N.B.’s Gallant meets with lieutenant governor as Tories, Liberals vie for power
Monday night's election left his Liberals in second place with 21 seats to the Tories' 22 seats, and two smaller parties winning three seats each
FREDERICTON—Brian Gallant says he plans to continue on as New Brunswick’s premier for the time being, promising to call the legislature “before Christmas” to ensure he has its confidence.
Gallant spoke to reporters Tuesday after meeting with Lt.-Gov. Jocelyne Roy-Vienneau to discuss Monday night’s election, which left his Liberals in second place with 21 seats to the Tories’ 22 seats, and two smaller parties winning three seats each.
Tory Leader Blaine Higgs held private meetings Tuesday morning after declaring his party had won the election, but Gallant told reporters he will call the legislature back “sooner than later” to test his bid to continue as premier.
“I made this clear to the lieutenant-governor _ if I face the legislature and I do not maintain the confidence of the house there will be a new government governing this province … whether there’s some type of other arrangement or whether it would mean that we would have to go into another general election,” he said.
Gallant likened the situation to Stephen Harper’s former federal government _ the Conservatives managed to govern several years in a minority government without a formal coalition.
Gallant made it clear, though, he might seek some kind of arrangement with another party.
“I would make sure that it (a return to the legislature) would be before Christmas, making sure to demonstrate if there’s still confidence or not,” he said.
“If there’s a formal agreement between us and somebody else, and that demonstrates that we would be in a position to maintain the confidence of the house, we would still have to call the house at one point to ensure that confidence would be practically possible and we would be able to govern.”
Higgs had scheduled a late-morning media availability in his Quispamsis riding, but abruptly delayed the appearance.
Spokeswoman Nicolle Carlin said Higgs had a busy morning and was in “some high level meetings.” Carlin didn’t elaborate, but said Higgs would be available at “some point today.”
Robin Mockler a spokeswoman for the People’s Alliance, said Tuesday morning there had been no talks to date between Higgs and Alliance Leader Kris Austin, and none had been scheduled as of 10:30 a.m.
Gallant said he “humbly” accepts that the results suggest New Brunswickers want change, but said they are asking the parties to figure out how to govern together.
Gallant said the only other leader he had spoken with since results came in was Green Leader David Coon, and noted he and other parties said they’re willing to work with other parties.
“I want to be perfectly clear with New Brunswickers this is uncharted territory for a generation. But I want people to take solace in the fact that things like this have happened in other jurisdictions. The way that our Westminster system works is we continue to be the government until we lose the confidence of the legislature.”
Observers say backroom deals brokered over the coming hours and days could determine whether a tenable coalition is formed with one of the smaller parties _ or whether New Brunswickers are soon back at the polls.
Donald Wright, a political science professor at the University of New Brunswick, says the lieutenant-governor will likely first invite the incumbent, Gallant, to find the confidence of the house.
He says the Liberal leader is likely to approach the Green Party, as they are more “ideologically compatible.”
Wright says if Gallant cannot find the confidence of the house, Higgs will be given a chance _ presumably through a deal with the right-of-centre People’s Alliance.
On Monday night, Higgs claimed his party had won a mandate.
“As in any race, the one who has the most numbers wins,” he said as supporters roared their approval from a former warehouse in Quispamsis. “I’ve been speaking with some constitutional experts _ so we’re good.”
Wright said if neither main party can gain confidence of the house, the legislature will be dissolved and another election will be held.
Political scientist Mario Levesque said one issue with such a close election is that the party or coalition in power will have to elect a Speaker.
“The challenge here is even if they do form a pact _ the Alliance goes with the Conservatives or the Greens with the Liberals _ there is not enough there to elect the Speaker,” said Levesque, a professor at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B.
“If the Alliance goes with the Conservatives, that’s 25, so a majority,” he said. “But then you have to take one away for the Speaker, and that gives them 24 which means they’re still vulnerable to a tie vote in the legislature.”
Erin Crandall, a professor in the politics department at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., called the emergence of two third parties “the big story for this election.”
“This is uncharted territory for New Brunswick, which is historically a two-party system,” said Crandall, who is originally from Moncton. “It’s always been a question of who’s going to be in a majority government: The PCs or Liberals.”
She said a minority government will change the dynamics of governing in New Brunswick, making third parties the “major influencer” in the legislature.
Crandall said Canadian political parties usually agree to co-operate for a certain period time, without formal coalitions as in other countries.
“In Canada, you usually have one party governing and they rely on the goodwill of these smaller parties,” she explained. “Nobody wants an election right away so probably they’ll make things work.”