So that was fun, wasn't it? I don't know how many people stayed up last night to watch the New Brunswick election results come in, then wait around two hours for them to actually update after a huge flub from Elections NB, but all I know for sure is that I was on a roll last night with some hilarious jokes, mostly to cover up my angst at wondering where the votes are, why aren't the votes coming in, why is a Green leading in Fredericton, etc.
You have to understand just how bad this was. With less than 100 polls left to count, the tabulators - these new machines Elections NB used to count voters, very fancy, used in Toronto in 2010 apparently - and around a dozen super-close seats still left hanging without a conclusion at a time when the Liberals and PCs were on the verge of getting a majority government depending on whether a 20-vote margin flipped around in a particular riding. It was crazy.
Anyway, in the end the result was clear: a nice, secure Liberal majority government, with some surprises here and there for flavour. Let's dive right into it, starting with...
Acadian areas across New Brunswick voted in droves for the Liberals last night, leaving only one seat - Edmundston-Madawaska Centre, the riding of the super-popular Madeleine Dubé, who won by about a 3% margin - in the hands of the PCs. This was always the Liberal's region to lose, with the francophone Gallant having a "favoured son" advantage among the province's French speakers. Gallant's positions on the shale gas projects - mild opposition - certainly helped in specific ridings as well, as such as Kent North and Kent South, both of which gave them big majorities and including the knock off of a long-time PC incumbent, Claude Williams. The Greens also experienced some support in Kent for the same reasons, though fell flat elsewhere in Acadia - as did the NDP, who lost their advantage in 2010 under the francophone Roger Duguay, though didn't fall back that much in the end.
These areas are, by their nature, more conservative and, dare I say it, more anti-francophone than other parts of the province, so it isn't a surprise the PCs held on. The Liberals have made a lot of strong inroads however, and the 2018 election will be pretty interesting as this could be the next battleground (the PCs better hope not!).
It took them a few years, but the Liberals have pretty much broken the hold over Moncton that the PCs have enjoyed since Bernard Lord (a Monctoner) was Premier, winning an impressive 48% of the vote compared to just 33% for the PCs, though the Tories still managed to keep three seats despite serious opposition. The Liberals certainly enjoyed an advantage having Brian Gallant, now the representative for Shediac Bay-Dieppe and previously a Moncton lawyer, as their leader here. This is also the only area where the Greens did not increase their share of the vote, having had a pretty good score here last time out in 2010, though by no means doing too bad with 7% of the vote.
The capital saw the region with the largest swing against the PCs last night, though in the end it didn't amount to much except a loss of two seats out of six held. The Liberals managed to win in a squeaker against the Tory Justice Minister in Fredericton North, while the Greens... wait, what?
Yes, that's right, the Greens won a seat in New Brunswick. David Coon, a well-known environmentalist and anti-fracking advocate who took over leadership of the Greens in 2012. He's received major support from Elizabeth May, the federal Greens holding their convention in New Brunswick recently, and earned a lot of praise from a lot of corners in the province. It also helps that he's known for his anti-fracking positions, and the Conservatives - in their brilliance - tried to make this election a referendum on fracking in the province.
Anyway, Coon knocked off a Tory cabinet member in Fredericton South, winning with 30.7% of the vote versus 26.2%. The Liberals came third, while ex-Liberal cabinet member turned NDP Kelly Lamrock, who was widely expected to win here, came in third with less than 20% of the vote.
Right next door in Fredericton West-Hanwell as another sad story for the NDP, as Dominic Cardy went down to defeat, losing 35-30 against the PC incumbent. Cardy rightfully resigned as leader last night, having led his party to a severe defeat versus high expectations. When you gamble and lose as Cardy did, you tend to lose everything.
In Fredericton-Grand Lake, People's Alliance leader Kris Austin gave it his best shot, but was unable to win his seat for the second election in a row, losing a whisker to the PC incumbent, 28.8% to 28.5%. This probably calls for a recount, but it was clear to me that Austin's base in Grand Lake wouldn't be enough to win the riding unless the Fredericton voters were very split in their intentions. Austin seems to have missed out just barely on that.
In the end, we end up with a nice Liberal majority yet another province, the fourth since Justin Trudeau became leader. I'm not saying its correlated, but it certainly helps provincial cousins when the federal party's brand isn't tarnished seemingly beyond repair. It also gives Trudeau a motivated base to take back New Brunswick federally, probably one of his biggest challenges in Atlantic Canada, in 2015.
What does the future hold for the Gallant government? There are some serious issues in New Brunswick, the most immediate being a proposed moratorium in fracking - while they do have a majority government, any step back from the rhetoric Gallant had during the election will seem like a betrayal of the voters. That will not go over well, especially when you have a Green Party member in the legislature that will be sure to sound the horn if he sees any backtracking, though admittedly I don't think he thought much of Liberal promises to begin with.
Meanwhile, the Tories and NDP are looking for new leadership. The PCs have several strong options to choose from, including former Finance Minister Blaine Higgs, Oromocto MLA Jody Carr, and some other faces from the past four years who could certainly put their expertise to use. This election, while a pretty bad result for the PCs, was nowhere near as devastating as many believed it would end up being, so former Alward government members are not going to be too toxic.
The struggle for the NDP, meanwhile, is much greater. Like many of their sibling parties across Canada, New Brunswick Dippers are at something of a crossroads, deciding whether to moderate their tone in the hope for future success or maintain their position as the "conscious" of their respective legislatures. I suspect many NDP, including the federal party, want to try and emulate the successes seen when moderate NDP governments are elected in provinces like Saskatchewan and Manitoba - however, the simple fact is that this may not be the right generation for that to happen in. For the NB NDP specifically, I suspect a lot of soul searching will need to be done, especially in light of the success of the Greens - they're not just shut out of the legislature, they're now less in stature than the Greens.