Progressive Conservatives win coveted majority, CBC News projects

Progressive Conservatives win coveted majority, CBC News projects

Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs’s snap election gamble has paid off as the governing party wins a majority, CBC News projects.

Higgs has won his coveted majority after two years of leading the province’s first minority government since 1920. The victory ends a streak of four consecutive single-term governments. 

The PC have been elected in 24 ridings and are leading in three more, which would give them 27 seats — two more than the 25 needed for a majority.

Touting the importance of stability in a tumultuous year, Higgs spent the abbreviated four-week campaign championing his government’s successful handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in New Brunswick and the province’s ongoing economic recovery.

Those are two factors that put him in a strong position when he called the election on Aug. 17, sending New Brunswickers to the polls amid the pandemic.

It’s the first general election in Canada since the emergence of COVID-19, and the snap election call itself has become one of the key points of contention in the four-week campaign that couldn’t be defined by a single prevailing issue.

However, it appears that hasn’t hurt Higgs or the party.

New Brunswick Votes 2020 Results: Watch returns come in live on our interactive results page.

The PCs are hovering around 40 per cent of the popular vote, a considerable bump compared to the 31 per cent share in 2018, and the party has gained seats in different regions of the province, including the three major centres: Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John. 

The party, however, lost the lone seat — Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou — it won two years ago in the predominantly francophone northern New Brunswick, showing Higgs continues to have trouble reaching francophone voters.

The Liberals, under first-time leader Kevin Vickers, have been elected in 15 ridings and are ahead in two others. A final tally of 17 would be four fewer seats than 2018. 

Several PC ministers have been re-elected, including Ted Flemming, Dominic Cardy, Andrea Anderson-Mason, Ross Wetmore, Jake Stewart, Bill Oliver and Trevor Holder.

How we got here

Higgs dissolved the legislature on Aug. 17 following unsuccessful talks between political parties to uphold the PC government until the official end of the pandemic or next the fixed election date in October 2022.

PC Leader Blaine Higgs made the snap election call on Aug. 17. (Maria Burgos/CBC)

Previous polling suggested the PCs were in a strong position amid the generally successful management of the outbreak in New Brunswick and economic recovery — something the Tories mentioned often in the past four weeks. 

Instead, the opposition parties are quick to praise Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical officer of health, and the importance of the all-party cabinet committee struck to oversee COVID-related decisions. 

Third parties, like the Greens and People’s Alliance, have routinely used that point to extol the virtues of minority governments. Alliance Leader Kris Austin, who offered support for the PC government, and Green Leader David Coon have said the arrangement allows for greater government accountability, while arguing Higgs can’t be trusted with a majority.

Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers used that refrain at almost every opportunity on the campaign trail, warning voters of Higgs’s “secret plan” to make deep cuts to public services, including health care in rural areas despite a PC pledge not to do so.

Vickers, the first-time leader who is seeking his first seat in the New Brunswick legislature, isn’t discussing a minority as the party hopes to flip enough seats to regain power and extend the run of one-term premiers.

Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers is running in his first political campaign. (Maria Burgos/CBC)

The Brian Gallant Liberals’ unsuccessful bid to form government following the 2018 election furthered the streak governments held to a single term to four. Prior to the 2006 election, New Brunswick political parties have managed at least two consecutive terms in office since Confederation. 

Meanwhile, interim leader MacKenzie Thomason spent the campaign redefining the NDP as the party of the left after recent shifts in ideology. The NDP, which is seeking its first seat since 2003, has been shut out in four consecutive elections.

Things to keep in mind

The PCs won the most seats in the 2018 election with 22, three short of the 25 needed for a majority. The Liberals won 21, the Greens and Alliance took a historic three each. 

At dissolution, the PCs were down two seats after the death of Saint Croix MLA Greg Thompson and the departure of former deputy minister Robert Gauvin, who sat as an independent in Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou but is now running for the Liberals in Shediac Bay-Dieppe, a seat vacated by Gallant and unfilled prior to the campaign. 

The Liberals carried the popular vote in 2018 with a 37.8 per cent vote share — six points higher than the PCs. The Alliance received 12.5 per cent, the Greens earned 11.8 per cent and the NDP mustered five per cent. 

No party enters election day with a full roster of 49 candidates, after the PCs, Liberals and Alliance dismissed a candidate each last week over offensive social media posts targeting marginalized groups.

Former PC candidate Roland Michaud will be running as an independent in Victoria-La Vallée, a potential blow for the party who lost the seat to the Liberals in 2018 by 358 votes. On the other hand, the Liberals have no chance of retaking Saint Croix from the PCs after dropping candidate John Gardner, who is also running as an independent.

As the Tories scour the province for possible gains, they will be looking to central, western and southern areas. In 2018, Higgs had trouble breaking through in northern New Brunswick, which is predominantly francophone and leans heavily towards the Liberals; the electoral map showed a stark linguistic divide. 

The 2018 election results map shows a stark linguistic divide between the francophone north and anglophone south. (CBC)

The informal partnership between the PCs and the People’s Alliance, a party that has criticized the implementation of bilingualism in New Brunswick and called for a “common sense” approach, in the previous legislature appears to have deepened the divide. In the days after the 2018 election, the Alliance pledged to prop up a PC minority government for 18 months.

As CBC poll analyst Eric Grénier notes, the paths to victory for both Higgs and Vickers are narrow.

CBC News coverage 

CBC New Brunswick brings you election night coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. 

Join host Harry Forestell with expert analysis from Jacques Poitras, Rachel Cave and reporters in communities across the province. Polls close at 8 p.m. and we will have continuing coverage until the results are in.

Watch or listen on: CBC TV, CBC Gem, CBC Radio, CBC Listen, CBC News Network, and on the CBC New Brunswick Facebook page. 

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