New Brunswick is poised to head to the polls after Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers pulled out of all-party stability talks on Friday.
Premier Blaine Higgs had pitched the power-sharing agreement as a deal that would ensure the Tory government survives until the next fixed election date in October 2022 or until the novel coronavirus pandemic runs its course.
“The Liberal caucus has rejected the premier’s proposal to keep his government in power for the next two years,” Vickers said at a press conference on Thursday.
The Liberal leader said it was unacceptable to give the Higgs minority government power comparable to a majority government without an official Opposition.
Vickers said the negotiations were akin to the party having a gun to its head.
Vickers said he will not make the government fall and that the decision to call an election falls to Higgs.
“We feel it is irresponsible to hold an election during a… pandemic,” said Vickers.
David Coon, the leader of the Green Party, had expressed doubt about giving the premier a “blank cheque” or abdicating his responsibility as an opposition MLA to hold the government to account.
However, the Greens did return to the bargaining table on Friday after a break at noon.
The Liberals did not. Vickers said the Liberals will not return to the table.
Higgs had floated a deadline on the negotiations to Friday, at which point if a deal wasn’t reached, he’d strongly consider sending the province to the polls.
Higgs said he’s disappointed a deal couldn’t be done, but did not say if he will try and reach a deal with the Greens and People’s Alliance party.
He also said that he is not planning on calling an election in the next 48 hours, and will take the weekend to decide whether to call an election.
Higgs said he needs time to consider his next move, but he did nothing to dampen election speculation.
“We will be prepared. We are prepared,” he said when asked if his party was ready for a campaign.
“This has made the path forward, I guess one could say, clearer, or one could say more difficult, but I think clearer,” Higgs added.
The province’s legislature is in precarious balance. The Tories hold 20 seats in the provincial legislature while there are 20 Liberals, three People’s Alliance members, three Greens, one Independent and two vacancies.
Elections New Brunswick has spent the past few months gearing up for a possible election, encouraging residents earlier in August to update their voter information as speculation about an impending election continued.
“We want people to call us if any of the information, such as the name of an individual listed as living at that address, is incorrect,” chief electoral officer Kim Poffenroth said at the time.
“Having our voter’s list as up to date as possible will help us to process electors more efficiently whenever the next election takes place.”