Progressive Conservatives under Blaine Higgs win New Brunswick election

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FREDERICTON – Voters in New Brunswick elected a Progressive Conservative government on Monday, closing a very unusual election race – the first in Canada since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Within an hour of the polls closed, the Tories under Premier Blaine Higgs were leading in 25 ridings, the Liberals leading in 18, the Green Party in four and the People’s Alliance in two ridings.

This is the first time that a New Brunswick government has won two consecutive terms since Bernard Lord led the Conservatives to victory in 2003.

Higgs called a snap election four weeks ago, saying his 21-month-old minority government lacked stability at a difficult time for the province.

His opposition rivals accused him of political expediency, but Higgs bet the electorate wouldn’t see it that way, given he had won praise for his leadership on COVID-19. rapidly changing.

In the final week of the campaign, Higgs said he wanted a new term – preferably a majority – to continue focusing on health care and keeping people safe. He said any other option would put the province at risk.

The 66-year-old former Irving Oil executive presented himself as a lackluster but reliable man in a crisis.

“Maybe I’m boring, but I’m not surprised,” he said last month. “I am consistent. You can trust me. ”

At the dissolution, there were 20 Conservatives, 20 Liberals, three Greens, three Popular Alliance members, one independent and two vacant positions. At least 25 seats are needed for a majority in the 49-seat house.

Few candidates went door-to-door during the 28-day campaign, and those who did were careful to wear a mask and take a step back when addressing voters. There were no handshakes, no baby hugs, no large gatherings.

Campaign materials were mailed out and party leaders took part in outdoor events which were broadcast live, with masked candidates standing well in the background to comply with physical distancing rules . And at some stops throughout the campaign, Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Blaine Higgs wore a full face shield.

Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers accused Higgs of listening to political advisers rather than New Brunswickers, arguing that the election was neither wanted nor necessary.

“Blaine Higgs has chosen to send New Brunswickers to the polls in the midst of a pandemic,” said the 63-year-old former RCMP officer on the first day of the campaign. “The Premier of New Brunswick chose political expediency over the health and safety of our citizens. ”

Acclaimed Liberal leader in 2019, Vickers also served as a Sergeant-at-Arms in the House of Commons, where in 2014 he was credited with killing a lone gunman who fired a rifle inside the Center Block.

When the election campaign began on August 17, Green Party leader David Coon also accused Higgs of political expediency.

“It is very alarming that the Prime Minister called an election during the pandemic when people are so concerned about their health, the health of their children, the health of their elders and their parents, when so many others concerns occur, ”he said at the start of the campaign.

During recent election campaigns in New Brunswick, voters have faced issues of polarization, such as hydraulic fracturing, skyrocketing auto insurance rates or the privatization of the province’s utility, NB Power.

But that election was only about the province’s response to COVID-19.

New Brunswick has one of the lowest infection rates in Canada – beaten only by Prince Edward Island and the territories. This fact became the main topic of Higgs discussion during the election race. He also cited forecasts suggesting the province led the country in terms of economic recovery.

Higgs also pointed to the fact that New Brunswick had experienced a weaker economic contraction than the rest of Canada due to COVID-19, mainly because the province had quickly contained the virus. As a result, it was one of the first provinces to reopen its economy.

Retailers reopened on May 8 and sales volumes fully recovered by June, according to the Independent Economic Council of Atlantic Province. Although the province lost 50,000 jobs between February and April, there has been a big turnaround since then, with the province having recouped about three-quarters of those lost jobs.

The Conservatives made it clear during the campaign that all of this good news was the result of Higgs leadership.

In contrast, Vickers took a darker view, saying the Tories claimed everything was back to normal, while “businesses are still feeling the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Small party leaders warned voters against electing a majority government, saying the minority arrangement had worked well with a multi-party ministerial committee dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.

“We cannot go back to the old days of a party with all power,” said Kris Austin, leader of the right-wing People’s Alliance party.

Mackenzie Thomason, 23-year-old interim leader of the New Democratic Party, said the small parties were there to “keep the big parties on fire.” The NDP failed to win a seat in the 2018 election, which marked the first time New Brunswickers have elected a minority government since 1920.

– By Kevin Bissett in Quispamsis, NB, and Michael MacDonald in Halifax

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on September 14, 2020.

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