New Brunswick's political parties revving their engines ahead of writ drop
By Kevin Bissett, THE CANADIAN PRESS
Published Wednesday, August 22, 2018 3:03PM ADT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 22, 2018 7:24PM ADT
FREDERICTON -- The parties are ready, the signs are printed and the buses are fuelled up.
The campaign for New Brunswick's provincial election officially begins Thursday with the writ drop.
Chief electoral officer Kimberly Poffenroth signed the 49 writs Wednesday, which are dated for Aug. 23.
"This gets the whole process in motion," she said as she put her signature to a total of 96 pages -- one English and one French -- for each of the 49 ridings.
Several parties have already been putting up campaign office signs, making promises and rolling out their buses as they vie for support in the Sept. 24 vote.
Liberal Premier Brian Gallant, who launched his bus campaign Sunday, said in Saint John Wednesday that if re-elected, his government would remain focused on growing and strengthening the province's trade relations.
He said that includes strengthening the trading relationship with the United States and defending the New Brunswick forestry industry in the wake of what he called "unwarranted tariffs imposed by the United States."
"In a more protectionist climate, we must work together to grow New Brunswick's export-oriented businesses," he said.
Gallant said his government would work to diversify international export markets and reduce barriers to internal trade within Canada.
"We will invest to help New Brunswick businesses innovate so they can send their products and services to markets around the world in a competitive way," Gallant said.
But one disgruntled labour group isn't happy with the Liberal government and plans to be vocal and visible during the election campaign.
About 50 members of CUPE Local 1190 staged a noisy demonstration in front of the main government office building in Fredericton Wednesday.
Joey Kelly, the union's provincial treasurer, said the group wants a resumption of their contract talks with the province after negotiations broke off last week.
"We want the employer back to the table and we're just asking them to negotiate the monetary items and a fair wage," he said.
Kelly said the union wants pay for casual employees increased to 100 per cent, from the 80 per cent they're at now.
"Essentially they're working five days a week and getting paid for four. We've been trying for three contracts now to get them up to 100 per cent."
Kelly said talks could be on hold until after the election because provincial negotiators said they have no monetary mandate from the government.
He said the union will lobby every political party during the election.
The Progressive Conservatives and Greens have launched their campaigns. The New Democrats have scheduled their campaign launch for noon Thursday in front of the provincial legislature. So far they have only nominated about 33 of their candidates for the 49 ridings.
Most pundits say voters won't pay much attention to the campaign until after the Labour Day weekend.
The parties have until Sept. 4 to submit their candidates to Elections New Brunswick, but Poffenroth said voters can cast their ballot as early as Thursday by special ballot at returning offices.
There will be 50 returning offices -- one in each of the 49 ridings, plus a satellite office on Grand Manan Island.
Poffenroth said electronic tabulation machines will be used again this election, despite a major technical glitch on election night in 2014 that held up results for hours.
She said the problem was not with the tabulation machines, but rather with a software program that was supposed to transfer all the results.
Poffenroth said that software has been replaced, and the system has worked perfectly during municipal elections and two provincial byelections since 2014.
She said there are also a number of levels at which the results are validated.
"We have a multi-step process including a software validation to ensure there is no corruption in that data as it gets posted to the website," she said.
Poffenroth said it's hard to estimate when all the results will be known, because anyone in the line-up at 8 p.m. when the polls close is entitled to vote.
At dissolution the Liberals had 24 seats in the legislature, the Progressive Conservatives had 22, there was one Green and one Independent, and there was one vacant seat.