New Brunswick·Analysis

The 8 battleground ridings that could decide who wins the New Brunswick election

Stephen Horsman’s driving his mobile campaign office, and Jill Green has launched her digital door-knocking in earnest. 

Surprises are always possible, but history and campaign insiders suggest these ridings are key

Liberal Stephen Horsman, the victor last time, is again running against Progressive Conservative Jill Green in Fredericton North. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Stephen Horsman's driving his mobile campaign office, and Jill Green has launched her digital door-knocking in earnest. 

The two candidates in the riding of Fredericton North are squaring off again, two years after Horsman squeaked out a 261-vote win over Green.

Their rematch is a must-win battle for their respective parties: for PC Leader Blaine Higgs to get the majority he says he needs to manage COVID-19 and plan for a post-pandemic economy, he must win ridings like this one. 

"When we needed to get more stability, some of the other parties walked away, so I understand why we're where we are," Green says.

And for the Liberals, any hope of upsetting the PCs and winning the election involves Horsman hanging on.

"He's already shown his colours," Horsman says of Higgs. "If he has a majority, he's going to cut hospitals. He's going to cut, cut, cut," he says, a reference to a cancelled hospital reform plan that Higgs now promises he will not bring back.

Those are the arguments playing out in a number of key ridings around the province, most of them in the three largest cities. 

The New Brunswick election takes place on Sept.14. (Maria Burgos/CBC)

"The pathway to a majority for the Tories doesn't seem to be a sweep that existed with the Alward majority or the Lord majority," said political scientist J.P. Lewis. "It's a very narrow path.

"I still see it as an election that, at least if the majority is the question, will be decided by a small handful of ridings."

Ridings to watch 

This list of the ridings to watch is based on results last time, historical trends and talk among campaign insiders.

It's by no means definitive: there are always a couple of surprises, and each of the parties have their wish list of potential out-of-left-field victories. 

But with each of the two main parties with apparent solid support in many of their respective strongholds, these eight ridings are seen as key to the outcome on Sept. 14:

Moncton South. Touted at a close race last time, Liberal Cathy Rogers won it comfortably over PC Moira Murphy. But Rogers is retiring and the PC candidate this time is Greg Turner, a high-profile city councillor.

Moncton East. The Liberals took this seat easily last time, but the PCs are running well-known Dieppe councillor and party insider Daniel Allain this time. This is the party's best shot of electing a francophone MLA, and Allain is telling voters that a PC majority would end the government's dependence on the Alliance to stay in power.

Saint John Harbour. This was a nail-biter in 2018 that saw Liberal Gerry Lowe score the party's only win in Saint John by just 10 votes over the Tories. Losing this toehold in city would be a major setback for the party's chances and would get the PCs closer to a majority.

Memramcook-Tantramar. Green candidate Megan Mitton squeaked into office by 11 votes over the Liberals. This is another constituency the Liberals have to win if they have any chance of ousting the PCs.

Miramichi. This was a surprise win for Michelle Conroy of the People's Alliance in 2018, and it's where Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers is running. If Conroy holds the seat, it not only deprives the Liberals of a needed seat but locks their leader out of the legislature. If Conroy loses, it makes it harder for the Alliance to hold the balance of power if no party wins a majority.

Fredericton York. This was the other Alliance breakthrough two years ago, a seat they gained from the PCs, and it's another one the party needs to win back if they're to get a majority. The Greens were also a factor here, taking enough votes from the Liberals to prevent them from taking advantage of the PC-Alliance split.

Fredericton North. On top of the close race between Horsman and Green, this riding saw strong showings by the Alliance and the Greens. 

Carleton-Victoria. Andrew Harvey was re-elected here in 2018 by just 244 votes, benefitng from the Alliance taking votes from the PCs. If the Alliance vote falters this time it could deprive the Liberals of one of their few MLAs in anglophone New Brunswick. 

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Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. He grew up in Moncton and covered Parliament in Ottawa for the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. He has reported on every New Brunswick election since 1995 and won awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association, the National Newspaper Awards and Amnesty International. He is also the author of five non-fiction books about New Brunswick politics and history.