New Brunswick’s political intrigue continued Thursday, with the Green party leader raising the unlikely prospect of a deal that could hand power to the Progressive Conservatives.
Green Leader David Coon said his party would negotiate with both the Liberals and Tories about a potential agreement to support a throne speech and budget, keeping a minority government from being defeated.
Coon’s proposal, in the wake of Monday’s deadlocked election results, is modeled after the arrangement in British Columbia, where the Greens hold the balance of power in an NDP-led minority government.
Coon said it may be easier for Blaine Higgs’ Tories to achieve a deal because the Greens’ three seats would ensure a majority, while Premier Brian Gallant’s Liberals would be one vote shy of a majority. The Liberals would need to find at least one other member of the legislature to support them on votes of confidence.
“It’s an agreement to support the throne speech and the budget to ensure we have stable government and nothing else. It doesn’t make any promises or commitments around other pieces of legislation or any other matter,” he said Thursday.
The Tories won 22 seats in the 49-seat house, one more than the Liberals but not enough for a majority. The People’s Alliance also won three seats.
Higgs met with the province’s lieutenant-governor on Thursday, and emerged to say Gallant should resign or immediately recall the legislature.
He said Lt.-Gov. Jocelyne Roy Vienneau told him that if Gallant’s Liberals are unable to secure the confidence of the legislature, she will immediately ask the Tories to form a minority government.
“I am calling on Brian Gallant to do the honourable thing and recognize that he lost the election,” Higgs said outside the lieutenant-governor’s residence in Fredericton.
“He does not have a mandate to govern and he is prolonging the inevitable ... If he refuses to resign, he should do what is right for New Brunswick and immediately call the legislature back, so the province has a stable and functioning government.”
Higgs said he had no plans to form a formal coalition government with either of the third parties.
However, he indicated that he was open to a more informal arrangement: “The deal is not something that has to be a signed document that says, ‘Here, I’ll give you this thing, if you give me that.“’ Gallant said Wednesday he plans to seek a formal alliance with the Greens.
Coon said his party would begin negotiations soon, and his caucus would meet to set its terms on what they would want to see in the budget and throne speeches.
“Both Mr. Gallant and Mr. Higgs have obtained a minority of support from New Brunswickers, and they need to be prepared to discuss governing in a way that respects the majority,” said Coon. “My caucus and I will work toward a collaborative, stable government that accomplishes positive change for the people of this province.”
However, an alliance between the Greens and the Tories would be complicated by the fact that the two parties appear to be far apart on how the province should deal with climate change.
Higgs has said he’ll refund any carbon-tax revenue to New Brunswickers if Ottawa imposes its own pricing regime on the province. As well, he has promised to join a legal challenge by the Ontario and Saskatchewan governments aimed at killing the federal plan.
By contrast, the Greens have already accepted that the federal plan is going ahead. Coon has said a Green government would work with Ottawa to determine how the revenue from the new carbon tax will be spent in New Brunswick.
As well, Coon has accused the Tories of having “no plan whatsoever” when it comes to carbon pricing.
Under parliamentary tradition, when election results are inconclusive the incumbent premier is typically given the first opportunity by the lieutenant-governor to determine if his or her party can secure the confidence of the legislature. That process usually starts by convening the legislature for a speech from the throne.
Higgs said Gallant is desperate to hold on to power, is disrespecting the will of the people and is buying time so he can make backroom deals.
Gallant has said he plans to test the confidence of the house some time before Christmas.
Higgs said that’s not fast enough, and he suggested the lieutenant-governor agrees.
“She indicated she will not wait months or even weeks,” he said.
“To be clear, if the house is called back and if Gallant is defeated, it will not trigger an election. He may give the impression that is the next step, but that is not.”
Higgs accused the Liberals of offering incentives to Tory caucus members to have them cross the floor to sit as Liberals.
“(Gallant’s) hoping that he can buy somebody from my side of the house,” Higgs said, adding that he was with one of his caucus members Wednesday night when a call came from the other party.
“The reception got real bad when I answered the phone.”
The Liberals said Thursday they have been “upfront” with their plans to talk to the Greens and about possible support for an opposition Speaker. But they added the Tories have approached Liberal members offering the speakership, a cabinet post or another appointment.
“A third Liberal member has been contacted on multiple occasions by senior members of Blaine Higgs’ team about crossing the floor,” they said in a statement.
But Higgs told reporters he would not be enticing members of other parties to join his caucus.
Following his visit with the lieutenant-governor, Higgs met with members of his caucus at a nearby hotel, where some colleagues chanted: “Premier Higgs!”
Among the group was Robert Gauvin, an Acadian who won the Tories’ only seat in the north, where the party struggled to win support from the francophone-dominated population.
Gauvin has cautioned against any suggestion of a coalition with the People’s Alliance party, which is unpopular among French-speaking New Brunswickers because it has pledged to eliminate duality in government services – including school buses and health care – and do away with the office of the official languages commissioner.
“I’m very happy to tell you there is no coalition,” Gauvin said. “There will be no coalition, no deals. We stand united for the principles of this party.”
Gauvin said there needs to be collaboration in the legislature to avoid another election, but he said his party won’t take direction from the People’s Alliance.
“No, they vote along with us. We put the motions forward. We don’t vote along with other parties, they vote along with us. We will govern a minority government,” he said.
“We’re going to put good bills forward, and if they don’t want an election, they’ll vote for it.”