New Brunswick

Former CoR MLA warns vote-splitting won't win election

Max White has seen this movie before — and he says it doesn’t have a happy ending for conservative-leaning rural voters fed up with the Liberals.

'I've been through the mill. I know it doesn't work'

Mary Wilson, the Oromocto-Lincoln-Fredericton Progressive Conservative candidate, says a chart of the 2014 election shows if there'd been no vote-splitting, the PCs would have defeated the Liberals. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Max White has seen this movie before — and he says it doesn't have a happy ending for conservative-leaning rural voters fed up with the Liberals.

White, one of eight MLAs elected with the Confederation of Regions, or CoR party, in 1991, is campaigning hard for the Progressive Conservatives, warning voters that supporting the People's Alliance will mean splitting the vote and electing Liberals.

"We have to change from within … [with] a party that can win an election," he said. "That was what I learned in my four years there. So that's why I came back to the Conservative Party."

White is campaigning for Oromocto-Lincoln-Fredericton Progressive Conservative candidate Mary Wilson, one of many PC candidates warning voters not to cast ballots for the Alliance.

Twenty-seven years ago, he ran for CoR on a platform similar to the Alliance's — tackling bilingualism, shaking up the two-party system and giving angry voters a real voice.

"It didn't work," White said. "And I tell the people today, 'I've been through the mill. I know it doesn't work. I know we've got to work from within.'"

He said people motivated by a particular issue stand a better chance voting for a party that can win an election, then working inside that organization to nudge policy in the direction they want.

Polling trends have shown growing support for the Alliance, a party created in 2010, and the PCs have been warning more openly of vote splits.

Earlier this week, PC leader Blaine Higgs made a series of promises on car registrations and taxes that were similar to Alliance promises — but said only his party is in a position to implement them.

"Why would we take a chance on splitting the vote and having another four years of Brian Gallant?" he said. "Because that is the real risk for New Brunswick."

Candidate using chart to show splits

To try to head off an Alliance split, Wilson is going door-to-door armed with a chart showing the 2014 election results in four ridings where the combined Alliance-PC vote would have defeated the Liberals. Winning those four seats would have meant a PC government.

"I can show people this chart, in black and white," she said. "The numbers don't lie."

She's also bringing White on some of her door-knocking blitzes, so that he can tell voters from experience what happens when the vote splits.

CoR won eight seats in 1991, and 21 per cent of the vote, on an anti-establishment message. But in many traditionally PC ridings, it split the vote and helped Liberals win.

Austin rejects CoR comparison

Alliance leader Kris Austin is pushing back at the vote-split scare.

"What a bunch of nonsense," Austin said in a Facebook video posted Wednesday night. "This is a lot of desperation mixed with a little bit of arrogance."

Austin disputes the idea that the Alliance would take most of its support from the PCs. He pointed out one recent poll showed his party's support growing by about the same amount that the Liberals' was dropping.

Max White, one of eight Confederation of Regions MLAs elected in 1991, said vote- splitting doesn't work. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

The PC message "is based on people believing that someone who has traditionally voted Conservative or Liberal is going to vote a certain way somewhere else," he said.

But Wilson said her chart, and White's testimonial, is helping her.

"There were some people who were looking to go this route," she said. "But once we showed them the numbers and they understood, we won them back."

Wilson's Alliance opponent, Craig Rector, is the son of another former CoR MLA, the late Ab Rector. Craig Rector refused an interview request from CBC News.

Gallant talks about splits too

The PCs aren't the only party fretting about vote-splitting next Monday. Pressed by reporters Thursday about minority-government scenarios, Liberal Leader Brian Gallant appealed to Green and NDP supporters on Thursday to vote for his party.

"People should ask themselves if there is any sort of vote-splitting, are they contributing to any potential of Blaine Higgs and the Conservatives sneaking up the middle and forming government?" he said.

"Progressives in the province should ask themselves if that's what they want for the next four years."

The Liberal leader made the comment after Higgs opened the door to co-operating with the Alliance if the PCs win a minority.

Gallant said if his party forms only a minority government, it would only co-operate with parties "that share our values," saying that ruled out the PCs and the Alliance.

"We'd be ready to listen to the other parties and work with them in a majority or minority government situation," he said.

CoR, Alliance 'unrealistic'

CoR collapsed after two years of bitter infighting over the party leadership and the loss of all its seats in the 1995 election.

Many members who had been PC supporters before 1991 returned to the party, including White.

He now says CoR was unrealistic about its galvanizing issue — bilingualism — and the Alliance is repeating the same mistake.

"I think it's going to come back to haunt them a little bit," he said. "We cannot change a bilingual province. It's not going to happen because it's in the Constitution. They can have the idea that 'maybe if we get in, we can change it.' No. You can't change it."

Alliance can't win, White says

Kris Austin, People's Alliance Party leader and candidate for the Fredericton-Grand Lake riding said the vote-split scare is a bunch of nonsense. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

White said Alliance supporters who want to change bilingual hiring practices for government jobs would accomplish more if they supported a party like the PCs that has a chance of taking power. Even Higgs, a former CoR supporter, realized that, he said.

"If you were going to completely change the structure in this province and have 25 or 28 Alliance people, then you could make changes," he said.

"But that's not going to happen. You may end up with two or three, but they're going to be a splinter group and they're not going to be able to do it."

Austin maintains that there could be a minority government and in that scenario, two or three Alliance MLAs could demand changes in return for supporting the party in power.

He also insists the changes he wants to make, such as eliminating the official languages commissioner position and dual bus systems for English and French schools, don't require changes to the Constitution.

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