Some final election campaign thoughts
Overall, I have found it has been a pretty clean fight. There is that negative Liberal ad presenting a dark-toned, menacing-looking Blaine Higgs, a page from the Stephen Harper playbook. But otherwise, there was the usual misrepresentation of the other side’s views, but certainly nothing cringe-worthy.
There’s no doubt though that Brian Gallant and Blaine Higgs don’t like each other. That was certainly evident from last week’s CTV debate at St. Thomas University. And speaking of debates, the CTV one was much more satisfying for viewers than the earlier CBC one. Steve Murphy did a solid job moderating, and the format was more conducive to a civil exchange of views and shots, something the CBC debate lacked with constant interruptions and cross-talk. Mind you Murphy had an easier time of it than Harry Forestall did, because Harry had five party leaders clamoring for attention, while only the three parties that had seats in the last legislature were invited to the CTV debate, something supporters of the People’s Alliance and NDP were outraged about, and not without some validity.
The campaign did provide a stark contrast between the two mainline parties, with Gallant rolling out lots of promises, with some such as the NB Power four year rate freeze projected to cost considerably more than the Liberals claim. And on the other side Blaine Higgs promising very little in the way of goodies, instead putting his faith in a belief voters will turn to him as the best bet to right a province that many economists say is heading toward an economic Armageddon.
In short, the Tories want you to think of Gallant as the master of tax and spend.
The Liberals want you to think of Higgs as the boss of cut and cut.
Meantime, the People’s Alliance and Greens just want you to think of them. And the NDP as well, but no one seems to be doing that in their case.
The upswing in support for the People’s Alliance has become a major factor in the campaign and certainly could become a major factor in the election itself. If not for winning seats, then for being the PC spoiler in several ridings with vote splitting that could see Liberals win seats they otherwise wouldn’t. Same scenario could be true with the Greens taking votes away from the Liberals, allowing PCs to win where they otherwise wouldn’t, but I think to a lesser extent. In regards to vote-splitting, the Tories have more to worry about, IMHO.
I found the campaign surprising for some other reasons, for issues that should have been out there but weren’t. Two that come to mind are immigration and what can be done to attract more immigrants, something crucial to our economy, and the appaling lack of transparency of the current government. The fact the Tories and others didn’t make that an issue is unfortunate. I can only assume they decided it isn’t something voters really care about. I hope they are wrong about that.
As for what voters do care about, I must say I have never seen an election campaign where the general public was as cynical and disinterested as this one. It is almost a sense of resignation that it doesn’t matter, that nothing is going to change. I can certainly understand the cynicism. Consider, for example, the issue of the Liberal government passing legislation giving them veto power over the Chief Justice’s decisions on where to move judges.
At the time this was discussed and then enacted, the opposition Conservatives were outraged. To them it was an affront to democracy, it was government over-reach, it was interference in our system of justice, it was meddling, it was opening the door to potential conflicts-of-interest. So jump ahead to the campaign and Blaine Higgs is asked if he would scrap that legislation. Instead of declaring clearly and loudly – absolutely, he waffled, and gave some namby-pamby response that amounted to – “I don’t know, we’ll have to look at it”. Which of course begs the question – what was all the earlier outrage about? That, is as good an example as any of why voters are cynical.
And perhaps why there is growing interest in the Greens and the Alliance.
But of course that’s not the only reason. By general consensus, David Coon with his one Green seat did a solid job since becoming an MLA and has managed to position his party as more than a one issue, environmental party. His platform is solid on issues ranging from the economy to poverty reduction.
Language is never far from the surface in New Brunswick politics but because of the People’s Alliance it was more front and centre this time. Leader Kris Austin’s message of unaffordable duality seems to have struck a chord with many voters, both those who hate everything bilingual, but also those who support bilingualism but agree with Austin’s point that common sense changes are needed when it comes to duality. School buses and ambulances are the examples that especially resonate.
It could very well be a minority government, or even a majority with a party winning, because of vote-splitting, with a popular vote of less than 40 percent. Or we could have third parties shut out despite popular votes in the 15 percent range. If that happens, I hope the chorus for a change to Proportional Representation instead of this stupid First Past the Post system, is loud and sustained.
OK, my prediction, offered here solely for humiliation purposes later. Two weeks ago, I would have said Conservatives by two or so seats, but because of the surge by the Alliance, which has the potential to be the spoiler in as much as six to eight ridings, I now think it will be Gallant re-elected. If this comes to pass, I will bet dollars to donuts it will be because the Alliance caused a vote split in several ridings. As for the third parties, I see Kris Austin winning his seat over Pam Lynch, and I see the Greens doubling their seat output to two, David Coon keeping his seat, and adding one other.
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