New Brunswick

New Brunswick Progressive Conservatives win majority in pandemic vote

New Brunswick's Progressive Conservatives won re-election Monday night with a majority government for leader Blaine Higgs, who last month called a snap election, the first provincial vote to be held during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Victory ends streak of 4 consecutive single-term governments

Premier Blaine Higgs embraces his wife Marcia Higgs, right, and daughters Rachel Hiltz, left and Lindsey Hiltz after winning the New Brunswick provincial election in Quispamsis, N.B. on Monday. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

New Brunswick's Progressive Conservatives won re-election Monday night with a majority government for Premier Blaine Higgs, who last month called a snap election, the first provincial vote to be held during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Higgs won his coveted majority after two years of leading the province's first minority government since 1920. The victory ends a streak of four consecutive single-term governments. 

The PCs were elected in 27 ridings, two more than the 25 needed for a majority.

"Tonight we have a newfound commitment to each other and to our government's plan," Higgs said in his victory speech at the Quispamsis Lions Club in his home riding of Quispamsis, near Saint John. About 50 supporters gathered at the hall wearing masks and standing two metres apart.

"New Brunswickers have voted for leadership that is prepared, for leadership that has been tested and will continue to be tested and for leadership that will make tough and balanced decisions to keep our province moving forward."

WATCH: Premier Blaine Higgs delivers victory speech:

Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs gives his victory speech as he is projected to form a majority government. 7:35

New Brunswick Votes 2020 Results: Check out the results on our interactive page.

The Liberals, under first-time leader Kevin Vickers, were elected in 17 ridings, four fewer seats than 2018. 

But Vickers lost his first run at a seat, losing to People's Alliance candidate Michelle Conroy, who took the riding of Miramichi in the last election. 

Vickers told CBC News he will step down as leader.

"It's time for another leader to step up and take the party forward," Vickers said.

WATCH: Kevin Vickers announces he's stepping down as leader:

Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers will step down after being defeated in the riding of Miramichi. 7:53

Vickers, the former ambassador to Ireland and sergeant-at-arms of the House of Commons, took on the leadership 18 months ago with tremendous name recognition but without political campaign experience. 

"One of the big reasons that I decided to come home was that I received calls from our Acadian friends, asking me to see what I could do as an anglophone bilingual to help bring our province together," Vickers said.

"Obviously, that's not the way it turned out that I had planned, but perhaps there are other ways in the future that I can involve myself and try to ensure our beautiful province comes together as one."

3rd parties can't breakthrough

Green Leader David Coon was re-elected in Fredericton South, and the party maintained its three seats in the legislature. Kevin Arseneau held Kent North and Megan Mitton retained Memramcook-Tantramar.

However, the party couldn't muster the gains it sought during the campaign. Coon said the party was confident it could double the size of its caucus.

The Greens and the Alliance will be hard-pressed to assert the kind of influence they wielded in a minority-government situation, where they held the balance of power between them.

He said he's looking forward to continuing work with Higgs on the all-party cabinet committee that has been dealing with the pandemic response.

Green Party Leader David Coon won in his riding of Fredericton South. (Mike Heenan/CBC )

Alliance Leader Kris Austin was re-elected in Fredericton-Grand Lake, but the party has lost one of its three seats. Rick DeSaulniers was defeated by PC Ryan Cullins in Fredericton-York, a key victory for the Tories.

The NDP, led by MacKenzie Thomason, was chasing its first seat since 2003, but was shut out for the fifth consecutive election.

Monday marked the party's worst showing in in more than 50 years with its share of the vote falling to just 1.7 per cent from five per cent in 2018, which was viewed as a disastrous election at the time. 

The final results are PCs 27, Liberals 17, Green three and People's Alliance two.

Fourteen women have been elected — a record number for the province. 

Higgs triumphs

Touting the importance of stability in a tumultuous year, Higgs spent the abbreviated four-week campaign championing his government's successful handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in New Brunswick and the province's ongoing economic recovery.

Those are two factors that put him in a strong position when he called the election on Aug. 17, sending New Brunswickers to the polls amid the pandemic.

PC Leader Blaine Higgs made the snap election call on Aug. 17 and the gamble paid off. (Maria Burgos/CBC)

"Tonight we find ourselves with more certainty than ever before," Higgs said in his speech. 

"It's a certainty that comes from knowing New Brunswickers want us to seize the momentum, the momentum that we have right now and keep building. It's a certainty that comes from knowing New Brunswickers want us to keep aiming higher, to keep this province moving forward safely, with focus, with stability and with results."

It's the first general election in Canada since the emergence of COVID-19, and the snap election call itself has become one of the key points of contention in the four-week campaign that couldn't be defined by a single prevailing issue.

WATCH: Key moments from Higgs's campaign

Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs provides a glimpse into what he’ll do with a majority government. 10:09

However, it appears that hasn't hurt Higgs or the party.

The PCs are hovering around 40 per cent of the popular vote, a considerable bump compared to the 31 per cent share in 2018, and the party has gained seats in different regions of the province, including the three major centres: Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John. 

The party, however, lost the lone seat — Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou — it won two years ago in predominantly francophone northern New Brunswick, showing Higgs continues to have trouble reaching francophone voters.

The electoral map shows a stark divide on linguistic lines for the second election in a row, with almost the entire southern half, which is majority anglophone, coloured Tory blue.

PC Daniel Allain came through in a big way for his party Monday, flipping the Liberal-held riding of Moncton East. Allain, as it stands, will be the party's only francophone MLA. 

The Tories also booted the Liberals from Moncton South, Saint John Harbour, Fredericton North and Carleton-Victoria with convincing wins all around.

Only seven of the 49 seats changed hands Monday night, and the legislative assembly will have many familiar faces with 36 former MLAs re-elected.

Every PC minister was re-elected in another vote of confidence for the party. Thirteen of the 15 members of cabinet received more than 50 per cent of votes cast in their ridings. 

Well wishes from Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement Monday night congratulating Higgs. 

"I look forward to working closely with the provincial government as we recover from the global COVID-19 pandemic," Trudeau said. "Together, we will continue to safely restart the economy and lay the groundwork to keep New Brunswick communities strong and healthy." 

WATCH: Premier Higgs interview with CBC's Harry Forestell

Blaine Higgs and the Progressive Conservatives is expected to form a majority government in New Brunswick. Here are some highlights and party promises from his campaign. 3:49

Higgs dissolved the legislature on Aug. 17 following unsuccessful talks between political parties to uphold the PC government until the official end of the pandemic or the next fixed election date in October 2022.

Previous polling suggested the PCs were in a strong position given their generally successful management of the outbreak in New Brunswick and economic recovery — something the Tories mentioned often in the past four weeks. 

The opposition parties were quick to praise Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province's chief medical officer of health, and the importance of the all-party cabinet committee struck to oversee COVID-related decisions. 

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin pictured at his party's election night event at the Fredericton Inn in Fredericton. (Mike Heenan/CBC )

Third parties, like the Greens and People's Alliance, routinely used that point to extol the virtues of minority governments. Austin, who offered support for the PC government, and Coon have said the arrangement allows for greater government accountability, while arguing Higgs couldn't be trusted with a majority.

Vickers used that refrain at almost every opportunity on the campaign trail, warning voters of Higgs's "secret plan" to make deep cuts to public services, including health care in rural areas despite a PC pledge not to do so.

Vickers had hoped to flip enough seats to regain power and extend the run of one-term premiers.

The PCs won the most seats in the 2018 election with 22, three short of the 25 needed for a majority. The Liberals won 21, the Greens and Alliance took a historic three each. 

At dissolution, the PCs were down two seats after the death of Saint Croix MLA Greg Thompson and the departure of former deputy minister Robert Gauvin, who sat as an independent in Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou but is now running for the Liberals in Shediac Bay-Dieppe, a seat vacated by Gallant and unfilled prior to the campaign. 

The Liberals carried the popular vote in 2018 with a 37.8 per cent vote share — six points higher than the PCs. The Alliance received 12.5 per cent, the Greens earned 11.8 per cent and the NDP mustered five per cent. 

No party entered election day with a full roster of 49 candidates, after the PCs, Liberals and Alliance dismissed a candidate each last week over offensive social media posts targeting marginalized groups.

About the Author

Colin McPhail

@colinmcphail

Colin McPhail is a web writer with CBC New Brunswick. He is based in Saint John. You can reach him at colin.mcphail@cbc.ca.

With files from Gail Harding

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