New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative premier has proposed an agreement with the province’s Liberal Party in order to avoid a provincial election during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter published on Monday, Premier Blaine Higgs asks Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers to sign a formal agreement to “not trigger an election before the fixed election date in 2022 or no earlier than thirty days following the declared end of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, whichever comes first.”
Higgs writes that he reached the decision after the thought of an election “weighed heavily” on him over the past six weeks.
“On the one hand, an election this year is not ideal and should be avoided if possible,” writes Higgs.
“On the other, it is far better than a surprise election at some future undetermined point over the next two years, which could be much worse given we don’t know how the pandemic might evolve.”
The New Brunswick Progressive Conservative Party sits in a precarious political position, with 20 seats in the provincial legislature. There are 20 Liberals, three People’s Alliance members, three Greens, one Independent and two vacancies.
The results of three possible byelections could swing the balance of power in the legislature to the Liberals.
Higgs said any agreement would build on a supply and spending agreement to avoid instability, a formalization of the COVID-19 Cabinet Committee to ensure the parties work together to confront the coronavirus pandemic and a mutually agreed-upon legislative agenda, including proposals from each participating party.
“If agreed upon, the members of our caucuses would be invited to add their signatures, showing that it is truly a guarantee of stability,” said Higgs.
Higgs said byelections would be held as required by law and under the guidance of the province’s public health department.
However, he says the agreement would stipulate that the results of the election would not change the proposed agreement.
The premier is offering to meet with Vickers on Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. AT to establish the “common ground” needed for negotiations that would take place on Thursday or Friday.
Green Party Leader David Coon and People’s Alliance of New Brunswick Leader Kris Austin are also invited to the talks.
But the ability to negotiate won’t last forever. Higgs makes it clear that he is seeking final approval on the agreement by the close of the negotiations on Friday.
“I do not want to make decisions on the path ahead of our province without your participation,” writes Higgs.
“But at the end of the day, whether you are at the table or not, a decision will have to be made on an election.”
Vickers has previously promised that he would not bring down the government in 2020.
On Monday he called Higgs’ proposal an “excellent move.”
He agreed that now is not the time for an election and said he is hopeful the parties can hammer out an agreement over the coming days.
With files from Global News’ Silas Brown