't force an election makes it more difficult for the Tories to justify one to the public.

"If [the Liberals] had said, 'you know we're ready to go,' then if we have a general election anytime soon and it's unpopular you could say 'well the Liberals wanted this as well," said Lewis. 

"Now [Higgs] is boxed in … if he decides to go it's his decision."

But a lot of that is predicated on the province's appetite for a vote, which Lewis said we really don't understand because not enough polling has been done on the subject.

"[For] someone who doesn't follow politics that closely if their next question is 'well do we have to have one?' And the answer is 'no.' Then they could say 'well why would we? Why don't we just keep trying to solve what's going on,'" said Lewis.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jordan Gill

Reporter

Jordan Gill is a CBC reporter based out of Fredericton. He can be reached at jordan.gill@cbc.ca.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton & Jonathan Collicott

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