New Brunswick

PC party calls on People's Alliance leader to explain candidates' social media posts

Progressive Conservative leader Blaine Higgs says the leader of the People’s Alliance party needs to explain comments made by some Alliance candidates on social media.

Kris Austin has distanced himself from some of the posts and comments

PC party leader Blaine Higgs said Kris Austin, People’s Alliance party leader needs to explain comments made by some Alliance candidates on social media. (Nathalie Sturgeon/CBC)

The Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick's leader, Blaine Higgs, says the leader of the People's Alliance party needs to explain comments made by some Alliance candidates on social media.

Higgs says he'd like to hear from Kris Austin on posts dealing with issues such as bilingualism and gay pride—posts that have attracted criticism online in the weeks leading up to the provincial election campaign.

"If candidates are running that have made statements that are, let's say, of concern to people, there'd be an obligation for him to explain it, and an obligation from the candidates themselves to explain it," Higgs said in an interview.

"If something surfaces and this is a current candidate we're talking about, I don't think you can ignore that. I don't think you can walk away from that. I think you have to address it. Has the attitude changed? Has the opinion changed?"

While he's distancing himself from some of the comments, Austin says he can't be expected to check every past statement his candidates have made on social media.

"It would be impossible to go through every Facebook account back two or three years to find out what everybody said at that point," he said.

The spat between the two leaders comes weeks before an election campaign in which a strong Alliance vote could jeopardize the PC party's chances of defeating the Liberal government of Premier Brian Gallant.

In the last election, the combination of the PC and Alliance vote would have been enough to prevent Liberal victories in three ridings and give the Tories a narrow majority government.

Tweets demand answers

Kelly Lamrock, who is advising the PC party, posted a series of tweets last month demanding Austin explain whether comments by Alliance candidates represent party policy.

"Kris says 'oh no, I don't mean that,' but he never quite tells you what he thinks of his candidates, and it struck me as unfair," Lamrock said. "It bothered me."

People's Alliance candidate Paul Seelye in Saint John Lancaster, said on Facebook last year that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “stands in gay parades while the Bible is pushed aside.” He also reposted criticisms of official bilingualism. (CBC)
Lamrock said some of the posts came to his attention via an anonymous Twitter account, "PANB Watch," which posts screen images of the Facebook posts.

One candidate, Paul Seelye in Saint John Lancaster, said on Facebook last year that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "stands in gay parades while the Bible is pushed aside." He also reposted criticisms of official bilingualism.

Another Alliance candidate, Terry Collette in Miramichi Bay-Neguac, has posted conspiracy theories about 9/11, Atlantis, and a supposed cover-up of life on Mars. He has also shared material claiming that Israel controls the terrorist group ISIS.

People's Alliance candidate, Terry Collette in Miramichi Bay-Neguac, has posted conspiracy theories about 9/11, Atlantis, and a supposed cover-up of life on Mars. (CBC)
​Collette could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but Seelye told CBC News he has "nothing against gays. Their lifestyle is their lifestyle." He said he objects to gay pride participants being "so scantily clad. What does that have to do with being gay?"

A member of the Alliance board, Claire Dykeman, asked on Facebook last year whether the Liberals were"hoping to get rid of more English" when they decided to cover Mifegymiso, the so-called "abortion pill," under Medicare.

Austin called that statement "completely unacceptable. It doesn't reflect the party's policies or issues. To me it's just a ridiculous statement."

Austin not sure how to respond

But on the comments by candidates, Austin said Lamrock and other critics are "fishing for something. Do we go to every candidate last year, two years ago, to see what everybody posted at that time? I'm not sure what to respond to that."

On Seelye's comments, Austin said some Alliance candidates were planning to take part in gay pride events this summer.

He also repeated his long-standing position that the Alliance would not repeal the Official Languages Act but might "amend" it.

Austin said Higgs himself, who was involved with the Confederation of Regions party more than 30 years ago, probably made "crazy statements" at the time.

The scrutiny for the Alliance comes as Austin pushes for a breakthrough in this year's election. He came within 26 votes of winning the riding of Fredericton-Grand Lake, losing to PC Pam Lynch.

Austin has been pushing the message that electing one or more Alliance MLAs could give the party the balance of power if no one wins a majority on Sept. 24.

Lamrock says that puts even more onus on Austin to be clear about whether candidates are speaking for the party or themselves.

Tories worried, claims Austin

Austin said the pressure is a sign that the Tories are worried they're losing support to the Alliance.

"There's an obvious connection there," he said. "We're gaining steam, we're gaining momentum. Two or three years ago, the PCs and the Liberals didn't have any concern with us, and now all of a sudden we're enemy number one."

Kelly Lamrock, a PC Party adviser, has been posting tweets demanding Austin explain whether comments by Alliance candidates represent party policy. (CBC)
​Lamrock said he doesn't know who's running the anonymous "PANB Watch" Twitter account that is digging up old Facebook posts by Alliance candidates, but he said it's "probably a PC supporter somewhere."

Austin said the party's positions on key issues will be laid out in detail in its election platform.

"The platform we put out will be balanced," Austin added. "It'll be a common-sense balanced way to govern. Some people have more extreme views than us but it's not what we're saying as a party."

About the Author

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.