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Liberals intend to form government despite Tory minority

CBC News projects a minority government in New Brunswick, but it’s not clear who will form it.

The Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals are in a dead heat at 21 seats as the final votes are counted in the 39th provincial general election

But Monday will also be a night to remember for New Brunswick’s smaller parties.

CBC News projects PCs to win 21 seats, while the incumbent Liberals are sitting at 20 elected and leading in one more. The parties are tied despite the Liberals taking a larger piece of the vote.

With 96.5 per cent of polls reporting, the Liberals have received 37.7 per cent of the votes compared with the PC share of 32.2 per cent.

Liberal Leader Brian Gallant, left, and PC Leader Blaine Higgs routinely attacked each other on the campaign trail.(CBC)

With 12. 6 per cent of the vote, the People’s Alliance has won two ridings, CBC News projects, and is leading in two more. Plus, the Green Party, with 11.6 per cent of the vote, is projected to win two ridings and is leading in a third.

Liberal Leader Brian Gallant won his home riding of Shediac Bay-Dieppe, while Tory Leader Blaine Higgs won in Quispamsis.

The People’s Alliance made history as party leader Kris Austin captured Fredericton-Grand Lake and Michelle Conroy won Miramichi, home to Liberal minister Bill Fraser. The party is leading in Southwest Miramichi-Bay Du Vin and Fredericton-York.

People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin poses for photo before voting Monday. Austin is projected to make history Monday by capturing one of the party’s first ever seats.(CBC)

Three Liberals ministers have lost their seats, CBC News projects, and another is trailing.

  • In Fundy-The-Isles-Saint John West, PC candidate Andrea Anderson-Mason defeated longtime MLA Rick Doucet;
  • Former federal cabinet minister Greg Thompson ousted John Ames;
  • Fraser lost his seat in Miramichi to the People’s Alliance;
  • and, in Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou, Wilfred Roussel is trailing in a tight race with PC candidate Robert Gauvin

Green Leader David Coon retained his Fredericton-South seat, and Green candidate Megan Mitton defeated Liberal incumbent Bernard LeBlanc in Memramcook-Tantramar.

In 2014, Coon became the first Green MLA elected in New Brunswick.

Green Party Leader David Coon delivers his victory speech in downtown Fredericton on Monday night.(Catherine Harrop/CBC)

“The people of Fredericton South voted for hope, not fear. They voted for kindness. They voted for change, not the status quo,” he said during his victory speech in downtown Fredericton.

NDP Leader Jennifer McKenzie, sitting third in Saint John Harbour, conceded in front of a room of supporters. The party received five per cent of the vote.

“Tonight, people have decided to send others to the legislature,” she said.

The last seat the NDP won was in 2003.

Another single-term government

The Progressive Conservatives had planned to take back the legislative assembly from the Liberals and extend the recent string of single-term governments.

The last provincial government to be re-elected was the Bernard Lord Tories in 2003.

When the legislature dissolved, there were 24 Liberals, 21 Progressive Conservatives, one Green, one independent and two vacancies.

Voter turnout

Elections New Brunswick is hoping for a better voter turnout after the historic low of 64.7 per cent in 2014. And so far, the turnout has been positive, according to chief electoral officer Kim Poffenroth.

As of 2 p.m. Monday, more than 177,000 ballots had been cast — higher than normal at that point on election day, she said.

The figure is in part fuelled by a larger turnout in advance voting. More than 87,000 voted early this year compared to 67,317 last election.

Fredericton residents made their way to the polls on Monday as New Brunswick prepares to elect a new provincial government.(James West/Canadian Press)

The number doesn’t account for special ballots or on-campus voting.

Poffenroth said voting had gone smoothly so far Monday, with just one of the more than 470 polling stations opening late. The Le Goulet station in Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou riding will remain open for an extra 20 minutes.

However, at least three ridings reported issues with tabulation machines. Elections New Brunswick said the issues in Hampton, Saint John Harbour and Fredericton North have been resolved.

Liberals, Tories trade jabs

The Liberals chose a pro-spending campaign in the face of concern from economists and the public to improve the province’s finances. The party promised heavy spending on infrastructure, health care, nursing homes and education, while also pledging to freeze power rates.

If Gallant wasn’t touting his record or making a spending pledge, he was attacking Higgs. The Liberals routinely targeted the PC leader’s record as finance minister as well as his connections with big business and warned the electorate of cuts to public services.

New Brunswick’s party leaders, from left, NDP Leader Jennifer McKenzie, Green Party Leader David Coon, People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin, Liberal Leader Brian Gallant and PC Leader Blaine Higgs will be anxiously watching the returns roll in Monday night.(Marc Grandmaison/The Canadian Press)

The PCs were just as active in criticizing Gallant, saying the province “can’t afford” another four years of “reckless” Liberal spending.

Higgs stood by his record and even said — in rather dramatic fashion — the Liberals approached him about taking a job in their government following the 2014 election. Gallant denied the claim.

Stabilizing provincial finances and boosting the economy were the pillars of Tory messaging. The party promised to balance the budget two years into their mandate without making cuts to education and health care.

Higgs also campaigned against the “job-killing” carbon tax.

A two-party province no longer

New Brunswick has been a two-party province for, well, forever. Only twice in the past 100 years has a third party held more than one seat in a legislature.

Two parties other than the Liberals or Tories occupying seats in a legislature at the same has also only happened twice in the past century.

But the Greens and People’s Alliance achieved that feat Monday.

Feeling the smaller party pressure, both Gallant and Higgs have cautioned against vote splitting.

Coon made history in the 2014 election, becoming the first Green MLA elected in the province by winning Fredericton South. The party built off Coon’s growing profile and name recognition after four years in office.

New Brunswick Green Party Leader David Coon casts his vote at the Centre Communautaire Saint-Anne in Fredericton on Monday.(James West/The Canadian Press)

During the campaign, Coon emphasized the party’s economic policies, letting voters know they’re well beyond a single-issue organization.

The People’s Alliance leader was defeated in Fredericton-Grand Lake by 26 votes in the last election, but Austin has returned with a groundswell of support behind him as the party sought its first seats in the legislative assembly.

The Alliance has gained a fervent following in the past eight years, culminating in its largest field of candidates (30) this year. However, some of its policies, particularly on language issues, have spurred controversy and alienated voters.

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