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N.B. premier short-circuits election speculation, lists priorities for session

Last Updated Oct 23, 2017 at 2:20 pm EDT

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant, left, and Rick Doucet, government house leader leave Government House after speaking with the province's lieutenant-governor in Fredericton, N.B. on Monday, October 23, 2017. Gallant has issued a laundry list of his government's priorities for the new session of the legislature. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Stephen MacGillivray

FREDERICTON – New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant has ended speculation about an early election, and is modifying his government’s language about whether his mandate has been completed.

After a weekend of uncertainty about the government’s plans, Gallant said he intends to bring in legislation this session that includes plans to reduce the small business income tax and establish a model for carbon pricing.

The government had sent out a news release late Friday that said, “in 2014, we were given a mandate to focus on priorities that matter to New Brunswick residents. We have accomplished that mandate …”

That, along with his announced visit Monday with the lieutenant-governor, caused the political opposition to start mobilizing for a potential election call.

But when the premier spoke to reporters after visiting the lieutenant-governor on Monday he said: “No election.”

“Our mandate isn’t done. In fact, that’s very much why we focused on this session coming up to continue to grow the economy like we’ve done over the last three years,” said Gallant.

He also said the original news release had said a speech from the throne would proceed, adding that should have ended the speculation.

The session begins Tuesday with the speech.

Gallant said that in addition to the tax measures and carbon pricing plan, his government will set appropriate spending and donation limits for municipal elections, and formalize a salary freeze for members of the legislature.

Gallant says the Liberal government will also implement initiatives aimed at preventing intimate partner violence and reform the property tax system.

Opposition parties had held emergency meetings and conference calls to make sure they were ready for an early election in case it came.

Tory Leader Blaine Higgs said he delivered a letter to Lt.-Gov. Jocelyne Roy-Vienneau in advance of her meeting with Gallant. He says if Gallant had called an election, it would have been in violation of the Legislative Assembly Act.

New Brunswick has legislation prescribing fixed dates for provincial elections, every four years. The next provincial election is scheduled for Sept. 24, 2018.

Although the lieutenant-governor has the discretion to dissolve the House, Higgs says the premier is not to advise her to do so before the fixed date next fall.

“We are doing our duty as Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition to raise concerns every time we see the Gallant government ignore and disrespect the laws of our democracy,” he says in a statement. “We shared our concerns and research with Her Honour in advance of the meeting.”

Higgs added that the premier’s office intentionally stoked speculation that an election call was imminent.

Progressive Conservative member Jeff Carr said he believes Gallant was playing political games and did plan to call an early election, but changed his mind over the weekend.

“I think with the backlash from the negative attack ads that he had put out there, and I believe there was a polling company in the field over the weekend, so I think he realizes that he’s not quite as popular as he thinks he is, and today he retracted that idea,” Carr said.

Green Leader David Coon laughed at Carr’s suggestion, calling it “pure fantasy”.

Coon said the Liberals were up to “hijinx”, with an intention to take attention off the upcoming session.

“Over the weekend we didn’t see what you would normally see — a focus on what’s coming for this final session of the legislative assembly. What are the important issues? What is the government’s agenda?,” he said.

Both the Tories and the Green parties say they’ll be ready for whenever the election is called.

The New Democrats have yet to confirm any of their candidates, but rookie leader Jennifer McKenzie says her party is looking forward to whenever the election is called and will be ready.

McKenzie has yet to say where she will run.

The Liberals hold 26 of the seats in the legislature, while the Progressive Conservatives have 22 and the Green party has one.