By Katherine Cuplinskas and Catharina O’Donnell
New Brunswick’s political scene was launched into chaos once again this morning after Premier Brian Gallant’s minority Liberal government was defeated in the provincial legislature. Following Gallant’s speech from the throne, the Progressive Conservative opposition tabled a motion declaring no confidence in the government. The no confidence motion passed with 25 votes in favour and 23 against, consequently toppling the Liberals. For the second time in six weeks, New Brunswickers are left without a clear government.
How Did We Get Here?
On September 24th, New Brunswick made history. For the first time in nearly 100 years, no party won the 25 seats needed to form a majority government. Instead, the Progressive Conservatives (PC) won 22 seats and the Liberals earned 21. The People’s Alliance (PA) and the Green Party won 3 seats each. Although the PCs won one more seat than the Liberals, Liberal leader Brian Gallant was given the first attempt at forming government due to the convention that the incumbent party gets to try first in cases of uncertainty.
In order to show that he could form a functioning government, Gallant convened the legislature this morning and delivered a throne speech outlining his minority government’s priorities. By including many of the opposition’s promises in his speech, he hoped to convince at least one opposition member to support the Liberals’ agenda and secure the survival of his minority government. Following the speech, however, the opposition introduced a motion to establish no confidence in Gallant’s government, which needed to fail in order for Gallant to remain Premier. The People’s Alliance members joined the Progressive Conservatives to win this no confidence vote by a margin of 25 to 23, thereby overthrowing the Liberal government.
In his speech from the throne, Gallant took responsibility for the historic political division in the province, and apologized for “not doing better over the last four years to unite [the] province.” He showed particular remorse for the Liberals’ failure to convince New Brunswickers of the benefits of official bilingualism, which became a key cleavage among the electorate.
What Happens Next?
Now that the Liberal government has fallen, Gallant will officially resign as Premier. Following his defeat, he promised to suggest that the lieutenant governor allow the Progressive Conservatives a chance at forming government. He wished the PCs luck and expressed a desire to facilitate a smooth transfer of power to PC leader Blaine Higgs, thereby insinuating that he would not try to block the PC’s attempt at forming government.
Although Higgs could also fail in a confidence vote following his attempt at a throne speech, this is unlikely. The People’s Alliance stood by the Progressive Conservatives in defeating the Liberals, and have little incentive to change their allegiance. However, just two members from either the PC or the PA would need to defect from supporting Higgs to defeat the PC minority government – a possibility which is not entirely out of the question.
Interestingly, the Liberal member chosen as speaker will remain speaker even if a PC minority government comes to fruition. This is due to convention that a speaker presides for the entire period between elections, even if the government changes.
What Does This Mean?
The fall of the New Brunswick Liberals comes just months after the Ontario Liberals and Quebec Liberals suffered similar defeats in their provincial elections this year. Although provincial and federal parties are not vertically integrated, the lack of a Liberal ally in provincial government will make Trudeau’s communications with the province more difficult.
Furthermore, a PC government will bring more conservative priorities to the table, and could contribute to the spread of anti-Liberal rhetoric in the province. This may negatively impact the federal Liberals’ re-election attempt in 2019 by increasing the work that Trudeau has to put into convincing New Brunswickers of the Liberal vision. The federal Liberals will need to maintain their share of seats in Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick in order to secure a second majority term. If provincial results are any indication, this may be an increasingly uphill battle.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and they do not reflect the position of the McGill Journal of Political Studies or the Political Science Students’ Association.
Feature Image by the New Brunswick Government, via Wikimedia Commons.