Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Assessing the political landscape in NB

With Premier Blaine Higgs and the provincial government about nine months into governing the province, the New Brunswick Union checked in with University of New Brunswick in Saint John political science professor J.P. Lewis for his view on the situation.
NBU: We’re about nine months into this minority government. In your assessment, how has the Higgs government managed the situation?
Prof. Lewis: The greatest challenge for any minority government is simply to survive. The Progressive Conservatives’ hold on power has been very safe for two main reasons: the support of the People’s Alliance and the change of leadership in the Liberal Party.
Both of these factors have provided the PCs space to make mistakes without fear of the government falling and has made issues such as the labour dispute with nursing home workers less of a threat to their survival because the Liberals may not be ready to govern and the People’s Alliance may not want to lose the influence and power they have in the current composition of the legislature.
NBU: Are there any particular issues you feel have been more prevalent than others? Why?
Prof. Lewis: Not surprisingly, the economy and the environment have become the most prevalent issues.
Within the province, the economy has been the most prevalent issue for decades. In the 2018 election, the choice between the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives was quite clear. When it came to government spending with the former continuing with its pace of government spending and the latter looking to cut government spending.
So far, the Progressive Conservative government has been relatively pragmatic in its financial belt tightening and might be taking lessons from the Ontario Progressive Conservative government who have walked into multiple political battles from spending decisions.
Outside the province, and more specifically between the provincial and the federal governments, the prevalent issue has been the environment and the federal carbon pricing policy. While the premier has allies in other provincial capitals in continuing the fight against the federal government’s carbon reduction plan, the politics of the issue could change dramatically depending on the results of the 2019 federal election.
NBU: Premier Higgs has challenged the opposition parties to trigger an election. Is this a wise move? What do the polling numbers suggest could happen?
Prof. Lewis: I would imagine that any recent election threats may be pure political rhetoric. It is difficult to see how any of the opposition parties would want an election anytime soon. The Liberals have a new leader and Kevin Vickers probably wants more time to prepare for his first election and the People’s Alliance and Greens will continuously be in a position of wondering if they want to throw away this hold on the balance of power for a possible majority government that would not need support from other parties.
NBU: With a federal election approaching, how do you see provincial politics factoring into New Brunswickers decision?
Prof. Lewis: The debate concerning carbon pricing could definitely affect the federal race in the ten New Brunswick seats. In other provinces we have seen premiers out campaigning - notably Jason Kenney in Alberta - against the federal Liberal government so there will be a lot of attention on Blaine Higgs and how much he decides to play a role on the campaign trail in a province that is currently home to only Liberal MPs.