Conservatives win majority in New Brunswick election
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Monday, September 27, 2010 9:44PM EDT
New Brunswick voters elected a Conservative majority government Monday, casting out incumbent Shawn Graham's Liberals after a single term dominated by an unpopular and unsuccessful plan to sell NB Power.
With about a quarter of the polls reporting results, the Tories had secured or were leading in 37 of the province's 55 ridings. The Liberals were ahead in 18.
The Liberal defeat marks the first time since Confederation that a New Brunswick government has failed to achieve a second consecutive mandate.
Tory Leader David Alward -- a former cabinet minister in the government led by Bernard Lord until 2006 – is set to replace Graham as premier.
The 32-day campaign centred largely on Graham's record, which saw his government backtrack on major policy decisions after these proved unpopular with the public.
Public protests pushed the Liberals to overturn several initiatives, including plans to merge post-secondary campuses, axe early French immersion in English schools, cut ferry service and lay off school support staff.
But many attribute the Liberal loss to their ill-fated plan to sell NB Power to Hydro-Quebec -- a $4.8-billion deal negotiated behind closed doors until it suddenly collapsed this spring.
The deal was touted by Graham as a bold and strategic move to make the province financially self-sufficient within 20 years.
While the sale would have eliminated a significant portion of New Brunswick's $8.4-billion debt, it was widely considered a short-term fix that would leave the province at the mercy of fluctuating energy rates.
Graham and Alward's campaigns both promised to tackle the province's $738-million deficit and balance the budget in four years without raising taxes or drastically slashing services.
NDP leader Roger Duguay accused both parties of making promises they couldn't afford to keep, as did the Green party and the People's Alliance Party of New Brunswick.
None of the smaller parties seemed likely to win any seats. The NDP has never won more than one seat in a general election. The Greens and the People's Alliance indicated for the first time they would contest the results.
Though no longer premier, Graham nonetheless easily won his riding of Kent.
During the campaign, he promised to create 20,000 jobs, but said he would lay out his plans to achieve that goal only after the election. His pledge to provide laptop computers to the province's 61,000 middle and high school students was dismissed as too extravagant.
Meanwhile, Alward vowed to freeze electricity rates for three years, cut the size of cabinet, cap property taxes and halve the small business tax, among others.
The election was the first under the province's fixed-date legislation.
At dissolution, the Liberals had 31 seats and the Conservatives 21. There was one Independent and two seats were vacant.
In 2006, Graham's Liberals won 29 of 55 seats, despite drawing a smaller share of the popular vote. Almost half of the races were determined by a margin of less than 1,000 votes.
With files from The Canadian Press