New Brunswick

People's Alliance MLAs cross the floor to join Tory government

The People’s Alliance of New Brunswick is no more.

Move by leader Kris Austin, Michelle Conroy puts end to People's Alliance Party

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin has joined the governing Progressive Conservatives, and his party organization will be de-registered. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

The People's Alliance of New Brunswick is no more.

The party's two MLAs in the legislature have joined the governing Progressive Conservative caucus, spelling the end of the upstart, populist movement created 12 years ago.

Alliance Leader Kris Austin and Miramichi MLA Michelle Conroy made the announcement with Premier Blaine Higgs at the legislature Wednesday afternoon.

Austin said he spoke to supporters and members of the Alliance's board in recent days about his decision and the party organization will be "de-registered" and cease to exist.

The second-term MLA said he engaged in "soul-searching" after the party lost an elected member in the 2020 election and he decided he could more effectively represent his riding of Fredericton-Grand Lake from within the government.

Conroy said she was jumping for the same reason.

"We're doing it for the people in our ridings," she said.

"The best way that we can continue to serve people in our ridings … is to join government and have a seat at the table." 

Miramichi MLA and People's Alliance member Michelle Conroy also crossed the floor to join the Progressive Conservatives on Wednesday. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Higgs said that francophone New Brunswickers concerned about the Alliance's position on language issues can be assured the PCs won't change their stance on bilingualism and duality.

"No one should be concerned about us as a party and our direction," he said.

Focused on working for my riding: Austin

Austin insisted that he has always supported bilingualism, but had "taken issue with the implementation of it from time to time."

Asked if he would continue to call for the elimination of two regional health authorities and the position of official languages commissioner as he has in the past, Austin said, "I'm not a party leader anymore," noting he'll be focusing on working for his riding.

"Bilingualism is an important part of New Brunswick, as I've always said. It needs to be done in a fashion that represents all New Brunswickers." 

Higgs said Austin and Conroy recognize that any members of the PC party have to support the party's constitution, which includes support for official bilingualism, and says "the diversity of our two linguistic communities is a unique strength of our province."

Reaction at the legislature after People’s Alliance MLAs joined PC government

8 months ago
Duration 3:59
The People’s Alliance Party is no more after leader Kris Austin and MLA Michelle Conroy cross the floor to join the Progressive Conservatives.

The premier said he had spoken to the caucus about the two new arrivals.

"They're all excited about our new members," he said.

Local Government Minister Daniel Allain, the lone francophone member of the PC caucus, said Austin and Conroy had taken positions "contrary to the Charter of Rights and some of our laws" with the Alliance but he was glad they would now adhere to their new party's principles.

"Today I'm actually rejoicing to see the dissolution of the Alliance party of New Brunswick," Allain said in a telephone interview.

"I always advocated that they didn't have a good message for New Brunswick and they were on the wrong side of the equation." 

But Austin told reporters he was urging former Alliance supporters to see "that I haven't changed, Michelle hasn't changed and we want to continue to work for the people."

"This isn't about watering down anybody's voice. I think the opposite. I think this is about strengthening that voice and being at the table, as opposed to being on the outside trying to make changes." 

Premier Blaine Higgs said caucus is "excited" about its two new members. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

No direct answers on language policy, cabinet plans

However, Austin did not answer directly when asked if he'll push to make changes to language policy from within the PC caucus.

Acadian Society of New Brunswick president Alexandre Cédric Doucet said while he was happy to see the Alliance dissolve, it was a "a sad day" for the PC Party.

"The party of [former premier] Richard Hatfield and [Hatfield lieutenant] Jean-Maurice Simard is accepting two anti-bilingualism, anti-duality MLAs into their caucus," he said. 

Austin also dodged a question about whether he expects to join the cabinet as a minister, saying that was up to Higgs.

The premier said gaining two new members would not be "the determining factor" in whether he shuffles his cabinet.

Austin founded the Alliance in 2010 after failing to win a PC nomination to run in the provincial election that year.

The party scored a major breakthrough in 2018 when it won three seats, including Austin's, and held the balance of power in the legislature while propping up Higgs's minority government.

But the party was reduced to two seats in 2020 when Higgs won a majority.

Chief Electoral Officer Kimberly Poffenroth issued a statement confirming the Alliance would be officially de-registered on Thursday following a written application by Austin.

The first electoral impact of the dramatic move will be in June, when two by-elections are scheduled in the ridings of Southwest Miramich-Bay du Vin and Miramichi Bay-Neguac.

The Alliance came within 35 votes of defeating the PC incumbent in Southwest Miramich-Bay du Vin in 2018.

And in the 2020 election, the combined PC-Alliance vote in Miramichi Bay-Neguac would have been enough to defeat Liberal winner Lisa Harris.

The new party standings in the legislature are 27 PCs, 16 Liberals, three Greens and the two vacancies, plus Speaker Bill Oliver. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. He grew up in Moncton and covered Parliament in Ottawa for the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. He has reported on every New Brunswick election since 1995 and won awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association, the National Newspaper Awards and Amnesty International. He is also the author of five non-fiction books about New Brunswick politics and history.

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