New Brunswick

New Liberal attack ads target Blaine Higgs's business career

New Brunswick Liberals unveiled a negative advertising campaign they plan to use in 2018 against Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs that paints him as a friend of big business who doesn’t care about “regular people.”

Ads paint PC leader and former Irving Oil executive as friend of big business

Liberal cabinet ministers Roger Melanson and Lisa Harris at a news conference Tuesday where the negative ads against Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs were unveiled. (CBC)

The New Brunswick Liberals have launched a preview of their 2018 election strategy with a negative advertising campaign against Progressive Conservative leader Blaine Higgs.

The ads, which will run on radio stations, social media and ahead of online digital videos, paint Higgs as a friend of big business who doesn't care about "regular people."

But two Liberal politicians who helped launch the campaign shied away from getting too specific about the PC leader's business connections.

Instead, they pointed to Higgs's opposition to a recent minimum wage increase, to the creation of a new Family Day holiday in February, and to his vote against the government's tuition access bursary.

"The leader of the opposition, the Conservative party, has spent most of his career, his whole career, on the payroll of big business," Liberal cabinet minister Lisa Harris said at a news conference where the ads were unveiled.

Worked for Irving Oil

Higgs, who is 63, worked for Irving Oil for 33 years, retiring as a senior executive just months before running in the 2010 provincial election.

Liberal cabinet minister Roger Melanson refused to utter the company's name on Tuesday, or explain what was wrong with working for Irving for three decades.

He would only say Higgs's career should be compared with Gallant. 

"The track records of both individuals speak for themselves," he said.

Gallant, 35, ran two small businesses and practised law for a short time before going into politics.

Liberal concerns about Irving not clear

A Liberal party communications staffer tried to cut off more questioning about why the Liberals considered Higgs's Irving career as a negative.

Irving Oil was a partner in the cancelled Energy East pipeline, which the Liberals supported, and Gallant has made himself the minister responsible for Saint John, home of the company's head office.

"What we're saying is it's factual," Melanson said. "The leader of the opposition did what he did in his career. I think it's important New Brunswickers know about that."

PC Leader Blaine Higgs, whose business career is the target of new Liberal attack ads, worked for Irving Oil for 33 years before seeking public office. (CBC)

The website the Liberals have put up to host the anti-Higgs material does lay out his Irving career. It includes an image of a 2005 Irving Oil newspaper ad defending the Canaport LNG tax break, signed by Higgs and three other company officials.

The site also includes links to newspaper coverage of Higgs running for the anti-bilingualism Confederation of Regions party leadership in 1989.

Higgs said in 2010 that his views on bilingualism had changed since his CoR days.

The site also portrays Higgs as a budget-slasher and quotes him saying that some cuts he began as a PC finance minister might have to continue if he becomes premier.

That's despite a number of school closures under the Gallant government and a cut of 250 teacher positions made by the Liberals in 2015-16.

At least two district education councils are conducting studies this year on whether to close schools, in Saint John's south end and Moncton's west end.

In 2015, the Liberals changed a provincial policy to make it easier to trigger closure studies.

They also closed courthouses and Service New Brunswick offices in a bid to save money.

The video version of the ad shows a colour photograph of Premier Brian Gallant with a crowd of people, with text touting several of his policies.

It's followed by a shadowy, blue-tinted image of silhouetted figures in an office, overlaid with text attacking Higgs for being too business-friendly.

Harris said she didn't think voters would be put off by the aggressive ads. 

"New Brunswickers, I assume, have a desire to get to know the leaders, to see what they stand for," she said. "These are just another tool to show the difference in the two leaders."

She said the PC opposition has been using social media to levy nasty attacks against the Liberals.

Gallant did not attend the news conference launching the ads, though Melanson said the entire Liberal caucus, including the premier, supports them.

A spokesperson for the PC opposition said Tuesday no one from the party would respond to the Liberal attacks.

The next provincial election is scheduled for Sept. 24, 2018.


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.