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N.B. Tories not reoffering could be seen as problem or opportunity: profs

Click to play video: 'Another N.B. cabinet minister won’t run in provincial election'
Another N.B. cabinet minister won’t run in provincial election
Another former New Brunswick cabinet minister from Blaine Higgs' government has announced he won't be reoffering in this year's election, bringing the total number now to six Tory MLAs to recently announce similar intentions. According to some political watchers, that could present Premier Blaine Higgs with a problem – or an opportunity. Silas Brown explains – Mar 1, 2024

Former local government minister Daniel Allain has announced he won’t run in this year’s provincial election, the latest in a string of New Brunswick Tory MLAs who say they plan to leave politics.

Along with former transportation minister Jeff Carr’s announcement earlier this week, that now makes six government lawmakers who say they’ll call it quits once the election writs are issued.

St. Thomas University professor of public policy and communications Jamie Gilles says the exodus speaks volumes over the direction of the PC party under Premier Blaine Higgs.

“This is so many people in the party who just want to sit this election out and that to me spells trouble for the PCs,” he said. “Because while the premier might be trying to grow the party with new voices, he’s losing the base of the Progressive Conservatives in New Brunswick.”

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Click to play video: 'Two New Brunswick cabinet ministers not running in next election'
Two New Brunswick cabinet ministers not running in next election

Both Allain and Carr were part of the “rebel” Tory group who raised concerns over Higgs’ leadership and handling of the review of school gender identity policy last spring and summer. They were part of six government MLAs who voted with the opposition to call for the province’s child and youth advocate to review the policy changes, for which both were stripped of their cabinet posts.

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Former Indigenous affairs minister Arlene Dunn, who also raised concerns about Higgs’ handling of the issue, resigned from cabinet and as an MLA last month. On the same day natural resources minister Mike Holland announced he would also not reoffer.

Allain and Dunn were only elected for the first time in 2020 and were both seen as star candidates; Allain was an executive at N.B. Liquor and Dunn a prominent figure in the province’s labour movement.

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That both are leaving politics so quickly bodes ill for the premier, Gilles says.

“Some of these MLAs simply can’t be in a party where their views and what they stand for doesn’t abide with the leadership of the party,” he said.

But where some see the turnover as a problem, others say Higgs may find opportunity.

“I mean if you think about a metaphor from sports of rebuilding your team, most of the folks that aren’t reoffering were internal problems for Higgs,” said JP Lewis, a political science professor at the University of New Brunswick. “While it might be framed as some as people abandoning a sinking ship, by others it might be seen as getting new members that are loyal to the premier and are towing the party line closer to the government.”

Higgs has shrugged off accusations that he is moving the traditionally right-leaning New Brunswick PCs further to the right, even as he has welcomed Kris Austin, the leader of the populist People’s Alliance, into his caucus and the cabinet, as well as long-time Christian-right activist Faytene Grassechi as a candidate in the next election.

In a year-end interview Higgs told Global News that he doesn’t see his party shifting, rather he feels it’s opening up to new voices.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s time we had new people joining and making decisions that are affecting their lives.”

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Higgs turned down an interview request, instead sending a statement thanking Carr and Allain for their public service.

“This week, Jeff Carr and Daniel Allain both announced they would not be re-offering in the next election,” he said.

“I want to acknowledge their time serving in cabinet and for the work they are continuing to do on behalf of their constituents. It is good to know they are committed to fulfilling their roles as MLAs until the next election is called. I wish them both well in their future endeavors.”

The next election is scheduled for Oct. 21.

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