People's Alliance more likely to support the PCs, Kris Austin says
No talks yet, but Alliance leader open to a formal agreement to keep another party in power
People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin says he's open to a formal agreement to support a minority government for a fixed period of time, and says it seems "obvious" his party is more likely to vote with the Progressive Conservatives.
It was the Alliance leader's first public comments since election night on what his caucus of three MLAs may do when the legislature convenes later this fall.
Both the incumbent Liberal government and the PCs lack the majority they would need to win the confidence of the house and pass legislation.
"We understand this is a minority situation," Austin said. "It requires negotiation. There's going to have to be give and take. We're willing to be part of that, but they have to be willing to part of that with us."
Before the election, the Alliance said in a tweet that it will decide how to vote "bill by bill," deciding case by case whether to help pass legislation rather than propping up one party.
Seeks formal agreement
But Austin now says he'd also look at a more formal arrangement similar to the NDP-Green agreement in British Columbia. The Greens agreed to support the NDP on confidence votes and budgets for two years, in exchange for a role in developing policy.
"We're open to both scenarios and that's the key," Austin said. "That's why we're still internal discussions to try to think about the best way to make this work."
PC spokesperson Nicolle Carlin said leader Blaine Higgs wouldn't comment on the idea of a formal deal "until he actually hears from Mr. Austin. At this point, the two have not spoken."
Monday's vote left the PCs with 22 seats, one more than the Liberals at 21. The Greens and the Alliance won three each.
Despite that, Premier Brian Gallant said he will use parliamentary rules that give him the right to call the legislature and try to win enough support to continue to govern.
Gallant said during the campaign that he would not work with the PCs or the Alliance because they don't share Liberal "values."
2 parties ruled out co-operation
Austin said those comments suggest the Alliance is more likely to end up supporting the Tories.
"I think it's pretty obvious," he said. "With that said, we've always said from day one that we're willing to work with any party that's willing to work with us. What is unfortunate is the Liberals and the Greens have made it clear they don't have the same feeling."
Green Party Leader David Coon refused to discuss his options in such detail Wednesday, saying he and his new MLAs want to look for ways to make the legislature more co-operative to reflect the will of voters.
"For us, it's really about doing things differently," Coon said.
He told reporters that the three other parties all have positions the Greens could support, including the Alliance's promise to ban glyphosate spraying.
"That's a particular issue we could co-operate with them on," he said.
He said the Greens would not compromise on fundamental issues such as language rights but didn't say what he'd do if he felt other parties were threatening those rights.
"I don't see that happening," Coon said said.
Softer language rules are Austin's priority
Austin would not say whether the Alliance would have a red-line position — an Alliance policy that he'd force a government to adopt in return for support in the legislature.
But he said his call to relax bilingual hiring requirements for ambulance paramedics, a commitment PC Leader Blaine Higgs has also made, will be the party's top priority.
"That will be a big one for us, for sure."
Several of the Alliance leader's positions have alarmed francophones. On Tuesday, PC Robert Gauvin, newly elected in Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou and the party's only francophone MLA, said he'd find it difficult to accept any co-operation between his party and Austin's.
"I'd love to have a coffee with him," Austin said. "I would simply clarify what we've been saying all along and address any concerns that he may have, or his constituents."
No conversations about crossing floor
Monday's election saw the Alliance elect its first ever MLAs. Besides Austin himself, who has run in three elections, voters elected Michelle Conroy in Miramichi and Rick DeSaulniers in Fredericton-York.
So far, no other party has talked to any of them about crossing the floor, he said.
Austin said Gallant's decision to try to hold on to power "may be constitutionally and legally right, but I'm not so sure it's in the best interests of the people."
He said the premier should be clearer on how quickly he'll convene the legislature and attempt to win a confidence vote.
"'Before Christmas' is pretty vague. Are we talking December 7 or December 14? Are we talking Oct. 15? That's before Christmas, too. How do you read that?"
Because the election results haven't been certified, Austin and his two colleagues haven't taken any steps to set up offices at the legislature, he said.
But he joked that among the staffers he may need to hire is an expert in parliamentary procedure.
"We're going to need some direction in that sense," he said. "We have a general idea of how it works but we're certainly going to need some advice."