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#EveryElectionProject: New Brunswick
Capsules on New Brunswick's elections from The Weekly Writ
Every installment of The Weekly Writ includes a short history of one of Canada’s elections. Here are the ones I have written about elections and leadership races in New Brunswick.
This and other #EveryElectionProject hubs will be updated as more historical capsules are written.
1925 New Brunswick election
The province’s first Acadian premier goes down to defeat
August 10, 1925
New Brunswick’s economy was depressed, the government was indebted and unemployment in the province was high. But the previous election had been held five years ago. Like it or not, Premier Pierre-Jean Veniot had to send New Brunswickers to the polls in 1925.
Though parties weren’t officially recognized at the time, Veniot was a Liberal. He was also New Brunswick’s first Acadian premier, taking over from Walter Foster when he resigned in 1923.
On July 17, with the clock running out on the legislature, Veniot set the date for the next election: August 10, 1925.
The biggest issue in the campaign was the Liberal government’s huge hydro-electricity project at Grand Falls. Veniot had always intended on making this publicly-funded project the ballot box issue, stating in 1924 that “we feel the people should have a final voice in the matter before we undertake the real work of development.”
But Veniot grew impatient, and in 1925 his government got the ball rolling on the project, passing legislation that tripled New Brunswick’s borrowing power for the project to nearly $13 million — a huge sum for a province with an annual budget of just $4.1 million at the time.
The opposition cried foul on Veniot’s flip-flop. Shortly before the campaign began, the Conservatives chose John B.M. Baxter, federal MP for Saint John, to lead the party. He would, in the words of the Conservative-friendly Moncton Times, end “the orgy of extravagance” that had occurred under the Liberals.
Baxter charged that the Veniot government was not providing nearly enough details about the feasibility of the project, especially considering its gargantuan cost. The Liberals were rushing into it for no reason — why not wait until the election was over and the people had spoken?
“Are we going to stand,” wondered Conservative candidate Leonard P.D. Tilley, “for another $15,000,000 liability jumped upon us in the last moments of a dying Government? I think the people of this Province, both Liberal and Conservative, will cry, ‘Halt’.”
The Liberals countered that the Conservatives were in hock to the big interests of the lumber and paper industries that dominated New Brunswick. The depression had hit them hard and half of the province’s saw mills had closed. They wanted reduced power rates from the Grand Falls project, but the Liberals would not give them everything they wanted.
As the campaign unfolded, Liberal-leaning newspapers pushed the narrative that Veniot was fighting for the little guy against the heartless logger barons. On the stump, the premier deplored “the brazen attempts to steal away the people’s interest.”
A side issue in the Saint John area was the Liberal government’s introduction of the compulsory pasteurization of milk, a measure that would reduce deaths from tainted milk. The Conservatives, however, attacked the measure, wanting to make people free to purchase what they termed “pure milk” and pledging to “cut out all fads and fancies” in the Department of Health. The Liberals’ health minister defended the policy on the basis that it would save lives.
But something that might have had an even bigger impact on the results was the strain of anti-French bigotry in some quarters of anglophone New Brunswick. The Acadian, Catholic and French-speaking population in the province formed a big minority, but a minority nonetheless. The English Protestant majority in the south was not particularly receptive to the idea of an Acadian premier.
While Baxter himself didn’t attack Veniot’s heritage — he even attempted speaking French to audiences in the north — there was an undeniable “whispering campaign” that passed along the message that ‘a vote for Veniot is a vote for the Pope of Rome’. There were allegations that the Ku Klux Klan, which was an active player in Canadian elections in the 1920s, was involved in trying to influence voters as well.
As Arthur T. Doyle puts it:
“It was one of the great campaigns in New Brunswick’s stormy political history: the posters, the cartoons, the exhaustive canvassing, the countless meetings, the ginger ale and ice cream picnics, the rallies, the oratory, and the endless handshakings. The leaders took full advantage of the fashionable automobile and the modern highway network to criss-cross the province attending massive rallies. Probably no other two New Brunswick politicians had achieved so much exposure in a single campaign … In many small towns they attracted audiences of over 1,000, and in the cities, the crowds sometimes exceeded 2,000 … For the political parties, it was almost certainly the most expensive election ever. While the Liberals said the lumber companies financed the Conservative campaign, the Conservatives said the Grand Falls contractors financed the Liberals. They were probably both right.1
Turnout was strong on election day. After the votes were all cast crowds of hundreds gathered outside newspaper offices to await the results. As the numbers rolled in, they were announced over megaphone and written on blackboards in the windows of the offices.
The result was a big victory for John Baxter and the Conservatives, who won 37 seats — an increase of 24 since the 1920 election. The Liberals dropped 13 seats, winning only 11. The United Farmers (who had burst onto the scene in 1920) were wiped out, including the three who ran as supporters of the Liberal government in Carleton county.
While the debate over the Grand Falls project might have dominated the campaign, the map hinted at the linguistic divide that might have been just as decisive.
The only seats the Liberals won came in the counties of Madawaska, Victoria, Gloucester and Kent — areas with big French-speaking Acadian populations. The Conservatives swept the southern anglophone ridings, defeating incumbent Liberal MLAs in places like Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John.
Veniot held on as leader only until 1926, when he made a successful jump to federal politics with Mackenzie King’s Liberals.
Baxter’s Conservatives, meanwhile, would be re-elected in 1930 and the Grand Falls project would be completed in 1931 — after it was sold to a private company.
But, like many Great Depression-era governments, the Conservatives would be turfed in the subsequent election in 1935 by the Liberals under Allison Dysart, a leader who would inspire the political career of Louis Robichaud who, in 1960, became New Brunswick’s first Acadian premier with an electoral mandate of his own.
1932 New Brunswick Liberal leadership
Twice interim, Dysart made permanent leader of the NB Liberals
October 5, 1932
On a fall day in 1932, some 600 Liberals made their way to the Fredericton Opera House to attend their provincial party’s convention. At issue was who would lead the New Brunswick Liberals into the next election — and potentially back into power.
“The majority of the Liberal delegates arrived in the capital by auto,” reported the Fredericton Daily Mail, and “the convention which began shortly after two o’clock was one of the most enthusiastic ever held in this city.”
New Brunswick, like the rest of Canada, was in the grips of the Great Depression. The challenge had sparked rumours that the Liberals would enter into a coalition with the governing Conservatives. It was something those gathered at the convention strongly and clearly opposed.
The goal was to kick the Conservatives out of office, regaining what the Liberals had lost in 1925. At the convention, a wire from Mackenzie King was read to the delegates, in which the Liberal opposition leader in Ottawa called for a “Liberal united determination to win back New Brunswick.”
The choice for leader came down to two men. There was John B. McNair, a lawyer from Fredericton who had long been active in party circles. But the favourite was Allison Dysart, the party’s acting leader in the Legislative Assembly.
Dysart had sat in the assembly as the member for Kent since 1917 and had even been interim leader before. After the Liberals’ defeat in 1925, Dysart took over leadership duties after the resignation of Peter Veniot. But as the 1930 provincial election approached, the party urged Dysart to step side. He was a Catholic, after all, and Veniot’s Catholicism (and Acadian heritage) was blamed for the party’s defeat.
The change to a Protestant leader didn’t have the desired outcome, and the Liberals (as well as leader Wendell Jones in his own riding) were defeated in 1930. Leaderless on the opposition benches, Dysart took over the job once again.
This time, though, Liberal delegates were set on keeping Dysart in his post for good and, according to the Moncton Transcript, Dysart prevailed by 459 votes to 97 for McNair.
In his victory speech, Dysart “levelled a barrage of vituperation against the expenditures of the present [Conservative] government,” according to the Daily Mail. As a consolation prize, McNair was elected as president of the party.
An editorial in the Daily Mail welcomed Dysart’s victory.
“From east, west, north and south came sturdy delegates determined to square the account by restoring Mr. Dysart to the position from which he was cruelly ousted just prior to the election of 1930, lop away the mouldering branches and make some effort to restore the old party to the position, which it held in New Brunswick before it fell upon evil days, largely as the result of kindergarten leadership.”
Dysart would eventually lead the Liberals to a sweeping victory in 1935. Among those appointed to his cabinet would be John B. McNair, the new attorney general. While Dysart would only govern New Brunswick until 1940, McNair would step in and continue the Liberal run in power for another 12 years.
Little did those delegates know that the two men they chose from in 1932 would govern the province for most of the next two decades.
1970 New Brunswick election
Louis Robichaud gives it one last try
October 26, 1970
Jean Lesage and the Quebec Liberals came to power in 1960, an event that marks the start of the Quiet Revolution that transformed the province. That same year, Louis Robichaud and the New Brunswick Liberals kicked off a revolution of their own.
Robichaud was the first Acadian premier in New Brunswick to win an electoral mandate of his own and over the next 10 years he would reform the province, giving the French-speaking Acadian minority more say in governance and greater equality with the English-speaking majority.
He would win re-election in 1963 and 1967. In his third term in office, he brought forward the Official Languages Act that would divide the province but eventually get passed unanimously in 1969.
It exhausted a government that was already running out of steam. Robichaud, too, was losing his enthusiasm for the job that he won when he was only 34 years old. He had hoped to step aside and hand the leadership over to someone else, but the delays in getting the Official Languages Act passed and a hoped-for judicial appointment from Ottawa that never came kept him in the premier’s chair.
By the end of the summer of 1970, Robichaud just wanted to get the next election done so that he could win it and pass the job over to someone else who could have time to reboot the Liberals. He had also called a couple of byelections that the Liberals risked losing — better to avoid those painful defeats, call a general election and hope to catch the Progressive Conservative opposition by surprise.
The PCs, though, were ready. Now under Richard Hatfield, just 39 and “a modern, liberal-minded Conservative”, according to a Southam News correspondent, Hatfield had his party’s platform out before even the Liberals did. The Liberals didn’t even get their platform out to the newspapers in time to fill the adspace the party had purchased — the blank news pages that resulted gave Hatfield something to point to as the Liberal platform.
Hatfield’s strategy was to argue that after a decade of bewildering reform, New Brunswickers needed a change of government that would calm things down and get the province’s finances back in order.
There were few major issues during the campaign, but two would have some electoral repercussions in Moncton. Anglophones in the city were hoping to send their children to bilingual schools in order for them to learn French, but Acadians were worried that it would only accelerate the assimilation of their community into the English-speaking majority.
The Robichaud government was also put on the backfoot by a proposal made by two British experts hired by the Liberals to recommend reforms to the healthcare system. The experts suggested amalgamating the two hospitals in Moncton into a single hospital, something that neither anglophones nor francophones supported and which made a mockery of the government’s on-going construction of a new French-language hospital.
These issues went by the wayside, though, when the kidnapping of James Cross and Pierre Laporte by the FLQ gripped the nation. The October Crisis distracted voters, heightened English-French tensions and took Robichaud out of the province when he attended Laporte’s funeral in Montreal. Robichaud also now found himself guarded by officers of the RCMP that kept him at a distance from voters, and one rally had to be cancelled when a bomb threat was called in.
Hatfield, though running a good campaign that included touring the province by helicopter and reaching out to Acadians in their own language (or, at least, attempting to), was still seen as the underdog when October 26, 1970 approached. Observers thought the election would be close but that Robichaud and the Liberals would eke out another win.
Instead, Robichaud was handed a narrow defeat as the province split along linguistic lines.
Reversing the results of the 1967 election, the PCs won 32 seats and the Liberals won 26 seats, with both parties capturing 48.5% of the vote. The Liberals, though, ran up bigger majorities in the francophone north than the PCs did in the anglophone south, and so found themselves behind by a few seats.
Only a handful changed colours. In 1970, New Brunswick still had ridings that elected multiple candidates and the PCs were able to gain all three of the seats in Moncton. They also picked up the seat in Edmundston, where Robichaud hadn’t cashiered a minister involved in scandal, and two in Sunbury, where the soldiers at Gagetown had been deployed to patrol the streets of Montreal.
With the exception of a single seat in both Queens and Saint John, the Liberals were pushed back to the northern and eastern edges of the province where Acadian francophones were the majority.
Robichaud, commenting on results, recognized that “the people decided they wanted a change”, while Hatfield said he would govern for all New Brunswickers, regardless of region or language. Robichaud would eventually get that call from Ottawa when he was made a senator in 1973, while Hatfield would continue to govern until the historic defeat of the PCs in 1987, when the party did not win a single seat.
1982 New Brunswick election
Richard Hatfield’s last majority
October 12, 1982
The 1978 election in New Brunswick was a near-death experience for premier Richard Hatfield and his Progressive Conservatives. In Hatfield’s attempt to win a third consecutive term in office for his scandal-plagued government, he was nearly toppled by Joseph Daigle and the Liberals. Only two seats separated the two parties.
The Parti Acadien, which advocated for the rights of New Brunswick’s French-speaking Acadians (and ultimately a separate province), emerged as a force in the election, taking 12% of the vote where it ran candidates and nearly electing one MLA.
Acadians had traditionally backed the New Brunswick Liberals, acting as a solid base for that party and a ceiling for the Progressive Conservatives. The PCs needed to win southern, anglophone New Brunswick in order to form government, while the Liberals could afford to only split the south.
But with the rise of the Parti Acadien signaling that the Liberals no longer had a monopoly on the Acadian electorate, Hatfield and his francophone lieutenant, Jean-Maurice Simard, spied an opportunity.
Hatfield’s government launched a charm offensive in the north, investing huge sums of money on infrastructure projects and new schools and hospitals, as well as creating autonomous French-speaking school districts and a bilingual public service, bringing in the controversial Bill 88 which recognized the equality of the two linguistic communities.
While welcomed by Acadians, these efforts did not go over particularly well with English-speakers in southern New Brunswick. Nor was Hatfield’s PC caucus entirely behind him.
But it also split the Liberals, as Daigle flip-flopped on Bill 88 and shook the confidence of his MLAs, who eventually voted by a margin of 23 to three to remove him as leader. His replacement was 41-year-old lawyer Douglas Young, who represented a riding in the north.
The Parti Acadien, too, faced its own internal divisions, such as what position it should take over Quebec’s 1980 referendum. The Hatfield PCs decided to take advantage of the divisions plaguing their opponents. They would conduct two entirely separate campaigns, one led by Hatfield in English in the south and the other led by Simard in French in the north.
When Hatfield officially began the campaign in early September 1982, he pledged to protect the province from the effects of the recession that was hurting the country. He would exercise restraint but would not cut services. At the outset, he enjoyed a small lead in the polls over the Liberals, despite New Brunswick’s difficult economic situation, high unemployment and struggling forest industry.
Though Young was also critical of his federal cousins, Hatfield tried to tie Young and the New Brunswick Liberals to prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who was unpopular at the time. He also reminded voters of the role — exaggerated or otherwise — Young played in engineering Daigle’s downfall. Such disloyal ambition could not be trusted in the premier’s office.
In the north, Simard took a different tack, emphasizing the steps the PCs had already taken to empower the Acadian population and promising to implement much of the platform that had been the Parti Acadien’s.
The dual nature of the campaign proved divisive within the PC Party, but it proved effective among the electorate — who largely existed in two distinct media and political ecosystems.
It was a campaign dominated by pricey promises from the PCs and Liberals, including such measures as mortgage assistance, help for small businesses, job creation programs and universal kindergarten. What’s more, the platforms put forward by the PCs and Liberals were similar, making it difficult for voters to draw a distinction between the two.
They weren’t the only parties in the field. The Parti Acadien ran a reduced number of candidates in the north. The New Democrats, now under school teacher George Little, ran a more professional campaign than they had in 1978, with nearly a full slate of candidates and help from organizers with experience electing the NDP in British Columbia.
The campaign was considered a close one heading into election day, but the result was the biggest majority Hatfield would ever win.
The Progressive Conservatives won 39 seats, flipping a number of seats from red to blue in areas with significant Acadian populations. The PCs were up nine seats from the 1978 election, gaining three percentage points to finish with 47.4% of the vote.
The Liberals lost a lot of ground in northern New Brunswick as well as a few seats in the south, dropping 10 seats to just 18 and three points to 41.3% of the vote.
The New Democrats successfully won Tantramar, where they had finished a close second in 1978. Little was defeated in his own riding, but he did lead the NDP to their first seat victory ever.
Support for the Parti Acadien collapsed to just 0.9% and no candidate placed better than third. It would be the last election contested by the party.
Michael Harris, writing in The Globe and Mail, took a dim view of the campaign that had unfolded:
“For much of the campaign Mr. Hatfield and Mr. Young traded insults. The Premier accused Mr. Young of being disloyal to Mr. Daigle in leading the caucus revolt that ousted the former Liberal leader; Mr. Young characterized Mr. Hatfield as the head of a corrupt administration in bed with the federal Liberals. In the cut and thrust of what was often a nasty exchange, Mr. Hatfield emerged the clear winner.”
But Hatfield couldn’t keep up his high-wire act forever. Scandals continued to plague his government and the divisions he fostered in the 1982 campaign eventually ripped the PCs apart. In the 1987 election, Hatfield would finally go to defeat when Frank McKenna and the Liberals won a clean sweep of all 58 of New Brunswick’s ridings.
1999 New Brunswick election
The bell tolls for the New Brunswick Liberals
June 7, 1999
You can’t go anywhere but down after a perfect sweep.
That’s what happened to the New Brunswick Liberals in the 1987 election when the party went 58-for-58, ousting (and humiliating) Richard Hatfield’s PCs.
Under Frank McKenna, the Liberals lost a few seats in 1991 and held their own in 1995. But by 1999, McKenna was gone and the Liberals had been in power for more than a decade.
It was up to Camille Thériault, McKenna’s replacement as party leader and premier, to keep the Liberals afloat. The polls augured well for his party, so Thériault set the date for his first test with voters for June 7, 1999.
But Thériault was not exactly a household name in New Brunswick. Despite being in McKenna’s cabinet, the former premier was not one for sharing the spotlight. It levelled the playing field somewhat for the new leader of the Progressive Conservatives, a young lawyer from Moncton named Bernard Lord.
Perfectly bilingual and equally at ease among anglophones and francophones, Lord was trying to have the party move on from the divisive debate over bilingualism. It had contributed to Hatfield’s collapse in 1987 and the rise of the anti-bilingualism Confederation of Regions to official opposition status in 1991. The grassroots, populist outfit couldn’t keep itself together, though, and by 1995 it had fallen back significantly in popularity.
By 1999 it was a spent force, and Lord went about bringing former COR supporters back into the fold. His stance for official bilingualism in New Brunswick with an emphasis on “fairness and justice” made both Acadians and COR voters feel at home in Lord’s PC Party.
While there were some grumblings within PC ranks over welcoming the COR elements that had abandoned the party, the Liberals made a misstep when they tried to make an issue of it. It was an attempt to shore-up their own francophone base as well as to divide the PCs in two, but their efforts received some blowback from a population that had grown tired of division over language.
A bigger problem for the Liberals, though, might have been a highway toll.
During McKenna’s tenure, the Liberals had signed a contract with a private company to build a much-needed highway between Moncton and Fredericton. News that it would be a tolled highway outraged locals. Lord promised to re-negotiate the contract and get rid of the tolls, but Thériault refused to budge and his campaign events would be greeted by angry protestors.
The issue fit perfectly with Lord’s overall focus on the bane of high taxes under the Liberal government. Thériault tried to make the campaign instead about the economy and health care, and criticized the PC plan to scrap the tolls and cut personal income taxes as fiscally irresponsible.
There were some weaknesses in the Liberal strategy, though. Thériault wouldn’t explicitly distance himself from his predecessor, but he tried to present a more compassionate approach than the one under McKenna, which included austerity measures that closed schools — much resented in the Acadian Peninsula — and cuts to hospital beds.
The Liberals might have also gotten complacent and lazy. Robert Pichette, an Acadian columnist writing in the Globe and Mail, said the Liberal campaign’s “slogans are as trite as their posters are amateurish; in fact, their entire campaign so far looks as if it were devised by rank amateurs.”
When mid-campaign polls suggested the Liberal walk had turned into a competitive race, suddenly Bernard Lord and the PCs looked like a legitimate alternative to voters who had previously been concerned with making sure their MLA was sitting on the government benches. Accordingly, the Liberals and Thériault sharpened their attacks against Lord — perhaps too little, too late, and the attacks also reinforced the PCs’ standing as a potential government.
Expectations were that it would still be pretty close. Instead, the PCs won a huge majority of 44 seats with 53% of the vote, a gain of 38 seats and 22 points since the previous election in 1995.
And it wasn’t just the southern English-speaking parts of New Brunswick that backed the Tories. The PCs gained five seats in northern New Brunswick and swept the eight seats in the Moncton area, in addition to sweeping Fredericton, gaining five seats in and around Miramichi and 10 more in the south.
The seats along the toll highway? They all went PC.
“Our province has voted for change,” Lord told the cheering crowd at his victory rally. “Today New Brunswickers forged a new beginning for a new century.”
The Liberals were reduced to just 37% of the vote, winning seven seats in the francophone regions in the north and east and a few more in the west.
The New Democrats under Elizabeth Weir retained her seat of Saint John Harbour, but otherwise the NDP was only competitive in two other ridings across the province. The Confederation of Regions all but disappeared, failing to register even 5% support in any riding in New Brunswick.
For the next few election cycles, New Brunswick’s political map would not be so riven by linguistic divides as it had been before. But the re-alignment achieved first by Hatfield and then by Lord would be short-lived. Not much more than a decade after Lord’s 1999 breakthrough, New Brunswick would revert to its Liberal-north and Tory-south divide — and another party critical of official bilingualism, the People’s Alliance, would re-emerge. It, too, would be re-integrated into the Progressive Conservatives, though without the same linguistic sensitivity as under Bernard Lord.
2010 New Brunswick election
New Brunswick’s first one-and-done government
September 27, 2010
When Shawn Graham’s Liberals narrowly defeated Bernard Lord’s Progressive Conservatives in the 2006 New Brunswick election, they came into office aiming to be just as transformative for the province as the earlier Liberal governments of Louis Robichaud and Frank McKenna.
Their agenda was ambitious — but that ambition very quickly became seen as recklessness. The Liberals attempted to reform post-secondary education and eliminate early French immersion, were taken to court over the restructuring of New Brunswick’s health system and they tried to cut some ferry services. These were projects that were floated and opposed and usually abandoned.
But New Brunswick needed some boldness. The provincial budget was in a deficit approaching $1 billion and the debt had grown to nearly $8 billion. One of New Brunswick’s troubled entities was NB Power, the electricity utility, and so Graham came up with a novel idea: why not sell it to Quebec?
It wasn’t long after Graham and Quebec premier Jean Charest announced the plan to sell most of NB Power to Hydro-Québec before a very vocal and widespread opposition to the notion made itself known. The government’s own polling suggested the idea was a big loser.
The credibility of the Liberal government had been shot through, and the plan was kiboshed. While the Liberals’ polling numbers improved after Graham backtracked, New Brunswickers had grown tired and untrusting of the government and its young, energetic leader.
After Lord’s defeat, the Progressive Conservatives selected David Alward, one of Lord’s cabinet ministers, as their new leader. Unflashy though he was, his relative dullness appealed to voters who wanted some peace and tranquility after the tumultuous Graham years.
When the 2010 campaign kicked off, the Liberals held a narrow lead in the polls over the PCs. It was going to be a tight affair, and neither party wanted to own-up to New Brunswickers about the dire straits the province’s economy was in. The towering debt and deficit would have to be dealt with post-election in one way or the other, but neither the Liberals now the PCs came forward with a solid plan about what they would do. Instead, the two parties made upwards of 600 promises, many of them costly, including a free laptop for all students (Liberals) or a power-rate freeze (PCs). When asked, both Alward and Graham would duck and dodge any question about whether they would cut spending or raise taxes.
The Liberals and PCs weren’t the only parties in the field. The New Democrats, without a seat in the legislature since losing their only holding in a 2005 byelection, were under the leadership of Roger Duguay, a priest from northern New Brunswick that gave the party more credibility among Acadians than it had had for a long time.
But the NDP, despite its limited electoral success, was a relatively ‘old’ party compared to two other new entrants. The 2010 election marked the first foray into provincial elections for the New Brunswick Greens, under the leadership of (former Liberal) Jack MacDougall. On the right, a new populist outfit that grew out of the grassroots opposition to the Liberal government also ran a small slate of candidates. It was the People’s Alliance of New Brunswick, under Kris Austin. Despite the lack of a seat in the legislature at dissolution, the leaders of the NDP, Greens and People’s Alliance were invited to the debates — reducing the focus on the fight between Alward and Graham.
Graham tried to ask New Brunswickers for another chance, saying in one of the debates that “when you have to lead you have to make difficult decisions. I know I'm not perfect. We've learned a lot and we can and will do better."
But voters appeared ready to do something they had never done before in New Brunswick’s history since the adoption of partisan politics in 1935: defeat a one-term government. By the campaign’s end, the PCs held a significant lead in the polls.
The results were even worse than the Liberals had feared. The PCs stormed to a big majority government, winning 42 seats and taking 48.8% of the vote. Their share of the vote had jumped by only 1.3 points since 2006, but the Liberals’ slide gave the PCs a big advantage.
Graham’s party lost 16 seats, falling to just 13 and 34.5% of the vote, down 12.7 points. Up to then, that was the lowest share of the vote the New Brunswick Liberals had ever received in an election.
The Liberals lost all their seats in Fredericton and Saint John and, with the exception of Charlotte-The Isles in the southwest, were limited to seats in Moncton and on the eastern shore of the province.
It was the rise in support for the NDP (10.4%, up 5.3 points) and the new vote won by the Greens (4.5%) that sapped the Liberals’ chances, particularly in Fredericton and Saint John. The PC vote didn’t increase much in those two cities, but the loss of Liberal support put the PCs ahead. In the rest of rural, anglophone New Brunswick, however, the PC vote surged.
The NDP did not win a seat, though they put up strong campaigns in two Saint John ridings and in the northeast, where Duguay came up just 1,300 votes short of winning his Tracadie-Sheila riding. The Greens had some respectable showings in the southeast and in Fredericton but were shutout — as was the People’s Alliance, which finished no better than third in just two ridings. Austin, however, took about 20% of the vote in his own riding. The Greens and People’s Alliance would have a role to play in New Brunswick’s politics, but not just yet.
Graham became the first New Brunswick premier to lead his party to victory in one election and go down to defeat in the next. But he wouldn’t be the last. The prize that David Alward won was not so glittering, and New Brunswick’s problems would soon make Alward the second New Brunswick premier to get just one term in office.
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NOTE ON SOURCES: When available, election results are sourced from Elections New Brunswick and J.P. Kirby’s election-atlas.ca. Historical newspapers are also an important source, and I’ve attempted to cite the newspapers quoted from.
In addition, information in these capsules are sourced from the following works:
Front Benches and Back Rooms, by Arthur T. Doyle
Louis Robichaud: La révolution acadienne, by Michel Cormier
The Right Fight: Bernard Lord and the Conservative Dilemma, by Jacques Poitras
Richard Hatfield: The Seventeen Year Saga, by Richard Starr