Walls closing in on Brian Gallant ahead of throne speech
Liberal caucus will nominate someone as Speaker by Monday deadline
Premier Brian Gallant's Liberal government was running out of options Friday, with People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin signalling that he's unlikely to vote to keep Gallant in power if he gets the chance.
"The writing's on the wall here," Austin said moments after a swearing-in ceremony for MLAs elected in the Sept. 24 election.
With none of the three other political parties willing to let any of their members become Speaker of the legislature, the Liberals were cornered into deciding they would nominate someone by Monday's 5 p.m. deadline.
"Our caucus met today and agreed that out of respect for New Brunswickers, we must avoid an unnecessary election and not face the house without a candidate for Speaker," acting government house leader Lisa Harris announced in an afternoon news conference.
She didn't say explicitly the Liberals would put up one of their own members, but said the caucus would meet again Monday "to consider our next steps."
Harris said the caucus had "recommended" to Gallant that the Liberal government go ahead with a planned throne speech Tuesday and try to get a majority of MLAs to support it.
Lt-Gov. Jocelyne Roy Vienneau alluded to the political impasse at the end of the the morning's swearing-in ceremony, when she congratulated the new members.
"I hope you will be able to work in this chamber, the sooner the better, to the benefit of all New Brunswickers," she said.
The election produced no majority for any party, and since then Gallant has been trying to find a way to cobble together enough votes to pass a throne speech and stay in power.
But Thursday it appeared that, because of the close standings in the house, no party was willing to lose a vote by allowing one of its MLAs to become Speaker.
All Progressive Conservative, Green and People's Alliance members have withdrawn their names from the ballot and the backbench Liberals who are eligible had decided to do the same. The house can't conduct any business without a Speaker in place.
Before Harris's announcement, PC MLA Ted Flemming said if the Liberals weren't willing to nominate someone, Gallant should throw in the towel.
"I'm calling on Mr. Gallant to do one of two things: nominate a Speaker, or resign. I believe those are the only two options that he has."
If no MLA became Speaker, Gallant would be expected to resign. Roy-Vienneau would then likely swear in a Progressive Conservative government with leader Blaine Higgs as premier.
If Gallant does allow someone to stand, the loss of one MLA from the Liberal caucus will make it harder for him to win the confidence of the house. He'd have only 20 Liberal votes.
Even if all three Green MLAs supported him, he'd still be short of a 25-vote majority and would need to win over members of the Alliance — a prospect that grew dimmer Friday.
"Throne speech is one thing, but confidence as a whole is another," Austin said. "I would think before that throne speech comes down on Tuesday that [Gallant] would understand he doesn't have it."
Last week, Austin said his party might vote for a throne speech that promises action on paramedic shortages and long ambulance response times. Gallant promptly said he would put that in the speech.
But Friday the Alliance leader suggested he's not inclined to throw Gallant a lifeline.
"We feel confident at this point that things need to change, and I think New Brunswickers are saying that as well," he said. "While I respect Mr. Gallant's drive to bring that majority together, it's obviously not going to happen."
The Liberals continued to insist Friday that Higgs had pressured some PC MLAs, who were interested in the Speaker's position, to remove their names.
If a Speaker is chosen and the Liberals can present a throne speech, the likely date for a vote on the speech would be Nov. 2.
But Higgs said Friday the PCs are looking at whether they could bring a straight non-confidence motion to a vote earlier than that.
"It is a consideration," he said. "There is a possibility and we're looking at that."
Watch the Power Panel on CBC's Power & Politics debate Gallant's move below