Acadians on Team Higgs say PCs in northern N.B. want in
Higgs's shot at majority may make him more attractive to francophone voters
Progressive Conservative candidate Jean-Gérard Chiasson says he has taken some heat for aligning with Blaine Higgs in the riding that was abandoned by the party's only francophone deputy.
"I've been accused of being a traitor. I've been accused of being anti-francophone," said Chiasson who is running in the riding of Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou.
But he doesn't let that stop him from making his pitch.
"I'm going from places to places with big speakers ... and I'm telling everybody, 'We have to be in the government. We have to be represented as francophones. We have to be there.'"
It's a strategy that just might work, says Roger Ouellette, professor of political science at the University of Moncton.
The PCs are leading in the polls and are in a strong position to win a majority on Sept. 14, polls suggest.
"Higgs has a path to a majority victory without the francophones," said Ouellette.
"So the question is: Do we want to be on the sidelines or do we want to be in the room. That's one of the ballot questions for the francophones."
Ouellette said its also works in Higgs's favour that he's surrounded by francophone advisers, including PC party president Claude Williams, chief of staff, Louis Leger and PC campaign veteran Paul D'Astous, who's also been recruiting for the party.
Ouellette gives them credit for helping Higgs attract qualified candidates in the north, including Joanne Bérubé Gagné in Edmundston-Madawaska Centre, Marie-Eve Castonguay in Madawaska Les Lacs-Edmundston, and Diane Carey in Tracadie-Sheila.
Tracadie-Sheila voted PC for two decades before the riding was redrafted. It went Liberal in 2014 and again, in 2018.
"It's just unfortunate that we don't have more voices from northern New Brunswick that are there to advise the premier," said Carey, who recently met with Higgs.
"The conversation that I had with the premier was very positive and I don't have any doubt that we're going to work well together," she said.
'Problem is the leader'
New Brunswick's Acadian Society, La Société de l'Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick, made a point of releasing some harsh criticism of Higgs less than two weeks before election day.
"We don't have a problem with the party," Doucet told the CBC. "The problem is the leader."
Doucet said francophones are wary of Higgs' intentions and haven't forgotten his involvement with the Confederation of Regions party, even though that was 30 years ago.
He adds they don't like his collaboration with the People's Alliance or any talk about lowering language requirements in the public service, a topic that surfaced during discussions about the paramedic shortage.
Doucet said Higgs could help his image by endorsing the creation of a standing committee that would depoliticize the implementation of the Official Languages Act but the SANB says Higgs did not commit.
Competence has been shown
Language isn't the issue, says PC candidate Mathieu Caissie. He said that's not what he's hearing as he speaks to constituents in Shediac Bay-Dieppe.
Caissie said people are talking about healthcare and seniors' homes, COVID-19 and keeping the border closed.
Caissie is a passionate promoter of Acadian culture and sees no paradox in running as a red Tory.
"The Progressive Conservatives, historically speaking, have done a lot for the francophones," said Caissie.
"After Louis J. Robichaud, it was really Richard Hatfield who put into place the Official Languages Act."
PCs support francophones
He also points out that New Brunswick joined the International Organization of La Francophonie in 1977. That's when former Premier Richard Hatfield was about midway through his four PC majority governments.
"When the languages act was reviewed, it was Bernard Lord," said Caissie. "A Progressive Conservative leader."
"And, I was actually an advisor named to Paris for the International Francophonie by the Alward government, a PC government. So, the PCs have done a lot for francophones and I would say even more than the Liberals."
"I'm a Progressive Conservative and I had no regrets," said Ouellette.
"Because more of the advancement for francophones was with the Progressive Conservatives."
Ouellette said he's confident there will be francophone MLAs sitting in PC majority caucus.
He likes the chances for Joanne Bérubé Gagné in Edmundston-Madawaska Centre and Roland Michaud in Victoria-La Vallée.
Another interesting race is Moncton East, where PC candidate Daniel Allain is challenging the Liberal incumbent, Monique LeBlanc. Allain worked in the Premier's Office under Lord and Alward.
He's also a Dieppe city councillor.