A battle is brewing in Moncton Centre, with Chris Collins an independent
Former Liberal MLA is confident he can regain seat after being bounced from caucus
It's a hot, sunny day on the campaign trail, and Moncton Centre candidate Chris Collins is pounding a lawn sign into the ground at the house of a supporter.
But it's not the Liberal red sign he once used. This time it's gold, and Collins is running as an independent.
"I'm as confident as I was last election," he said. "And I'm not saying that out of any type of cockiness. I'm going scientifically, with my door-to-door exposure, and the support has been wonderful."
Collins has been a Liberal MLA for more than 11 years served as a cabinet minister and Speaker of the New Brunswick Legislature.
His last term ended with a very public falling out with Premier Brian Gallant, who had revealed workplace harassment allegations against the Speaker and removed him from caucus.
An investigator hired by an all-party committee of MLAs determined in July that the allegations against Collins were "founded in part."
Collins apologized for his conduct but said he couldn't go into detail about what happened. He has also said he would file a lawsuit against Gallant but hasn't yet.
For now, Collins is happy to campaign for the Sept. 24 election on his record.
"It was very difficult to make the decision but my wife and I said "you know what, we're not going to be pushed around." Collins said.
"This is all going to come out in public when the lawsuit is proceeded with and all of the documents have to become public, so until then, I shouldn't be held back from doing the job that I love, and that's serving the people of my riding."
Collins said voters are concerned about a number of issues, including government spending and language.
If he's re-elected, he said, this sitting of the legislature will be different, because he'll be "unchained."
"Now I don't have any partisan reference or leader that is telling me how to vote on something," he said, predicting he would feel "liberated."
The last time an independent candidate was elected in New Brunswick was in 1945, when Edward Claude Seeley took a seat in the Saint John area.
Mario Levesque, a political scientist at Mount Allison University, said independent candidates are rarely successful. But this is an unusual case, given that Collins has been the Moncton Centre MLA.
"There's a lot of bad blood between Chris Collins and Brian Gallant and the Liberal Party for sure," Levesque said. "And going into this election now that he's running as an independent candidate, he stands a really good chance of getting elected."
Moncton Centre is a riding that spans diverse economic areas and includes both the Moncton Hospital and the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre
Former Conservative Premier Bernard Lord won the riding, when it was Moncton East, in a 1998 byelection and held it until he left office in January 2007. It then went Liberal with Collins.
With new riding lines in the 2014 election, Collins ran against the Progressive Conservative justice minister Marie-Claude Blais and won with 3,339 votes to Blais's 1,589.
This time around, the Liberals are counting on their candidate, Rob McKee, a lawyer and a Moncton city councillor.
"Growing up in a family where I had parents both highly involved in the community and community service … public service is a value that's been instilled in me since a very young age," McKee said of his move to provincial politics.
McKee's family is well-known in Moncton. His father is retired judge Mike McKee, and the Peter McKee Community Food Centre is named after his uncle.
McKee said voters are telling him they're concerned about health care and seniors issues, something he believes the Liberals are concentrating on as they work for another mandate.
As for the "independent factor" in the campaign, McKee said it's not something he's spending much time thinking about.
"We're just really focused on our own campaign, not worried about who the candidates are, what the other candidates are doing, just focusing on our own campaign to get elected."
Political scientist Mario Levesque said McKee is a strong candidate.
"His advantage is that he has the Liberal party behind him, and I'm sure Brian Gallant will come into the riding and campaign in that riding and go door-to-door with him." Levesque said.
The Conservative candidate in Moncton Centre is running for office for the very first time.
Claudette Boudreau-Turner is a well-known business person, and Levesque says she's also a valuable candidate.
"She has long time roots in the riding, she was born in the riding, a lot of different business interests in the riding, knows a lot of people as well," Levesque said. "So that puts her in a good position."
Boudreau-Turner said people are concerned about government finances and spending, followed by health and education.
Like McKee, Boudreau-Turner said she's not worried about running against an independent candidate.
"I think at this point it's anybody's guess what will happen. I'm just going to continue on with the campaign we had laid out for me, work hard and whatever happens in their campaigns, that's their business," she said. "And for me I'm concentrating on mine."
Jean-Marie Nadeau, a well-known Acadian activist is running for the New Brunswick Green Party, Kevin McClure is the candidate for the People's Alliance of New Brunswick, and Jessica Caissie is running for the New Democratic Party of New Brunswick.