Following the first provincial election held in Canada during the novel coronavirus, New Brunswickers are sending a Progressive Conservative majority government to Fredericton.
Securing 27 seats, compared to the opposition parties’ 22 seats, the Blaine Higgs government will be able to pass bills without support from other parties.
The Liberals won 17 of those opposition seats, while the Greens retained three seats and the People’s Alliance lost a seat leaving them with two.
Kevin Vickers, the leader of the Liberals during the campaign, lost his bid to become Miramichi MLA and subsequently announced he’d resign as leader.
“It’s not a resounding majority; moreover, six out of 10 New Brunswickers voted against the Progressive Conservative party,” Don Wright, a University of New Brunswick professor of political science told Global News.
“Yet, because of this antiquated first-past-the-post system, we reward those who get less than 40 per cent of the vote with a majority… It’s absurd.”
“At least it won’t take five weeks to know who’s going to be in government,” Higgs joked during his victory speech, referring to the 2018 election. “We lost some valuable time last time.”
When asked during an interview with Global News, Higgs said there can still be collaboration with other parties despite the majority mandate.
“Absolutely, it’s part of governing it today’s world,” he said. “I think the population has spoken to us… They’ve elected three Greens, two PAs, so certainly they realize there’s a need to have a difference of opinion and we need to respect that.”
But Wright says the win for the Tories signals control in the legislature for Higgs.
“Now he can do what he wants,” Wright says. “Will he cut hospitals? Will he cut post-secondary education? Will he cut schools? I’m sure I don’t know.”
Higgs has said repeatedly throughout the campaign the six rural emergency room overnight closures are off the table after plenty of backlash from those communities.
Wright says politicians can break promises.
“There’s no change to emergency room hours,” Higgs said in the interview after his win Monday night. “But the program of understanding how we can better serve our citizens going forward, utilizing both facilities and people is real.”
Higgs did say he hopes to continue working with the all-party COVID-19 cabinet committee despite the majority mandate.
The Tories gained seven seats in all, and they’ve sent nine women to the legislature.
That means Higgs could achieve gender parity with his cabinet committee if he so chooses.
However, there is still a lack of diversity among MLAs representing the 49 provincial ridings. That was a subject on the campaign trail for some parties, noting the legislature might not show a true visual representation of New Brunswickers.
A notable win for Progressive Conservatives saw francophone Daniel Allain win Moncton East, ousting Liberal incumbent Monique LeBlanc.
There still remains a lack of PC seats in the northern part of the province, meaning less government representation for those francophone communities when it comes to passing legislation.
But Higgs says his role as premier is to represent all New Brunswickers.
“It doesn’t depend on where the seats are, it depends on that we’re all part of New Brunswick.”