N.B. premier finally rules out a fall election call after weeks of speculation

Premier Blaine Higgs has finally ruled out a fall election after weeks of speculation that he may take New Brunswick to the polls.

“There will not be an election in 2023,” he told reporters Friday.

Higgs refused to rule out calling a snap election through the late summer and early fall, saying that the instability in his caucus may force him to pull the trigger. On Friday, Higgs admitted that he had come close.

“We were ready to pull the trigger,” he said. “It wasn’t an idle discussion, it was real.”

Back in June, eight members of the government caucus skipped routine business in the legislature in protest of what they called a “lack of process and transparency” in the review of Policy 713, a school gender identity policy.

Six of those members ended up voting with the opposition on a motion asking the province’s child and youth advocate to review the changes, which now requires parental consent for children under 16 to use a different name or pronoun at school.

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The fracas led to two cabinet resignations and saw another two ministers demoted to the back bench. Higgs also faced a push for a review of his leadership of the Progressive Conservative party that ultimately fell short.

Higgs referenced that instability as part of the reason he kept the threat of an election on the table for so long.

“It isn’t good to have instability in the province, it isn’t good to have instability in the government. I’ve certainly had my challenges internally over the last couple of months,” he said.

“I’m willing to keep going and see how this goes and hopefully it can work out well for us and we can get back to focusing on the priorities of government.”

All six of the so-called Tory rebels that had been a thorn in his side in the spring had fallen in line before the new session of the legislature got under way in October. Each said they would support the government’s legislative agenda and all six voted with the government on two confidence motions last week.

Liberal leader Susan Holt said the only reason the province isn’t currently in an election is because the premier felt he may lose.

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“I think he realized that the cards weren’t in his favour and he should unwrap the bus and get back to work,” she said. “We heard from New Brunswickers who told us how fed up they were with the premier continuing to disrespect New Brunswickers.”

“People started telling us in larger and larger numbers and with more and more anger that they were fed up with Higgs and wanted him to go.”

The Liberals have been increasingly bold in their push for an election, goading Higgs during question period last month to “call it.” Holt also attempted to add a non-confidence amendment to the Throne Speech.

Green Leader David Coon had previously accused the premier of trying his hardest to engineer an election when there was no reason to call one, but told reporters Friday that it became clear to him last week there would be no fall election after the premier suggested the speculation had come from the legislature’s press gallery.

“He was the one who was fomenting all this drama and all this speculation about elections by threatening to call it over and over and over again,” he said.

“It was like a rollercoaster, it seemed like we came close at least three times and in the end he backed away.”

Higgs wouldn’t confirm if his party had wrapped a campaign bus, but did acknowledge they have hired a campaign manager who he said he will keep on as the government enters the final year of its mandate. He said he didn’t know how much the party had spent on election preparations.

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“We will continue with a campaign manager in place as we continue to get organized because, as I said, we’re in the last year of our mandate,” he said.

“There’s a lot of preparation work that will be valuable regardless.”

The next scheduled election is on Oct. 21, 2024 but Higgs could decide to call an election sooner. He has previously ruled out calling one in January, but asked on how he felt about sending the province to the polls in the spring, Higgs laughed.

“Let’s just focus on a more stable government and moving the bar on big issues.”

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