Opposition parties mull N.B. premier's proposal to avoid election until pandemic is declared over
FREDERICTON -- New Brunswick’s three opposition parties spent Tuesday speaking to their caucus and discussing the premier’s proposal to avoid a provincial election.
Late Monday afternoon, Premier Blaine Higgs sent a letter to the Liberal, Green and People’s Alliance parties, proposing an agreement that would avoid an election until a fixed date in 2022 -- or until the COVID-19 pandemic is declared over.
But the letter goes further, stating that any agreement would have to also include a promise not to overthrow the government on confidence votes, like the budget.
“Any agreement would build on the following,” the letter reads:
- A supply and spending agreement to avoid instability;
- A formalization of the COVID-19 Cabinet Committee to ensure we work together to confront the pandemic and plan New Brunswick’s recovery; and
- A mutually agreed-upon legislative agenda including proposals from each participating party.
In response, People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin said he would participate in the discussions -- scheduled for 3 p.m. on Wednesday -- but would not “compromise our fight for tax reform, language fairness, and fiscal responsibility…”
He did say he sees “no need for a general election at this time.”
On Tuesday, in an interview with CTV Atlantic, Green Party Leader David Coon called the proposal “beyond imagination.”
“I’m not going to sign a blank cheque for budgets we’ve not seen. That would not be responsible,” he said.
Coon said he will be attending the meeting and is hoping to come up with a more “modest approach to collaboration” and, instead, focus on what could go into a throne speech that would see support from all four parties.
Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers said late Monday that the move could be “excellent news for New Brunswickers," and the right decision at this time, to avoid an election.
There are at least two byelections that have to go ahead before Oct. 15.
The letter also states that “the results of any byelections or other changes in the composition of the house would not change the proposed agreement.”
Jamie Gillies, a political science professor at St. Thomas University, says you would have to go back to “wartime coalitions in the 1940s to find a time when something like this would have been possible.”
“I think we’re in whole new territory here with this,” Gillies said. “On face value, I think the offer’s pretty genuine. I probably understand why some of the other parties or people in the other parties and other politicians are always leery of something like this because it involves a level of trust that political parties often don’t have.
“And so I think one of the challenges here is: how do you balance this idea that we’re in a minority government situation that could fall at any time, with an offer to say, well let’s take that off the table until this pandemic is over, given these unusual circumstances we’re in. I think it’s a lot of pressure on Kevin Vickers, David Coon and Kris Austin to consider whether this is a good idea politically for them and a good idea for the province.”
The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, and could carry on to Thursday and Friday, “as necessary.”