Tuesday, September 19, 2006

New Brunswick Election - The Morning After

We have a Liberal majority, but only barely. 29-26 is hardly a crushing defeat for the Conservatives, who took more of the popular vote than the Liberals.

Can we really speak of a mandate for Shawn Graham's Liberals? His victory speech last night seemed to indicate that he thought his agenda had won major support from New Brunswickers. I don't read it that way. This election appears to have turned on a hospital closure in the Northeast, which mobilized a few ridings to vote Liberal and oust their local Conservative MLA. [UPDATE: It seems I didn't look at the riding results as closely as I should have, and instead focussed on popular vote, which has the Liberals strongest in the Northeast. Only one seat switched in that region. I still maintain that a few local issues played a bigger role in this campaign than a wholesale ideological shift in the province.]

Otherwise, this was a humdrum campaign which failed to capture the imagination of most New Brunswickers. By and large, there wasn't a wave of discontent with Bernard Lord or an overwhelming desire for change. Nor did Graham promise massive change, in my opinion. The voters have him on a very short tether, and will let him have his shot at governing, but they could return the province to the Conservative fold just as easily.

The bigger question for me is what does this mean for the leaders of the other two parties? I figure that Alison Brewer will likely step down in the not-too-distant future. Hopefully the terrible defeat suffered by the party (their worst showing since 1974) will lead to a major rethinking of the party's direction, and they will pick an effective bilingual communicator to lead the NDP through a rebuilding (or to be more accurate - building) phase.

And what of Bernard Lord, darling of the national media? In Ontario, he was long portrayed as the great centrist hope for Conservative renewal. A year in New Brunswick has me wondering what the hype was about. He's not loved here, but neither is he hated. Those who like him like that he's bilingual and a competent administrator. He's not viewed as a man of expansive vision. Outside of the province, this may not be so obvious, because so little attention is paid to New Brunswick politics. (Note that this morning, the New Brunswick election, which led to a change in government, was the number three story on the Globe's website, under Harper's announcement that Canada would stay in Afghanistan). I think that this defeat will certainly put any chance of Lord leaping into federal politics on hold - people don't like a loser. Six years from now, if he leads the Conservatives back into power, it may be a different story. But in the short term, I just don't see it happening.

I suspect that with the election over, my attentions will probably drift back to federal and Quebec politics. I'll keep an eye on what's going on here, but this blog will be less New Brunswick-focussed for the next little while.

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At 10:19 am, Anonymous Radical Centrist said...

You really think Lord will sit around as leader of the Official Opposition for 4 years? I can't see it myself. I'm willing to bet he tries to run for the federal Cons next spring.

At 10:35 am, Blogger Matt said...

I doubt that he'll stick it out, but I don't think that he has a strong shot at the federal leadership after having lost the provincial election, at least in the short term. It doesn't say great things about his chances at the national level. Moreover, even succesful provincial politicians don't have a great track record as leaders of federal parties in the twentieth century.

At 1:41 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're all wrong to think the Liberal win had anything to do with the closing of a hospital in the Northeast. In fact, the ONLY riding that changed hands in the Northeast was Miramichi Bay du Vin, Tanker Malley's riding served by the Miramichi Regional Hospital.

The ridings that changed from PC to Liberal were: Miramichi Bay du Vin, Memramcook-Lakeville-Dieppe, Quispamsis, Fundy-River Valley, and Fredericton-Silverwood--pretty much spread around the Province, but with 2 in the Saint John area.

At 1:59 pm, Blogger Matt said...


Mea culpa. You're right that only one riding in that region switched hands. I will however still maintain that the fact that the other ridings in the northeast didn't switch back to the PCs in this election is significant as well. A number of those ridings had been held by Lord's team from 1999-2003, and the fact that he didn't regain them is significant. Indeed, if two of those ridings had returned to the Conservative fold, he'd still be Premier. Voter anger in that part of the province was still a factor.

On the whole though, my overall assessment stands that the results of this election reflect a collective shrug by the voters, who didn't feel a strong reason to change government. Local issues seem to have been more important, whether in terms of denying the Conservatives new seats, or in giving Liberals a shot in a few ridings. But I don't think there was an overall driving issue in the campaign.

At 2:38 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In 1999, Lord swept to power as the Liberals had been in power too long. That is why there were more PC seats in the northeast at that time. In 2003, most returned to their tradional Liberal voting patterns.

There was nothing offered by the PCs to influence a change in this pattern. The hospital issue was only a small part of the discontent in this part of the Province. The Lord govt. simply ignored the needs of this area for too long.

At 12:20 am, Blogger Altavistagoogle said...

Great post! My sister in Montreal had no clue we were having elections in NB. Then it occured to me I had no idea who the governing parties were in NS and PEI!

If Quebec doesn't go to the polls this fall, there is always Maine and the conventions of the federal Liberals and Alberta Conservatives...


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