The political intrigue in New Brunswick reached a new high Thursday as the province’s Progressive Conservative leader insisted Premier Brian Gallant should resign or immediately recall the provincial legislature.
Blaine Higgs issued the demand minutes after meeting with the province’s lieutenant-governor on Thursday, saying Jocelyne Roy Vienneau told him that if Gallant’s Liberals are unable to secure the confidence of the legislature, there will be no election and she will immediately call on the Tories to form a minority government.
“I am calling on Brian Gallant to do the honourable thing and recognize that he lost the election,” Higgs said outside the lieutenant-governor’s residence in Fredericton.
“He does not have a mandate to govern and he is prolonging the inevitable … If he refuses to resign, he should do what is right for New Brunswick and immediately call the legislature back, so the province has a stable and functioning government.”
Higgs said Gallant is desperate to hold on to power, is disrespecting the will of the people and is buying time so he can make backroom deals.
The province has been in a political deadlock since Monday, when a provincial election resulted in a virtual dead heat between the Liberals and Conservatives.
The Tories won 22 seats in the 49-seat house, one more than the Liberals and not enough for a majority. The Green party and the People’s Alliance party won three seats each, which means that some form of minority government is inevitable.
Under parliamentary tradition, when election results are inconclusive the incumbent premier is typically given the first opportunity by the lieutenant-governor to determine if his or her party can secure the confidence of the legislature. That process usually starts by convening the legislature for a speech from the throne.
Gallant has said he plans to seek a formal alliance with the Greens and test the confidence of the house some time before Christmas.
Higgs said that’s not fast enough, and he suggested the lieutenant-governor is growing impatient.
“She indicated she will not wait months or even weeks,” he said.
“To be clear, if the house is called back and if Gallant is defeated, it will not trigger an election. He may give the impression that is the next step, but that is not.”
Higgs accused the Liberals of offering incentives to Tory caucus members to have them cross the floor to sit as Liberals.
“(Gallant’s) hoping that he can buy somebody from my side of the house,” Higgs said, adding that he was with one of his caucus members Wednesday night when a call came from the other party.
“The reception got real bad when I answered the phone.”
Higgs said he had no plans to form a formal coalition government with either of the third parties.
However, he indicated that he was open to a more informal arrangement.
“The deal is not something that has to be a signed document that says, ‘Here, I’ll give you this thing, if you give me that.”‘
As well, the Tory leader said he would not be enticing members of other parties to join his caucus.
Following his visit with the lieutenant-governor, Higgs met with members of his caucus at a nearby hotel, where some colleagues chanted: “Premier Higgs!”
Among the group was Robert Gauvin, an Acadian who won the Tories’ only seat in the north, where the party struggled to win support from the francophone-dominated population.
Gauvin has cautioned against any suggestion of a coalition with the People’s Alliance party, which is unpopular among French-speaking New Brunswickers because it has pledged to eliminate duality in government services – including school buses and health care – and do away with the office of the official languages commissioner.
“I’m very happy to tell you there is no coalition,” Gauvin said. “There will be no coalition, no deals. We stand united for the principles of this party.”
Gauvin said there needs to be collaboration in the legislature to avoid another election, but he said his party won’t take direction from the People’s Alliance.
“No, they vote along with us. We put the motions forward. We don’t vote along with other parties, they vote along with us. We will govern a minority government,” he said.
“We’re going to put good bills forward, and if they don’t want an election, they’ll vote for it.”
WATCH: New Brunswick election: Blaine Higgs full speech from PC Headquarters
As for the Liberals, the premier has said they haven’t yet made an overture to the Greens, who said they were non-committal about how they might proceed.
Green Leader David Coon said his party will negotiate with both the Liberals and Tories to decide who to support.
“Both Mr. Gallant and Mr. Higgs have obtained a minority of support from New Brunswickers, and they need to be prepared to discuss governing in a way that respects the majority,” said Coon. “My caucus and I will work toward a collaborative, stable government that accomplishes positive change for the people of this province.”
Coon’s proposal is modeled after the arrangement in British Columbia, where the Greens hold the balance of power in an NDP-led minority government.