by Christopher (Chris) Wanamaker
Confusion reigns among New Brunswickers over the snap election called by Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs for September 14, in the midst of a pandemic.
Higgs said he called it because the Liberals ended negotiations over whether to permit his minority government to continue. Liberal leader Kevin Vickers says the Liberals ended talks because Higgs was trying to establish a “dictatorship.” Still, the Liberals wanted him to continue governing until the end of the pandemic.
It may be that the election call is Higgs’ way of trying to capitalize on his popularity to establish a majority government. His ratings rose in the polls during his management of the pandemic because of the low number of cases reported in New Brunswick. Since the election call, his popularity has declined. Higgs said that if another outbreak occurs, he would stop the election, but didn’t explain how he could legally do that.
The issue of when or whether the election should have been called dominated the early days of the campaign. Emerging issues include the Conservatives’ promise to crack down on the trafficking of crystal meth and to fund more mental health and addictions supports; the Liberals’ promise to prioritize the province’s cyber-security sector in order to stimulate the economy; the Greens’ proposal to increase taxes on heavy industry; and the NDP’s promise to implement a $15 minimum wage. Both the Conservatives and the Liberals want to promote the development of small, modular nuclear reactors. In the meantime, other long-standing issues related to poverty, inequality, the low levels of income assistance, the dominance of New Brunswick’s giant corporations, and threatening climate change – all appear to have been put on the back burner.
Opposition parties rushed to recruit candidates in time for the August 28 nomination-filing deadline.
The Progressive Conservatives and Liberals have submitted names of 49 candidates; the Green Party has 47; the People’s Alliance has 36; and the NDP has 33. CBC reported a paucity of candidates of colour, members of First Nations, and those who identify as LGBTQ.
According to the CBC, eight ‘battleground ridings” could decide whether the Conservatives or Liberals win the election. Even so, the success of the Greens and the People’s Alliance in winning three seats each for the first time in 2018 suggests growing discontent with the long reign of the two old parties since elections began in the province in 1866.
NDP Leader Mackenzie Thomason made a dubious proposal to the capitalist Green Party that each party not run candidates in ridings where the other is strong in order to elect ‘progressive’ MLAs. Fortunately, Green party leader David Coon rejected it.
Ten NDP activists who identify with the recently formed NB NDP Socialist Caucus are official NDP candidates. The Caucus has passed more than 25 resolutions for debate at the next NB NDP policy convention, including on nationalization of Irving Oil and other corporations, poverty, homelessness and the need for job creation. Some SC members say they want to maintain their commitment to their socialist values while showing their support for the NDP platform released in late August – described by some as just moderately progressive.
Both NDP and Green candidates attended the De-Fund the Police rally in Moncton on August 30. NDP Interim Leader Mackenzie Thomason gave a stirring speech to affirm the NDP’s endorsement of the movement.