September 13, 2018 4:11 pm
Updated: September 13, 2018 5:18 pm

Observers see debate bombshell by New Brunswick Tory leader as move of desperation

WATCH: It’s a case of “he-said, he-said” on the New Brunswick election campaign trail. As Andrew Cromwell reports, PC Leader Blaine Higgs isn’t backing off his claim that he was offered a job by the Liberals shortly after the 2014 election.

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At least one political observer in New Brunswick says the decision by Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs to drop a political bombshell during the first debate of the provincial election campaign was just a desperate attempt to secure an electoral win.

Donald Wright, a political scientist at the University of New Brunswick, says Higgs’ claim that he was offered the job of finance minister in the newly elected Liberal government in 2014 was just odd.

“I’ve never seen that before,” Wright said Thursday.

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“It struck me as a desperate Hail Mary pass, hoping against hope that it would be caught in the end zone. But who the hell knows what will happen?”

READ MORE: Tory leader drops bombshell during first New Brunswick leaders debate

Higgs, campaigning in Minto, N.B., on Thursday defended the information in the affidavit, saying he entertained joining the government for a period of time following the 2014 election but ultimately decided their platform was irresponsible.

“I was hoping that we would see a continuation of the things that were right,” said Higgs. “I didn’t expect everything would be all accepted”

Higgs says the decision to produce the affidavit came after what he calls Gallant’s constant railing on him on a number of issue including attacks on Higgs’ past career in business and his family.

The PC campaign said there is documented proof of the job offer did not provide it on Thursday.

Liberal Premier Brian Gallant refuted the claim during the televised debate, and he later issued a statement saying while there were meetings with the former finance minister, there was no job offer.

“It became very clear after that meeting for me that this person is stuck in his ideological views and the only advice he had to give was cut and slash into important programs for the people of our province so the meeting stopped there,” said Gallant.

On Thursday, Gallant characterized the affidavit moment as a bizarre political stunt.

Wright said if the Tories were looking to grab headlines, they achieved that. But he said the bold move may have hurt both the Tories and the Liberals.

“It’s no surprise, New Brunswick politics is a farce,” he said.

“It’s a revolving door between the red party and the blue party. There’s very little ideological or policy difference between the Liberals and the Conservatives.”

Green Leader David Coon said Higgs’ move helped set the three other parties apart from the Liberals and Tories.

“It suggests there isn’t much light between the Liberals and the Conservatives,” Coon said.

People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin called Higgs’ claim a publicity stunt.

“They’re more interested in playing politics, as we saw last night with that silly affidavit,” he said. “It’s just another game for them to play.”

Wright said it was difficult for viewers to get much information from the debate because the five leaders were often talking at the same time in a confusing free-for-all.

“It was endless and relentless and only adds to the cynicism out there to watch these people rudely interrupt each other,” he said.

READ MORE: All our New Brunswick election 2018 coverage

Despite the bickering, Wright said he thought Coon did well, saying he was composed, moderate and didn’t interrupt as much as the other leaders.

He said Gallant also performed well.

“Everyone was going after him. They’re targeting him. I think he deflected the criticisms. I think he handled the affidavit moment quite carefully and quite well,” Wright said.

The next debate is scheduled on Rogers TV on Friday evening, with much the same format as the first debate. However, there will be more time for individual answers and less time for the free-for-all that sees all the leaders talking at once.

The advance polls for the election will be held Saturday and Monday.

The election is set for Sept. 24.

With files from Andrew Cromwell

© 2018 The Canadian Press

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