The New Brunswick Political Landscape – At the Middle of the Mandate
Wednesday, September 14th marked exactly two years since the last New Brunswick election, and the half-way point of the second Higgs mandate; voters in September 2020 turned his first-term, tenuous minority into a modest majority. It marked the first time a government has won a second mandate since the Bernard Lord PCs in 2003. Additionally, it was the first time a government was re-elected with more seats since Frank McKenna’s third win in 1995. With a net gain in a recent by-election, and two floor crossings, that mandate is even stronger.
A Political Overview
The Liberal Party is seeking to restore its footing and contention for government. In July, the party elected Susan Holt as Leader. Ms. Holt has made history, becoming the first female elected Leader of the Liberals (Shirley Dysart held the role on an interim basis in 1985).
In August, Narrative Research released a poll noting that Ms. Holt and the Liberals were the preferred choice of 41% of New Brunswickers, compared to 30% for Premier Higgs and the Progressive Conservatives. In their previous poll in May, prior to Holt winning the leadership, the two parties were tied at 34%.
Having a permanent leader selected is obviously beneficial for any party, and the Liberal increase is likely related to health care concerns in the province. Each week, there are reports of hospital wings or ERs closing temporarily, a lack of staff, and a specific situation that appalled New Brunswickers: An individual dying in an emergency room waiting room.
The health care challenges are not unique to New Brunswick, though all politics is local, and there will be additional pressures on government to solve these challenges.
Two years is a long time in politics. Both major parties will have decision points in the near future. For Premier Higgs, it would be prudent to canvass each member of his cabinet, to determine who plans on running again in 2024. There will likely be one major shuffle between now and 2024, and the Premier may want to give other MLAs, who are re-offering, the added exposure of serving in the ministry, to rejuvenate his cabinet and gird his team for battle in 2024.
For the Liberals, the biggest decision is whether Ms. Holt will run in an eventual by-election. Longtime Liberal MLA Denis Landry has indicated that he will be resigning his seat this fall to run in a municipal election, and had previously offered to vacate the seat to allow Ms. Holt a chance to be in the Legislature. She would be well-advised to run. The seat is solidly Liberal, and for a Leader to be seen and noticed, one needs to go toe-to-toe with the Premier, to be viewed as a “Premier-in-waiting.”
What the PCs Have Done
The People’s Alliance lost its parliamentary caucus when former leader Kris Austin and MLA Michelle Conroy joined the Progressive Conservative Caucus. There was concern that this would affect the PCs in a recent by-election in a predominantly francophone riding, given the Alliance’s views on Official Bilingualism, but PC candidate Rejean Savoie won with 45 percent of the vote.
What the Green Party Will Need to Do
The Green Party will want to continue to demonstrate that it is the party of the left, and their leader, David Coon, is a formidable debater and is media-savvy. His team will want to focus on areas where they placed second in the 2020 election, with a view to expanding their team. If he remains at the helm, Mr. Coon will be squaring off in his fourth provincial election as leader.
What the Liberal Party Will Need to Do
The Liberals will want to showcase themselves as defenders of public health care and will balk at any mention of private involvement, even within a public, single-payer model. The Progressive Conservatives have been taking measures of late to ensure a leadership change and various staff adjustments, as the Premier wants to see results.
New Brunswick’s public finances are improving with budget surpluses becoming the norm; but this becomes fodder for the opposition to call for more government spending.
The next two years will be telling as parties develop their campaign narrative and resulting platform objectives. Health care will always be a dominant issue, even if the current challenges are mitigated. Cost-of-living pressures, and housing affordability, are also likely to dominate the coming months.