New Brunswick's 57th general election campaign is set to start tomorrow. The gun goes off at 12:01 a.m. for what will undoubtedly be a close race. ThreeHundredEight.com will be covering this election as closely as possible. But with a population of only 750,000 people and the eighth largest economy in a country of ten provinces, readers can be forgiven for being a little uninformed. I needed to give myself a crash course on the topic to prepare for this campaign. Hopefully this primer will help you understand what's at stake and what to watch for in this election, and I invite my New Brunswick readers, who are far closer to the race than I am here in Ottawa, to give us your own local impressions.
ELECTORAL HISTORY SINCE 1982
The electoral fight in New Brunswick has always been between the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives. Governments have gone back and forth but usually when New Brunswickers choose a Premier they tend to keep him around for two or three terms.
This was the case in 1982, when Richard Hatfield ran to hold on to the premiership. He had held it since 1970 for the Progressive Conservatives, and won the 1982 election with 47.5% of the vote and 39 seats. He defeated Liberal leader Doug Young, who still took 41.3% of the vote and 18 seats. The New Democrats under George Little had 10.2% of the vote and only one seat.
Due in part to scandal, Hatfield was drubbed out of office in 1987 by Liberal leader Frank McKenna. The Liberals took 60.4% of the vote and all 58 seats - a clean sweep. The PCs were reduced to 28.6% while the NDP, still under Little, took 10.6%.
The 1991 election had a different face as the Confederation of Regions emerged out of the ruined Progressive Conservative Party. Nevertheless, McKenna held on to his post with 47.1% of the vote and 46 seats. The Confederation of Regions, a conservative, anti-bilingual party, placed second under leader Arch Pafford with 21.2% of the vote and eight seats. The Progressive Conservatives under Dennis Cochrane took three seats and 20.7% of the vote, while the NDP under new leader Elizabeth Weir won 10.8% and one seat (Weir's).
In 1995, McKenna improved on his 1991 performance and took 51.6% of the vote and 48 seats. The PCs rebounded under Bernard Valcourt with 30.9% and six seats while the NDP, still under Weir, earned 9.7% and one seat. The Confederation of Regions, now under Greg Hargrove, were reduced to 7.1% and no seats, and wouldn't be a factor in New Brunswick politics again.By the time 1999 rolled around, Frank McKenna was no longer leader and Camille Thériault was running the party and the province. He couldn't hold on to the job, however, as Bernard Lord's PCs won 53% of the vote and 44 seats, reducing the Liberals to 37.3% and 10 seats after 12 years in power. The NDP won 8.8% and one seat, still Weir's.The map above combines the results of the last four elections (the maps of which are courtesy of Wikipedia). The deeper the red and the deeper the blue means greater Liberal or PC support. Purple ridings have flip-flopped.
The 2003 election was a very close one, but Lord squeaked out a win with 45.4% and 28 seats. He was pressed hard by new Liberal leader Shawn Graham, who won 26 seats and 44.4% of the vote. The NDP improved their performance with 9.7% and one seat.This map shows which seats are currently Liberal or Progressive Conservative. The richness of the colour indicates how long each party has held the riding. This map shows that PC strength can be found in the southeast, southwest, and northwest corners of the province, while the Liberals are stronger in the northeast and along the Bay of Fundy.
In the 2006 election, the Liberals won 29 seats and re-took the reins of government, but with only 47.1% of the vote. The Progressive Conservatives, still under Lord, won 47.5% of the vote but only 26 seats. The NDP, under new leader Allison Brewer, did badly and won only 5.1% of the vote and no seats.
THE 2006 CAMPAIGN
While New Brunswick now has fixed election dates, like at the federal level the Premier still has the prerogative of choosing the date himself. This was the case in 2006, as Bernard Lord's slim majority was reduced to a minority due to resignations and by-elections. Faced with the potential of losing the government entirely, Lord sent New Brunswickers to the polls.
One important issue in this campaign, as it still is today, was energy.
The NDP campaigned with their new leader Brewer after Weir had run the party since 1987. They struggled and were eventually pushed out of the Legislative Assembly. One of the stumbling blocks was Brewer's inability to speak French. Radio-Canada refused to translate for her during the French debate (like Preston Manning used to do way back when) and so she did not participate in the two French debates.
The campaign was extremely close, with the Progressive Conservatives leading at the start of the campaign and the gap narrowing near the end of it. Some of the last polls had the Liberals in a slim lead. The 2010 election could very well be the same.
In the end the Liberals won more seats with slightly fewer votes, a good example of the shortcomings of the first-past-the-post system. The party bested the Progressive Conservatives in the northeast (54% to 40%) and the southwest (49% to 45%), while the PCs did better in central New Brunswick (48% to 46%), the northwest (54% to 42%) and the southeast (53% to 44%). The NDP performed best in central (6.3%) and southwest (6%) New Brunswick.
One of the factors that contributed to the Liberal win was the increase in support the party garnered from anglophones. Traditionally, the Liberals have been the party of the Acadian population while the Progressive Conservatives have been supported by English-speaking New Brunswickers. The 2006 election turned that on its head, and has muddied the waters for the future.
Like it's federal counterpart, the Liberal Party of New Brunswick is centrist, though under McKenna's leadership it drifted into Blue Liberal/Red Tory territory. As a result of the infighting after McKenna's departure, and the bad performance of Thériault, Graham was able to come out of nowhere, a first term MLA who could reinvigorate the party.
Shawn Graham, 42, was born in Rexton in Kent County. His father was an MLA, and Graham attended the University of New Brunswick where he got a degree in physical education. He then supplemented that degree with another (in education) from St. Thomas University. He worked in the NB civil service and was elected in 1999. His 2003 campaign, though losing, was deemed a success as expectations were low and he managed to control most of the agenda.
His riding of Kent in southeastern New Brunswick has a population of about 12,000 people. It has a long Liberal history but is still tightly contested. Graham won it with 52% in 2006, compared to 45% for the PC candidate.
PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATIVE PARTY
A right-of-centre but generally moderate party, the Progressive Conservatives have traditionally been the party of New Brunswick anglophones. This has changed since Bernard Lord was leader, and the party is now more competitive in francophone ridings.
The party has no formal link with the Conservative Party of Canada, though it is co-operative.
David Alward, 50, became leader of the party in October 2008. He garnered 56% of the vote against Robert MacLeod, the only other candidate for party leadership.
Alward was born in Massachusetts but moved to New Brunswick in his youth. He attended high school in Nackawic, a small town in central New Brunswick. He went to Bryan College in Tennessee, where he earned a degree in psychology. A Baptist, he has worked as a civil servant, has raised cattle, and was first elected in 1999. Alward was named Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Aquaculture in the Lord government.
His riding is Woodstock, which has been held by the Progressive Conservatives since 1999. The Liberals held it from 1987 to 1995, and before then it was in PC hands. The riding borders Maine, has a population of about 13,000 people, and is centred around the town of Woodstock.
NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY
A social democratic party linked to its federal counterpart, the NDP in New Brunswick has never held more than one seat. Their best performance was in 1944, when under the CCF banner the party won 11.7%. They consistently earned more than 10% between 1982 and 1991. They held Tantramar in 1982, East Saint John after a 1984 by-election win, and Saint-John Harbour (Elizabeth Weir's seat) from 1991 until the 2006 election. While these seats still give the party good vote hauls, Weir's personal popularity is demonstrated by the fact that from 52% in 2003 the party sank to 17% in Saint-John Harbour after Weir left.
The party, however, is upbeat. It is performing well in the polls and is confident. It intends to run a full slate of candidates, something the NDP did not do in 2006.
Roger Duguay, 46, was born in Maltempec on the Acadian Peninsula. He went to the Université de Moncton, where he earned a Bachelor's Degree and then a Master's Degree in theology. He has been a pastor (famously being evicted from the Catholic Church for running in a political contest) and a teacher, has been active in his community, and is the first francophone leader of the NDP. Supported by federal MP Yvon Godin, he became leader in October 2007, and has since gotten a 100% vote of confidence from the party. He has always done well in the three elections in which he has presented himself, and had 26% in 2006, the most of any NDP candidate.
He will be running for the first time in Tracadie-Sheila, not far from his birthplace. It is a very francophone riding, but had no NDP candidate in 2006.
Only formed in November 2008, the party is led by Jack MacDougall. A former executive director of the New Brunswick Liberal Party, MacDougall is an experienced political organizer who has worked with the federal Green Party. Unilingual, he recognizes he is not the man to lead the party to electoral greatness, and has said he is more focused on building a foundation for the party. They intend to run in all 55 ridings. MacDougall will run in Fredericton-Nashwaaksis, where he lives. It is a Liberal riding, but also has a history under the Progressive Conservatives and Confederation of Regions.
PEOPLE'S ALLIANCE OF NEW BRUNSWICK
Kris Austin, a Baptist minister from Minto, leads this populist party. It was formed after the Liberal government signed a deal to sell NB Power to Hydro-Québec (which the party has since reneged on). One of its platform planks is not to build a second nuclear power plant at Point Lepreau. The party should run between 11 and 17 candidates but should not be a major factor.
As in 2003, energy is an important issue. NB Power is greatly in debt and its sale to Hydro-Québec would have helped that situation. Now that New Brunswick will be holding on to it, questions about the costs of maintaining its nuclear facilities are popping up. The Progressive Conservatives have promised to freeze energy rates for three years, something that will be difficult considering NB Power's indebtedness.
Along with the usual provincial issues of education and health care, the province's deficit will also be an issue. Shawn Graham's leadership, after more than a few missteps, will also be a factor.
RIDINGS TO WATCH
Dieppe Centre - Lewisville
With only 0.7 points and 57 votes separating the Progressive Conservatives from the Liberals, this was the closest riding in the province in the 2006 election. Centred on the city of Dieppe (near Moncton), this riding has a PC history but the sitting MLA, Cy LeBlanc, will not be running again. Can Dave Maltais hold on to it?
The margin here, 1.5 points and 88 votes, was the second closest in the province. The Progressive Conservatives have held this suburban Saint-John riding since 1999. Margaret-Ann Blaney will try to hold on to her seat against Victoria Clarke of the Liberals.
This was the third closest race, with a margin of two points and 170 votes. This Fredericton riding was won by the Liberals and T.J. Burke, former Environment Minister, will be running again under the Liberal banner. It is a flip-flop riding, and will also be the riding of the Green Party leader. It will be interesting to see if the Greens will bleed support away from the Liberals and allow the PC candidate to slip through the middle.
The fourth closest race, with a margin of 2.4 points and 157 votes, this rural southwestern riding was won by the PCs in 2006. It has a history that meanders from PC to Liberal to the Confederation of Regions. The incumbent, Carl Urquhart, will face-off against Liberal Winston Gamblin.
The fifth closest race, with a margin of 2.8 points and 187 votes, this has been a Liberal riding for over 40 years. Nevertheless, it was a close race in 2006. Brian Kenney, Minister of Tourism and Parks, will have to grapple with PC candidate Nancy McKay.
The margin was not very close in 2006, with 10.1 points and 762 votes separating the Progressive Conservatives from the Liberal challenger. But this will be the riding of NDP leader Roger Duguay. Incumbent Claude Landry has a very difficult fight ahead of him.
The margin here was 7.3 points and 517 votes, but it is held by Health Minister Mary Schryer. Blaine Higgs will carry the PC banner, and he has a good chance considering that the riding was won by his party in 1999 and 2003. The riding is near Saint-John.
Fundy - River Valley
This was a close race, with the margin being only 3.3 points and 199 votes. Lying west of Saint-John, this riding was won by Jack Keir of the Liberals, who has been Minister of Energy. With NB Power being within his portfolio, this will be an interesting riding to watch. Jim Parrot, a retired surgeon, will try to take the riding from Keir, and he is aided by the riding's history as it was won by the Progressive Conservatives in 1995, 1999, and 2003.
The last election was considered a bore, but I don't think this will be the case in 2010. Moncton will be a battlefield, as will Fredericton and Saint-John. And with the population in each riding averaging between 10,000 and 15,000 people (4,000 to 7,000 of whom vote), swings can happen anywhere.
The race will be close, and there are a lot of things to watch. Will Graham hold on to his government? Will Alward install his Progressive Conservatives in power? Will the NDP make the breakthrough they've been waiting for? I think the campaign will be anything but boring.