New Brunswick

Here's what election night could mean for smaller parties

When it comes to elections in New Brunswick, it's pretty much always been a two-party race between Liberals and PCs. But that could change on Monday.

'It doesn't matter what you get in the popular vote. It matters if you get in the legislature'

The smaller parties could have a big impact on election night. From left, NDP Leader Jennifer McKenzie, Green Party Leader David Coon and People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin at a debate. (Marc Grandmaison/The Canadian Press)

When it comes to elections in New Brunswick, it's pretty much always been a two-party race between the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives.

But with the rise of smaller parties this campaign, there's some thought that the province is inching toward a multi-party system. Everything just has to fall into place on election night. 

For parties such as the People's Alliance and the NDP, it's all about getting a seat.

"It doesn't matter what you get in the popular vote. It matters if you get in the legislature," said J.P. Lewis, a political science professor at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John.

"One seat each would be a good night."

From two to multi-party? This is how smaller parties could impact the election night outcome. 1:34

Green Party leader David Coon is hoping to keep his seat in Fredericton South — and gain more. He broke through there during the 2014 election. 

Lewis said Coon's election win elevated the Green Party's profile across the province, something the two other parties are eager to do.

Yet he suggests smaller parties should focus on ridings where they have a shot at winning rather than campaigning everywhere.

He's noticed the People's Alliance are really focusing on Fredericton-Grand Lake, where leader Kris Austin is running. Austin lost that riding in 2014 by just 26 votes.

"In New Brunswick politics, these third parties surprise people because they aren't taken seriously," said Don Desserud, a political scientist at University of Prince Edward Island, who grew up in northern New Brunswick.

"A person that came within 26 votes of winning his seat should be taken seriously."

Fears and 'nonsense' over vote split

The Liberals and PCs have noticed.

Both parties are watching a handful of ridings very closely where smaller parties could split votes and cost them a traditional seat. 

After releasing his platform outside Fredericton on Thursday, Liberal Leader Brian Gallant touched on what a vote split could mean for his party. (Jonathan Collicott/CBC)

Liberal Leader Brian Gallant warned voters about it Thursday. 

"There's no doubt that people should ask themselves, however, if there is any sort of vote splitting are they contributing to the potential of Blaine Higgs and the Conservatives sneaking up the middle and forming government?" he said.

On the PC side, candidate Mary Wilson is campaigning with a chart, showing voters in her Oromocto-Lincoln-Fredericton riding how smaller parties split the vote last time — and warning them not to vote for the People's Alliance.

Oromocto-Lincoln-Fredericton Progressive Conservative candidate Mary Wilson shows a chart of the 2014 election that shows if there was no vote splitting, the PCs would have defeated the Liberals. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Austin brushed off the idea of a vote split, calling it "nonsense."

"This is a lot of desperation mixed with a little bit of arrogance," he said in a video posted on Facebook, encouraging people not to "drink the blue Kool-Aid."

'Smaller parties can tip the scales'

The potential for split is real, though, given how three or even four parties are competitive in some ridings.

In a close election, if these smaller parties cause splits — but don't win any seats — it could mean a very long night trying to figure out who will form government.

But if these smaller parties start winning seats, they could suddenly have a large influence in a legislature with a slim majority or even a minority government. Just look at how the Greens hold the balance of power in the B.C. legislature.

Party performance in 2014

  • 22.5 per cent of people voted for parties other than the Liberals or the PCs
  • Those votes only amounted to one other party winning one seat — Green Party Leader David Coon
  • People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin lost by just 26 votes
  • Vote break down was 27 Liberals, 21 PCs and one Green
  • At dissolution, break down was 24 Liberals, 21 PCs, one Green, one independent and two vacant seats

"Smaller parties can tip the scales in unexpected ways," said Erin Crandall, an Acadia University political science professor, who also grew up in New Brunswick.

She's not certain what will happen but knows there is potential for small parties to make their break.

"It's a matter of timing. The time has to be right for your party."


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