Higgs looks to B.C. 'template' for potential partnership with Greens

The post-election struggle to form the next New Brunswick government lurched in a new direction Monday as Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs floated the idea of an agreement with the Green Party.

Last year, a deal between the B.C. NDP and Greens was struck to form a working majority

Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs is exploring a possible partnership with the Green Party. He said the agreement between the B.C. NDP and Greens could serve as a template. (James West/Canadian Press)

The post-election struggle to form the next New Brunswick government lurched in a new direction Monday as Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs floated the idea of an agreement with the Green Party.

Despite ruling out formal deals with the smaller parties last week, Higgs told reporters he had been reviewing a copy of the NDP-Green agreement struck in British Columbia last year.

"I've read through it," he said. "Whether we have something as comprehensive as that, I'm not sure yet."

He called the document a possible "template" for his discussions with Green Leader David Coon, whose party won three seats in last week's election. The two men met Monday morning.

Coon did not speak to reporters Monday, but in a written statement he said he had spoken to both Higgs and Liberal Premier Brian Gallant on Monday.

Green Party Leader David Coon is meeting with both the Tories and Liberals this week. (James West/Canadian Press)

"These are ongoing discussions which will continue this week," he said. "Both agreed with me that we need to find a way to bring a stable government for the people of New Brunswick in this minority government situation."

Higgs's PCs won 22 seats last week, three short of a majority. An agreement with the three Green MLAs would allow the Tories to pass legislation.

Gallant's Liberals won 21 seats, but as the incumbent government, they can try to win the confidence of the legislature when it reconvenes Oct. 23.

Blaine Higgs says he is looking to last year's deal between B.C. NDP and Greens as a template for a potential partnership with David Coon's Green Party. 0:53

B.C. Green leader says Coon should deal with PCs

The 2017 NDP-Green deal in British Columbia commits the Greens to support the minority NDP government on confidence and budget votes for a full four-year term.

On Saturday, B.C. Green Leader Andrew Weaver told CBC's The House that Coon should strike a deal with the PCs to give them a working majority in the legislature.

Weaver said that would allow Coon to negotiate a price on carbon dioxide emissions that would be acceptable to the PCs.

B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver said his New Brunswick counterpart, David Coon, should deal with the PCs. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

Higgs believes the Gallant government's carbon tax plan is likely to be overruled by the federal government, which would then impose its own system on provincial consumers effective Jan. 1.

The PCs have promised to fight that in court, but say if they lose, they'll use federal carbon-tax revenue remitted to New Brunswick to give citizens rebates.

Higgs said Monday that this aligns with Coon's position of tackling industrial emissions while not forcing new costs on consumers.

"We've said that all along, so that's a position that he shares as well," Higgs said, "that the money would be refunded back to the people of the province. So those are issues that are kind of, as you talk more, you find there's common ground here."

People's Alliance offered support

Last week, it appeared more likely a potential PC minority government would be propped up by the People's Alliance, which elected its first three MLAs ever in the Sept. 24 election.

Alliance Leader Kris Austin released a statement saying his party had agreed to "provide stability" to a PC government for up to 18 months.

That allowed Higgs to reassure francophone supporters of his party that he'd form no "coalition" with the Alliance, a message echoed by his lone francophone MLA, Robert Gauvin.

"There won't be any coalition," Gauvin said. "No deals."

But on Monday, Austin said that in return for that support, the Alliance will want input into a PC government's agenda, including its Throne Speech.

"There's going to have to be some discussions back and forth between us and the Conservatives … to get some middle ground," he said.

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin said his party would support a PC-led government on a 'bill-by-bill basis' for 18 months. (CBC)

Asked if that would be a condition for propping up the Tories, Austin said, "The reality is it is a minority government.

"It's not a carte blanche for us to just approve anything that comes forward. That's not what we said. We said there has to be some mutual understanding there that there's going to have to be some give and take on Mr. Higgs's side as well as us."

No Tory-Alliance meetings

Higgs avoided committing to any trade-offs with Austin on Monday, saying "we don't have any meetings scheduled" with the Alliance leader.

"We said we weren't going to strike any deals, and it's not our particular intent to do that, so we don't have any plans to do that."

Higgs would not even say if he would meet Austin again.

"Well, I guess I'm not going to create the situation if it doesn't exist today. We'll see where that goes."

And he responded to questions about whether he'd negotiate with the Alliance by saying there are key policy areas where the party is "aligned" with the PCs, such as the need to loosen bilingual hiring requirements for ambulance paramedics.

"No matter who writes them down, those are similar issues," he said.

Gallant met with his caucus Monday to plan for the opening of the new legislature on Oct. 23. The Liberals will try to keep their government alive by winning an early confidence vote.

Gallant has said if they lose that vote, he'll make way for Higgs to form a minority PC government.

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