New Brunswick·Analysis

Three N.B. ridings to watch as Canada heads into an election

With a federal election called for Sept. 20, three ridings in New Brunswick could be staging grounds for some of the closest races in the province.

Fredericton, Miramichi-Grand Lake, Saint John-Rothesay expected to be hotly contested

Miramichi-Grand Lake candidate Lisa Harris, left, Fredericton candidate Jenica Atwin, centre and Saint John-Rothesay candidate Wayne Long will all be fighting to keep their ridings under the Liberal banner in what are expected to be closely contested races in the upcoming federal election. (CBC)

Every federal election riding is equal, but with a campaign underway, some are more equal than others.

Three New Brunswick constituencies have been identified by the political parties as key races that could help determine whether Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau gets the majority he wants, or even loses power to the Conservatives.

Fredericton is getting the most attention.

Green candidate Nicole O'Byrne says she's been fielding media calls from across the country about whether she can hold one of only three seats her party won last time.

"They see it as a bellwether to see whether the Green Party's going to be able to move forward or not," she said as she dropped off a sign order at a local print shop Monday morning.

Nicole O'Byrne, Green Party candidate for Fredericton, was selected to run for the riding after former Green MP Jenica Atwin joined the Liberals. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

She has also seen donations to her campaign coming from party supporters as far afield as Ontario and British Columbia.

"They know that the Greens need to win this seat to maintain a presence in Parliament."

Fredericton's unique storyline

The riding features a unique storyline: it saw Green MP Jenica Atwin defect to the Liberals two months ago. If Atwin can win as a Liberal, Trudeau is one seat closer to his goal.

The Conservatives are also contenders. Andrea Johnson, who placed a close second to Atwin last time, is on the ballot again. 

"I think my chances are just as good as they were last time," Johnson said as she started setting up her campaign headquarters in downtown Fredericton. "It was a tight three-way race." 

She says she's already hearing something from voters that she wasn't hearing in 2019: "People are worried about the spending. There's an excessive amount of spending." 

Andrea Johnson, Conservative candidate for the Fredericton riding, says she thinks her chances of winning the seat are as good as they were when she came close to taking it in the 2019 election. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Miramichi-Grand Lake

Fredericton may be the only close three-way race in the province, but it's not the only contest high in drama.

Miramichi-Grand Lake was one of the closest races in the country last time around, with the Liberals holding it by only 370 votes. 

Winner Pat Finnigan is not running for re-election this time. Instead, former Liberal provincial cabinet minister and MLA Lisa Harris is the party's candidate.

She's facing another MLA and former cabinet minister, Conservative Jake Stewart.

"I certainly wasn't afraid to take him on," Harris said. "I knew he was [nominated] before I put my name in."

Saint John-Rothesay

Saint John-Rothesay is the third race to watch in the province, another battle of high-profile candidates that is expected to be close.

Two-term Liberal MP Wayne Long, who has pitched himself as someone willing to buck the party line when the riding needs him to, is up against former Saint John Mayor Mel Norton.

Political scientist J.P. Lewis of the University of New Brunswick in Saint John says while most voters cast ballots based on leaders and issues, the Saint John-Rothesay race may be an exception.

"Here it really fees like it is Long versus Norton. …. It would really surprise me if either candidate ran away with it."

'It seems rushed'

4 months ago
1:00
New Brunswickers react to an early federal election call. 1:00

Expect most, but not all leaders to visit

With three close races, New Brunswick voters can expect to see most of the federal leaders drop in during the next 35 days.

Trudeau included Miramichi on a recent pre-campaign trip to the province. O'Toole was there as well, and also in Fredericton and Saint John.

And NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh made a brief stop last week in Bathurst.

But one federal leader who probably won't be seen in New Brunswick is Annamie Paul of the Greens.

Green Party Leader Annamie Paul likely won't be visiting Fredericton ahead of the Sept. 20 election. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Facing internal dissent over her leadership, Paul plans to focus almost exclusively on the riding where she's running, even if that means forgoing a visit to one of the three Green ridings from 2019.

"She's doing everything that she can to win Toronto Centre," O'Byrne says.

"Given the fact that it's a very, very short campaign window of 36 days, it's unlikely she'll be here, but it's possible. She's doing her best to work her schedule."

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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