Huffpost Canada Politics

Brian Gallant's N.B. Liberals Poised To Form Government, Poll Suggests

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BRIAN GALLANT
Under new leader Brian Gallant, who at 32 is more than two decades younger than the 54 year old premier, the New Brunswick Liberals have rebounded. (Facebook) | Facebook

Will New Brunswick be the next province to elect a Liberal government when voters head to the polls in September?

Liberal parties are on a roll at the provincial level, with three consecutive victories in Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Ontario (four with British Columbia, though the B.C. Liberal Party is more closely associated with the federal Conservatives). They could continue that winning streak in New Brunswick, which is scheduled to hold its next election on September 22.

The Progressive Conservative government of David Alward, elected in 2010, is on the ropes according to the polls. The Tories have not led in any poll since November-December 2012, and managed only 28 per cent support in the last survey by the Corporate Research Associates conducted in May.

That compares quite poorly to the 49 per cent the party took in 2010, when the Liberals under Shawn Graham were defeated after just one term in office.

Under new leader Brian Gallant, who at 32 is more than two decades younger than the 54-year-old premier, the Liberals have rebounded. The last poll put the party at 53 per cent support, the highest they have managed since before the last election. In the past year, the Liberals have averaged a lead of almost 20 points over the Tories.

Despite his youth and relative inexperience, Gallant is the favoured person to be premier by about one-third of New Brunswickers, compared to just 20 per cent for Alward. The PC leader, with 29 per cent approval in the most recent Angus Reid Global poll, is one of the least popular premiers in the country.

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In Photos: Brian Gallant
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The writing may thus be on the wall for the Progressive Conservatives, as Atlantic Canada continues to turn a deep shade of red. The Liberals hold sway in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, and are leading in the polls in Newfoundland and Labrador as well. The federal Liberals, under Justin Trudeau, routinely garner majority support in polls done in the region.

But incumbents have a habit of being difficult to defeat, and Gallant will be leading his party into a campaign for the first time.

The other rookie leader will be Dominic Cardy of the New Democrats, who currently hold no seats in the legislature. The party was experiencing a surge of support in 2013, displacing the PCs in second-place in one poll. But their support peaked in the first half of the year, at between 26 and 27 per cent. That dropped to 21 per cent in February 2014, and decreased again to 16 per cent in the survey from May.

The New Democrats appear to be going through the same sort of transformation that the NDP has undergone in other jurisdictions. In Ontario, Andrea Horwath earned criticism from within her party for her move to the centre, and Cardy has suffered the same rebukes. But the NDP leader appears to be making an attempt at expanding the reach of the party, and one former Liberal and one current PC MLA will be carrying the party flag in September.

An issue that could emerge to be of great significance in the campaign is abortion. It is very difficult to get the procedure in the province, as it is only covered by the provincial government if it takes place in a hospital and there is written agreement by two physicians that it is "medically necessary." Obtaining an abortion is slated to get even tougher, as the only private clinic in the province is scheduled to be shut down this summer (though a fundraising campaign has been launched to save it).

The PCs stand by the province's restrictive regulations, and the Liberals have promised only to review the law. The NDP, however, wants to repeal them and get New Brunswick in line with the rest of the country. If Cardy can make enough noise about the issue, he may put Alward and Gallant in an awkward position.

But at this stage, the election appears to be the Liberals' to lose. Momentum certainly seems to be on the party's side.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers every week. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story reported that the former Liberal premier of New Brunswick was Stephen Graham. In fact, it was Shawn Graham.

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