The leader of the People’s Alliance of New Brunswick, along with the party’s only other sitting MLA, is stepping away from the party and crossing the floor to join the governing Progressive Conservatives.
People’s Alliance leader Kris Austin made the announcement on Wednesday. Miramichi MLA Michelle Conroy will also join him in the move.
“After 12 years as leader and founder, I now know it’s time for me to make a change,” he said speaking to reporters Wednesday.
Austin said he has done some “soul-searching” after the most recent provincial election, when the People’s Alliance lost one of its three seats. He said he feels he’s accomplished changing politics in New Brunswick.
He said he didn’t want his passion for the party he helped create to get in the way of representing his constituents in Fredericton-Grand Lake.
“I want the people that I represent to know that this decision, in no way, weakens my voice for you. On the contrary, it strengthens it.”
Progressive Conservative leader and Premier Blaine Higgs said it was a “momentous” day.
“We worked closely commencing in 2018 on various issues and through a minority government situation but most notably during the COVID experience,” he said.
Higgs added he thought the move was bold and a testament to their dedication to politics and their constituents.
“I’ve shown this willingness to look at diversity,” Higgs said, citing that former NDP leader Dominic Cardy has joined the PCs in 2017. “We need all voices.”
Austin has led the People’s Alliance since its formation 12 years ago. His party held the balance of power in 2018 when the Higgs government only had a minority.
With the People’s Alliance no longer holding seats in the legislature, Austin said he has spoken with party members and supporters about his decision and the party will be de-registered.
It gives the PCs 28 seats — a comfortable majority to complete the party’s mandate until 2024.
In a statement, chief electoral officer Kimberly Poffenroth said she received a signed application from Austin on Wednesday to cancel the registration of the People’s Alliance of New Brunswick, effective March 31.
The registration of all district associations linked to the party will also be cancelled, the statement said.
As well, Poffenroth said under the Political Process Financing Act, political parties or district associations that cease to be registered must remit all assets still held by it to the supervisor of political financing.
“Money and other assets remitted to the supervisor … will be applied, pro rata, to discharge the debts of the political party and its district associations,” the statement said. “Any balance remaining will be paid into the consolidated fund.”
Poffenroth said she had no further comment regarding the de-registration of the People’s Alliance.
However, the opposition is calling this a sad day for democracy in the province.
Robert Gauvin, a former PC MLA who crossed the floor in 2020 because of the government’s move to close several emergency departments, said the ideology of the People’s Alliance doesn’t fit with the PCs.
“The People’s Alliance is a party that wants to take away rights,” Gauvin said. “Rights that have been won.”
He said he didn’t always feel welcome as a Francophone MLA when he worked within the party. Gauvin said democracy isn’t being respected with this merger.
“We see in the world what happens when democracy isn’t respected but this is an example right now,” he said.
Meanwhile, Daniel Allain, the PCs’ only Francophone caucus member and MLA, said he is glad the People’s Alliance has been disbanded but he welcomes the MLAs to the fold.
“It’s an opportunity for me today to talk to two new colleagues, but right now they just bought two memberships from the PC party of New Brunswick and I’ll have an opportunity to talk with them to say why the principles of the Alliance party were not that great for New Brunswick,” he said, speaking to reporters.
Neither Austin or Higgs would say whether any concessions were made in the deal to cross the floor. Higgs also declined to say whether he’d be shuffling cabinet, adding the addition of Austin and Conroy wouldn’t factor into a cabinet shuffle decision.