New Brunswick·Election Notebook

Elections NB sees jump in mail-in ballots over fears of COVID-19

New Brunswick is just over two weeks away from deciding who will be its next leader and Elections New Brunswick has already seen a bump in mail-in ballots because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Party leaders back on the campaign trail on Monday. Find out where they are

New Brunswick moves into the third week of a four-week contest to determine who will govern the province. (CBC News)

Latest

  • People's Alliance talks affordable housing
  • Liberals say they can grow the population
  • PCs see greater tourism prospects in northern New Brunswick
  • Greens focus on Indigenous languages, justice
  • Where the leaders are today

New Brunswick is just two weeks away from deciding who will form the next government, and Elections New Brunswick has already seen a bump in mail-in ballots over concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"I can tell you that we are seeing a noticeable number of people applying to vote by mail," said Paul Harpelle, spokesperson for Elections NB.

Harpelle also said Elections NB knew an election could be called and it ordered additional kits for mail-in ballots in advance.

The number of people voting by mail won't be known until after the Sept.14 election.

Voters uncomfortable about physically heading to the polls have been encouraged to apply for a mail-in ballot.

People can apply for one by calling the returning office in their area or by visiting the Elections New Brunswick website. This year, Elections NB will also pay for return postage for those mail-in ballots because of the pandemic. 

Elections NB will also be sending out voter information cards on Monday.

Meanwhile, party leaders are back on the campaign trail on Monday after taking a break on Sunday. Here's what the political party leaders talked about on the weekend:

People's Alliance talks affordable housing 

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin is promising more affordable housing in New Brunswick.

Austin was in St. Stephen, where he said the town on the border with Maine has few available rental units, and those now vacant are out of reach for people who need a place to live.

"Despite the fact that COVID has placed the province in financial crisis, we cannot forget that people have to be able to afford their rents and right now many can't," Austin said.

People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin said his party would push for affordable housing. (CBC)

Both PC Leader Blaine Higgs and Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers have also promised more affordable housing.

Austin said his party has fought for the elimination of double taxation on non-owner-occupied properties. The system levies provincial tax on top of municipal tax for rental properties. Austin said he pressed for the 50 per cent, four-year cut that is now coming in the non-owner-occupied residential tax in 2021.

He said rental property owners and business officials agreed the new tax cuts would help invigorate the economy and spur housing construction. 

Liberals say they can grow population

Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers campaigned in Miramichi on Saturday, where he hopes to win a seat in the legislature for the first time.

Pointing to New Brunswick's aging population and the young people who  leave to work elsewhere, Vickers promised to grow the population. His strategy that would "aggressively promote New Brunswick as a safe and affordable place to work and live," he said.

"A Liberal government would work with Ottawa to gain further autonomy over our immigration numbers and increase our population by 10,000 a year for a total of 100,000 more New Brunswickers by 2030."

Vickers plans to reach New Brunswickers who have left the province, as well as immigration looking to come to Canada, by using a job-market based approach. He said his government would work with industry to help establish what is attractive in the various sectors and develop a strategy to promote the province "as a land of opportunity." 

Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers says he would have a strategy for keeping young people in the province. (Maria Burgos/CBC)

He used the example of farmland, which is more competitively priced to farmers from other regions, a selling point for people in the agriculture sector, he said. 

A Liberal government would renew the Atlantic immigration pilot program to attract more skilled foreign workers and international graduates.The program was launched three years ago to help fill gaps in local labour markets.

Employers apply to find workers for positions they cannot otherwise fill and those who immigrate through the program are granted permanent residency within six months.

As Canada's only bilingual province, Vickers said it's also important to encourage more francophones from around the world to come to the province.

"This a large pool of potential candidates who would be willing to move to New Brunswick, where language is not a barrier," he said. 

PCs see greater tourism prospects in northern New Brunswick

Over the weekend, Premier Blaine Higgs boasted about the province's tourism rebate program, which is being extended until 2021.

Higgs said Véloroute, a cycling trail that connects the entire Acadian Peninsula using the NB Trails system, saw unprecedented growth in visitors from the southern part of the province. Meanwhile, Mount Carleton, also in northern New Brunswick, saw a 45 per cent increase in campground bookings. 

PC Leader Blaine Higgs promises to continue is support to Véloroute, a cycling trail on the Acadian Peninsula. (Maria Buros/CBC)

"Our extended tourism rebate will ensure fall and winter tourism operators in the region are given similar support," said Higgs, who stopped in Tracadie.

Higgs said a re-elected PC government would continue supporting Véloroute over the next three years.

In 2018, the Higgs government invested $2.8 million in the project. He said his government would put the remaining $600,000 into scenic vistas, directional signage and gates.

Greens focus on Indigenous languages, justice

Green Party Leader said he would support the training of Indigenous language teachers and Indigenous student
immersion programs for the Wabanaki languages.

"Language is vital to the fabric of who people are," Coon in Miramichi. He said there are fewer than 100 fluent Wolastoqey speakers and only about 2000 Mi'kmaq speakers left in New Brunswick. 

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"Language is vital to the fabric of who people are."

The language promise is one of several Coon is making directed at helping New Brunswick Indigenous communities. He has also promised to to immediately convene an inquiry into systemic racism in the New Brunswick justice system, which chiefs and others have been pushing for.

Coon is one of three party leaders to call for the inquiry.

Green Party Leader David Coon wants to help bring about a revival in Indigenous languages in New Brunswick. (Maria Burgos/CBC)

Allegations of systemic racism have grown louder since the fatal police shootings of two members of the Indigenous community this summer.

Chantel Moore, 26, from Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation in British Columbia, was killed by Edmundston police during a wellness check on July 4. Eight days later, 48-year-old Rodney Levi or  Metepenagiag First Nation near Miramichi was killed by RCMP.

Chantel Moore, 26, and Rodney Levi, 48, were shot and killed by police in New Brunswick eight days apart. (CBC)

Coon said the inquiry would be followed by an initiative that ensured First Nations would be partners in the management of Crown forests, given they had never surrendered the land.

"It is time that we turn public acknowledgements that the indigenous people of New Brunswick never ceded their lands into genuine actions that reflect this reality," he said.

Where the leaders are today

Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers to make announcement at Rogersville Municipal Building at 10 a.m.

PC Leader Blaine Higgs to be at Saint John harbourfront for an announcement at 11 a.m. 

Green Party Leader David Coon will be in Kedgwick to talk about glyphosate at 1 p.m.

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin will be in Fredericton to do interviews.

NDP Leader Mackenzie Thomason, campaigning, no details. 

Standings at dissolution: PCs 20, Liberals 20, Greens, 3, People's Alliance 3, Independent 1, vacancies 2 

For complete coverage | Links to all New Brunswick votes 2020 stories

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Fraser

Reporter/Editor

Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip? elizabeth.fraser@cbc.ca

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