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New Brunswick’s chief electoral officer offered an inside look Thursday at the province’s elections office as it scrambled to get ready for a snap election that Premier Blaine Higgs hinted would come last year but never did.

Kim Poffenroth told the legislature’s standing committee on procedure, privileges and legislative officers that as Higgs publicly threatened for months to call an early vote to quell a caucus rebellion, her office spent millions of dollars preparing – and getting little guidance from the Progressive Conservative government.

“Communication staff in my office reached out to communication staff in the premier’s office to let them know, ‘You know, we’re spending money, we’re getting questions, if there’s any insight one way or the other, please let us know,’ ” she said.

But neither the executive council nor the premier’s office gave her agency any idea “one way or the other” whether there would be an election.

“The only real indication I would say received from some staff in the executive council office was essentially, ‘Continue. Continue with your work. Continue with your preparations.”’

Poffenroth said her office spent more than $3.2-million in total pre-election expenditures last year, including nearly $2-million that cannot be recovered, for such things as renting space for polling stations, because those costs will be incurred again ahead of the general election, which has to be held by October.

“Expenses such as rental fees, training expenses, salaries of returning office staff, are sunk costs, in the sense that they cannot be recovered and will likely be re-incurred when the election is held,” she told members of the committee.

The drama in New Brunswick politics began in June, when major dissent within Higgs’s party spilled into public view. It was sparked when the government decided that teachers would not be allowed to use the preferred names and pronouns of trans and non-binary students under 16 without their parents’ consent.

In response, two cabinet ministers – labour minister Trevor Holder and Dorothy Shephard in social development – quit in June. They said they could not continue to work with Higgs, describing his inflexible leadership style and the changes affecting LGBTQ students.

Later that month, six Tory members of the legislature voted with the Opposition for an external review of the policy change. Higgs responded by dropping dissenters from cabinet and naming five new ministers. The premier also had to deal with presidents of riding associations trying to oust him as party leader.

Then Higgs started threatening to call an election, suggesting that he could not govern when his party was in open revolt.

Marco LeBlanc, a Liberal member of the legislature committee, noted that Higgs’s first remarks that the province could go to the polls early came on June 8, and asked Poffenroth what preparations she was undertaking in case snap elections were called.

“To me, that initial report in the media was a very off-the-cuff comment made by the premier based on a question by the media. So I wasn’t that concerned at that point that an election was going to happen sooner than the scheduled date,” she said.

“But in September, as the speculation ramped up, then we went into, I would say high gear,” she said.

But by early November, the premier decided not to call a snap election, as dissenting members of his party fell into line and he won the confidence vote on the throne speech.

Jeff Carr, a Tory legislature member who was dropped by Higgs as transportation minister during the cabinet shuffle for voting against changes to the LGBTQ students policy, thanked Poffenroth for all her work.

“I think you were caught in a place that you had to prepare for – it’s your job,” he said. “And I appreciate that you were ready. It came with a cost, unfortunately. Cost that probably didn’t have to be there. We shouldn’t have had to bear, but you had to prepare for that. So, I appreciate you being ready.”

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