New Brunswick

Premier baffled by election speculation, says it's not his fault

Premier Brian Gallant called on the lieutenant-governor Monday morning but did not ask her to dissolve the legislation for an election 11 months early.

'I didn't write the media advisory,' Brian Gallant says of his office's notice of visit to lieutenant-governor

Premier Brian Gallant says he's not responsible for weekend election speculation. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

It was the early election call that wasn't.

Premier Brian Gallant called on the lieutenant-governor Monday morning but did not ask her to dissolve the legislature for an election 11 months early.

And Gallant promptly denied any responsibility for a weekend of fevered speculation that he might go to the polls ahead of schedule.

"I didn't write the media advisory so you can certainly take it up with whoever did," he told reporters.

The premier was referring to an advisory issued by his office late Friday that he would meet with Lt.-Gov. Jocelyne Roy-Vienneau and then speak to reporters outside Government House.

That's the normal ritual when a premier plans to call an election.

Not ruled out when asked

And while the premier's office did not say a call was coming, his office refused to explicitly rule it out.

A statement issued later on Friday said Gallant would discuss "the upcoming speech from the throne" with the lieutenant-governor. It's scheduled for Tuesday, so that phrasing implied no election.

But the statement also recapped the 2014 Liberal campaign platform and said the government has "accomplished that mandate."

On Monday, Gallant distanced himself from his own office's statement that the government has "accomplished" its mandate.

"I think it's very clear we're on track to be able to fulfil our promises in the platform and we're going to continue to do that in the next few weeks and months in the legislature," he said.

The Progressive Conservatives took the unusual step of issuing a news release early Monday arguing Gallant would be violating New Brunswick's fixed-date election law if he asked for an early dissolution.

The law sets the date of the next election as Sept. 24, 2018, though the law explicitly says it doesn't limit the lieutenant-governor's powers, and experts on Crown and parliamentary conventions say that means the premier can ask for an election at any time.

Following tradition

Gallant said there's a tradition of meeting the lieutenant-governor ahead of a speech from the throne.

The premier said he was baffled by all the election speculation.

"I was curious as well, by the way," he said. "I'm not the one who writes the media advisories, so I wondered how all of this happened, and I asked how it happened."

The three party leaders in the legislature had a pre-session dinner scheduled with Roy-Vienneau for Monday night, he said, but when Opposition Leader Blaine Higgs had to bow out, Gallant's office set up an 11 a.m. coffee and tea instead.

Then, he said, he told his staff he wanted to speak to reporters on Monday ahead of the session, so that was added to his schedule for right after the meeting.

Ted Flemming, a Progressive Conservative MLA, wasn't buying it. He called the Liberal advisory "shenanigans" and said Gallant needed to focus on governing, not "wasting time on political tactics."