It’s been nearly a century since New Brunswick has had a minority government and the Green Party may hold substantial influence after historic gains in the legislature.
The Greens picked up an additional two seats in the legislature and saw their leader be comfortably re-elected on Monday night.
In Kent North, Kevin Arsenault defeated Liberal candidate Emery Comeau by over eight percentage points. Arsenault is a farmer and Acadian activist who is well known in the region.
Green candidate Megan Mitton edged out Bernard LeBlanc in a tight race in Memramcook-Tantramar by only 11 votes. A recount is expected to occur.
Shortly after the polls closed, Leader David Coon had a commanding lead over Liberal candidate Susan Holt of over 56 per cent in the riding of Fredericton South.
Coon is the first second-term Green MLA in the province’s history. He was the first member of his party to sit in the provincial legislature when elected—and only the fourth in the country. Coon received just over 30 per cent of the vote in a tight five-way race in 2014.
Coon said in an interview with The Brunswickan late Monday night that his track record in the legislature helped voters become familiar with him.
“It looks to me like there was a huge rally from every segment of our society—as I said from students to seniors—and that’s really humbling,” he said.
Four years ago most New Brunswickers knew little about the Green Party or how a Green MLA could contribute to the Legislative Assembly, Coon said, adding that “those walls have crumbled.”
Tom Bateman, a political scientist at St. Thomas University, said Coon’s large margin of victory can largely be attributed to his time in office.
“He’s a diligent, hardworking MLA,” Bateman said. “He’s proven himself and that has made a huge difference."
Coon thanked students for their support and committed to continuing to come to campus regularly for meetings. He said the first bill he plans to table will provide students and other tenants with better protections through changes in the provincial residential tenancies act.
As the polls reported on Monday night, Coon was not willing to commit to a coalition with either party.
“Well we’ll have to see what the math looks like, but certainly I’m not going to be able to—will not be able to work with any party that committed to take the rights away from Acadians and other Francophones in the province or from Indigenous people for that matter, or who won’t take climate change seriously,” he said. “That’s not going to happen.”
The Greens rode a wave of third party support experienced also by the People’s Alliance party—which also won three seats
Paul Howe, a political scientist at the University of New Brunswick, said support for smaller parties typically drops down at election time. This year’s provincial election defied his expectations.
“It’s partly issue driven, it’s partly general discontent with the political system,” he said.
Howe said Coon has developed quite a significant profile as the leader of his party, and has been able to develop significant momentum in that role. He said the NDP is likely competing with the Greens for similar voters.
In contrast, the NDP dropped substantially in the results compared to 2014. The party picked up just over 19,000 votes for 5 per cent of the vote last night—an eight percentage point dip from the previous provincial election.
While the results show the Greens unlikely to be part of a coalition minority government, Howe said they can still add an effective voice and perspective to the legislature.
Coon said hopes to see the momentum from this election continue.
“I’m hoping that looking back this will be seen as a turning point in our society towards building the kind of green society, just society, and green economy that we absolutely need to ensure that we have for a liveable future,” he said.
Emma McPhee contributed reporting