FREDERICTON – New Brunswick’s opposition parties spent the weekend scrambling to prepare for a possible early election call after Premier Brian Gallant’s office announced he would meet with the lieutenant-governor Monday morning.
Notice of the meeting came Friday, followed by a statement from the premier’s press secretary, Tina Robichaud, that the Liberals received a mandate to focus on the priorities of New Brunswickers three years ago, and they “have accomplished that mandate.”
However, on Sunday, Robichaud was downplaying election talk.
“The premier is going to discuss the upcoming throne speech with the lieutenant-governor. He did the same thing last year,” she wrote in an email.
The next provincial election is currently scheduled for Sept. 24, 2018, and People’s Alliance party leader Kris Austin says an early call would ignore the spirit of the fixed election date legislation.
Austin said the government’s talk of completing its mandate is what fuelled the election speculation.
“That, in and of itself, gives the impression that it’s an election call. If he doesn’t do that, it just seems like a lot of games playing with the political parties and people at large on this issue,” Austin said.
“It’s just political spin, just smoke and mirrors and what I think these guys are forgetting is that people are more informed today and I think are keeping a closer eye on what’s going on,” he said.
Austin said his party — which has no seats in the legislature — held an emergency meeting Saturday and will be ready whenever an election is called.
“For the premier to get up and brag about their accomplishments is laughable. Our deficit is still there, we have more taxes than we’ve ever paid, so what mandate is he referring to?” Austin said.
The Opposition Progressive Conservatives also held meetings and conference calls to get ready.
“We will see on Monday what this is about but we must proceed over the weekend as though it is to call an election,” Tory leader Blaine Higgs said in a statement Friday.
Rick Lafrance, the Tory party president, said Sunday he and his members are “on standby” and looking forward to the premier’s press conference Monday.
“We have gone over the election readiness checklist and are ready to get to work,” he said in a statement.
Political scientist Don Desserud says the premier could simply want to set the stage for what he considers a significant speech from the throne.
It’s not uncommon for governing parties to hint at an early election call as a ploy to get the opposition parties to play their cards early, said the University of Prince Edward Island professor.
“You want to see what the other party has in store for you in an election campaign, what sort of platform they’re going to present, or even who the prominent candidates are going to be, so you deliberately convince them that there’s going to be an election so that they get out a little too early,” he said.
The governing Liberals hold 26 of the 49 seats in the legislature. The Progressive Conservatives have 22 members and the Green party has one.