Photo: flickr/Rick Harris

Editor update: The NDP leader decided to stay on as leader after a byelection was called in Saint John. Progressive Conservative leader David Alward has announced he will resign as the party’s leader and an interim leader will be chosen in consultation with the rest of the PC party.

Brian Gallant’s Liberals have formed a majority government in New Brunswick, taking 27 of the 49 seats in the New Brunswick Legislature. The Progressive Conservatives took 21 seats and for the first time east of British Columbia, the Green Party has taken a seat in provincial government.

David Coon supporters waited past midnight, following a vote counting fiasco, to confirm that the Green Party leader and long-time environmentalist had won the Fredericton South riding, defeating Progressive Conservative Energy and Mines Minister Craig Leonard in a close race.

Pundits are saying that Leonard lost his seat to Coon because of his party’s cuts to pensions alienated their base of supporters. However, Coon’s supporters, many of them defected NDP members, see Coon’s victory as moving New Brunswick in a different direction on many contentious issues like shale gas and abortion rights.

“David’s win is phenomenal! It gives people a voice on the floor of a house that does not listen to the needs of everyone,” says Judie Acquin-Mikovsky, a shale gas opponent from St. Mary’s First Nation.

“It gives us an opportunity to explore alternatives that we have been made to believe are unreachable. Although he has a big mandate on his shoulders, David’s convictions and dedication through the years has proven that he is a man of his word.”

NDP leader Dominic Cardy failed to win his riding of Fredericton-West Hanwell, losing to Conservative Brian MacDonald. The party attempted to rebrand itself as the “New NDP” and move the party to the centre in a bid to appeal to voters, but failed to win any seats in the Legislature. 

Cardy’s NDP attempted to get votes in Kent County by ramping up its opposition to shale gas by calling for a two-year legislated ban on fracking during the campaign period. However, many shale gas opponents in Kent County could not forget Cardy’s calls for the Alward government to enforce the rule of law when the blockade against SWN’s shale gas equipment in Rexton was violently broken up by the RCMP on Oct. 17, 2013.

The NDP has not held a seat in the New Brunswick Legislature since Elizabeth Weir represented Saint John from 1995 to 2005. Cardy announced during his concession speech that he would be resigning as party leader at the party’s fall convention.

A summer of activism against the status quo 

A flurry of activity in opposition to the status quo on a variety of contentious issues like abortion, forestry and shale gas spread throughout New Brunswick this summer.

Reproductive justice activists got busy organizing to make abortion access an election issue in the wake of the announcement of the Morgentaler Clinic closure. They released a candidates’ survey, demonstrated outside Conservative and Liberal candidates’ offices and demanded a repeal of sections of Regulation 84-20 of the Medical Services Payment Act that restrict access to publicly funded reproductive health services across the province. 

“I think David Coon’s win is an amazing step forward for reproductive justice. He is the first New Brunswick MLA to be elected with a strong and clear pro-choice position within his party’s platform. Being publicly pro-choice in New Brunswick is now an electable political stance,” says Marilyn Merritt-Gray, a reproductive justice advocate and former nurse at the Morgentaler Clinic.

Marie-Claude Blais, the former Minister Responsible for Women’s Equality, who defended her Progressive Conservative party’s position that there were no barriers to abortion access in the province lost her seat in Moncton Centre to Liberal Chris Collins.

Reproductive rights activists, initially discouraged by the Liberal’s failure to name barriers to abortion access and support the repeal, are waiting to see if the governing Liberals will remove those barriers like they had promised pre-election. 

Forestry was another top election issue. Coon, known for his decades of work against clear cutting, made it a centre issue.

The Greens came out strong against the Alward government’s forest plan while the NDP refused to criticize the plan, saying they did not know enough about it to evaluate it.

The plan has been criticized for being a stealthy move towards deregulation in the forest that would allow forestry companies to clearcut in areas previously set aside to protect wildlife and waters.

Hundreds rallied against the forest plan at the New Brunswick Legislature in May. Almost 200 forest scientists, economists and academics at the province’s universities condemned the plan in an open letter. First Nation Chiefs are awaiting a decision from the courts on an appeal to get an injunction to temporarily halt the forest plan. 

“I was surprised that shale gas was a larger election issue than forestry, given that shale gas is still speculative and the public’s interest in Crown land forests was actually sold down the river by the last government,” says Tom Beckley, a sociologist with the Department of Forestry and Environmental Management at the University of New Brunswick. “While many seem resigned to the fact that we are locked in to 25 year contracts with industry, I have every confidence that Mr. Coon will continue to articulately defend the public’s interest from his unique vantage point in the legislature.” 

Leo Goguen of Rogersville is one of many woodlot owners opposed to the Alward government’s forest plan. He organized a protest against herbicide spraying of the forest in Miramichi in early September when he discovered aerial spraying on public land adjacent to his property.

“The clearcuts in our area are unreal. I don’t support spraying the forest because so many people are getting cancer. We’re trying to protect people, the animals, the moose and deer, the partridge and the rabbits that we eat,” says Goguen. 

Opponents like Goguen say that the clear cutting and herbicide spraying of New Brunswick’s old spruce and fir stands and maple and birch ridges is wiping out the diversity and resiliency of the forest and they are concerned about the human health concerns associated with the glyphosates, the herbicide used on public lands.

The Greens and NDP also differ on the building of TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline of bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to the Irving refinery in Saint John. The Greens oppose the pipeline while the NDP support it.

“For the first time I’m hopeful. More people in New Brunswick are standing up for their communities and taking a position against shale gas, the Energy East pipeline and Irving’s control of the forest,” says Acquin-Miksovsky.

Tracy Glynn is an editor for NB Media Co-op.

Photo: flickr/Rick Harris