People's Alliance wins 3 seats in 'significant breakthrough'

The upstart People's Alliance has won three seats, capitalizing on rural frustration and a desire for change.

Leader Kris Austin taps into rural frustration, populism to win 3 seats at the table

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin formed the party in 2010, aiming to capture the attention of voters disenchanted with the traditional parties. (Jonathan Collicott/CBC News)

Fuelled by populism and a desire for change, the People's Alliance has won three seats in the legislature.

The People's Alliance and Green Party are poised to wield a significant amount of power and influence in what CBC News is projecting to be the first minority government in almost 100 years.

"We're going to make New Brunswick better than it's ever been," People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin told the crowd at his headquarters on Fredericton's north side on Monday night.

Austin won his riding of Fredericton-Grand Lake by a large margin, defeating incumbent Progressive Conservative Pam Lynch on his third bid for a seat. Austin lost the riding by only 26 votes in 2014.

The party also won seats in Miramichi, with Michelle Conroy toppling Liberal cabinet minister Bill Fraser, and in Fredericton-York, where Rick Desaulniers defeated PC incumbent Kirk MacDonald.

The party came second in seven other ridings, including a nail-biter in Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin. Art O'Donnell lost to incumbent Progressive Conservative Jake Stewart by only 35 votes. 

As PCs claim victory, Liberals try to hold onto power. 1:40

It's a stunning rise for a party that captured only 2.1 per cent of the vote in 2014.

Austin has pledged to work with any party that wants to work with him, but said the party won't sacrifice its "values and ideals" that gave them a "significant breakthrough" in this election.

"We're willing to compromise in certain areas to make government work," he told CBC News.

When asked if he would compromise on the party's stance on language policy, Austin said it depends on what part of language policy is up for debate.

"Are we talking paramedics? Probably not."

Austin has described his party's approach to language as "common sense" and said he would eliminate the province's official languages commissioner.

People’s Alliance Party Leader Kris Austin wins his riding of Fredericton-Grand Lake. 4:15

But Austin has maintained that his party is not anti-French.

"What we don't support is the current way it's being implemented," he said.

"We want a balanced approach."

Party formed in 2010

The People's Alliance was co-founded by Austin and Sterling Wright in 2010 after the former Liberal government's failed plan to sell parts of NB Power to Hydro-Québec.​

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin poses for photo before voting Monday. Austin is projected to make history Monday by capturing one of the party's first ever seats. (CBC)

Driven by what Austin described at the time as voter frustration, the party branded itself as an alternative for people who are tired of electing traditional parties.

Austin filled out the paperwork to form the party just a few months before the 2010 election.

"Things are coming to a climax that the people of the province are fed up with the political system, they are fed up with the current government and they don't see any option in any of the other parties," Austin told CBC News in 2010.

In 2014, the party fielded 18 candidates, but only Austin — a former deputy mayor of Minto — came anywhere close to capturing a seat. Most finished in last place.

This time around, the party nominated 30 candidates, still 19 short of a full slate.

But the party's rise hasn't come without controversy.

Beyond the language issue, Austin has also been pressed to explain some of his candidates' social media posts, including posts about 9/11 conspiracy theories and criticism of gay pride parades.

Harnessing rural voter frustration

The party's campaign focused on harnessing frustration in rural ridings, capturing voters who feel left out and disenchanted.

Austin delivered the party platform in Riverview to about a dozen supporters earlier this month. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

That is exactly the message Conroy said she heard from voters at the door in her riding of Miramichi.

"People want change," she said. "They've spoken."

The party promised to end "corporate handouts" and remove "burdensome taxes," including the small business tax.

It also pledged to ban glyphosate spraying on Crown lands and to cut the "size and percentage" of clear-cutting in forests.

With Austin and Green Party Leader David Coon both winning seats, New Brunswick will have representatives from four parties in the legislature.

That hasn't happened since 1991, when both the NDP and the now-defunct Confederation of Regions held seats.

"We're making history," party co-founder Wright said Monday night.

Voters bought into the party's promise of "common sense," he said.

"People realized the province needs change."

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About the Author

Karissa Donkin

Karissa Donkin is a journalist in CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Do you have a story you want us to investigate? Send your tips to NBInvestigates@CBC.ca.

With files from Karin Reid-LeBlanc