New Brunswick voters hadn’t turfed a government after only one term in more than a century until Alward defeated Shawn Graham’s Liberals in 2010.
However, polls have shown Alward’s Tories consistently lagging behind Brian Gallant’s Liberals for the past year.
Alward decided to focus his campaign on the theme of creating jobs by developing the shale gas sector and other natural resource projects.
The aim was to use shale gas as a wedge issue to divide the Alward’s opponents and shift the debate from the province’s stagnant economy and other contentious issues, such as pension reform.
The Liberals hoped to maintain their lead by focusing on job creation and did not miss a chance to remind voters of the high unemployment that has plagued the province in recent years.
Gallant’s main campaign pledge hinged on a six-year, $900-million infrastructure plan, a proposal that was mocked by all parties because of the province’s large provincial debt.
Dominic Cardy shifted the NDP to the centre in the hope of ending the party’s nine-year absence from the legislature.
The Green Party and People’s Alliance of New Brunswick are hoping to improve upon their 2010 performances and actually elect MLAs.
When the legislature dissolved prior to the election, the Tories had 41 seats, the Liberals had 13 and there was one Independent.
1. Alward's shale gas strategy
The Alward campaign’s focus on the shale gas issue could help the party hang onto seats, particularly in southern New Brunswick.
Alward started his campaign near Penobsquis standing in front of a shale gas well. The optics of that speech could not have been more clear.
The "Say Yes" campaign was geared to voters who wanted a job or those who were tired of seeing friends and family leave New Brunswick for jobs in western Canada.
In particular, the Progressive Conservative message has resonated in the Saint John area, where two business groups backed the party’s resource development strategy.
The Tories won the majority of seats in the Saint John area in 2010 and will need to keep those seats if they hope to win another majority government.
The Tories used the shale gas message to divide their opponents as they were only party expressly behind the industry.
The Liberals have promised a moratorium on the industry until more scientific questions can be answered.
The Green Party has been staunchly opposed to the shale gas, while the NDP has said all shale gas exploration licences would be cancelled but companies would be able to apply for future development projects.
2. Can Brian Gallant hold lead?
Gallant started the campaign well ahead of Alward’s Progressive Conservatives, according to public opinion polls, but he saw that lead shrink in the latest survey released last week.
The 2010 Tory landslide meant many ridings that are traditionally Liberal seats flipped to the Progressive Conservatives. Gallant will need to regain many of those seats, particularly in northern New Brunswick, if he hopes to unseat Alward.
The Liberals focused on job creation and economic development throughout the campaign. But the party was forced to defend its signature promise to invest $900 million in infrastructure projects over six years.
Gallant’s campaign stumbled again in the middle of the campaign when the Liberal leader was forced to admit his party erred in some of the estimates in its tax plan.
The error helped Alward reinforce the message that Gallant isn’t up to the job of governing the province.
Gallant also had to spend the last 32 days trying to shed the political baggage left by the former Graham government. The Tories did their best to remind voters of Graham’s unpopular Liberal government.
3. Possible NDP breakthrough
Cardy moved his party to the centre in the 2014 election, pitching the party as one that takes fiscal matters seriously.
He also recruited former MLAs, such as Liberals Abel LeBlanc and Kelly Lamrock, as well as former Progressive Conservative Bev Harrison.
Cardy is hoping those candidates can bring along past supporters, combined with traditional NDP voters.
The NDP leader did not run a campaign focused solely on winning one riding, but rolled out a bus and embarked on a leader’s tour that brought him to ridings across the province.
Many observers thought Cardy performed well in the televised leaders’ debates, however the party stumbled late in the campaign.
The NDP candidate in Kent South spoke out publicly about his concern that the party’s opposition to the shale gas industry was not strong enough.
Another candidate was linked to a parody video that had subtitles under the actors as if the Nazis were Gallant and other Liberals. Cardy was forced to apologize for the gaffe.
Cardy also faced criticism after sending a party staffer to question Gallant at a news conference.
4. Green Party Leader David Coon
Green Party Leader David Coon is running in the hotly-contested riding of Fredericton South against Tory Craig Leonard, Liberal Roy Wiggins and Lamrock.
Coon is hoping he can capitalize on the high profile afforded to party leaders and emerge victorious in the downtown Fredericton riding.
Early in the campaign, Coon welcomed former NDP supporters, including former party leader Allison Brewer, to the Greens as a demonstration that he had to be taken seriously in this election.
The Green leader also brought in federal leader Elizabeth May into the riding a week ago to rally supporters and gather momentum for the provincial leader.
The Green party will need a split between the other three parties if Coon has a chance of winning his own seat. The Greens did not place higher than fourth in any Fredericton riding in 2010.
May won her federal seat in 2011, making her the first elected Green MP in Canadian history. In 2013, Andrew Weaver won a seat in the British Columbia legislature for the Greens.
5. New riding map creates tight races
Voters will also be electing MLAs in a brand new electoral map that reduced the number of politicians to 49 from 55.
The reduction of ridings means several incumbent MLAs are running against each other.
The incumbent-on-incumbent races are scattered around the province, including PC Ryan Riordon and Liberal Denis Landry in Bathurst East-Nepisiguit-Saint-Isidore to Progressive Conservative Jim Parrott and Liberal Rick Doucet in Fundy-The Isles-Saint John West.
In Moncton Centre, Progressive Conservative Marie-Claude Blais is facing Liberal Chris Collins. In the last legislature, Blais served as the education minister and Collins was the opposition’s critic for that department. The two often exchanged sharp partisan attacks.
In Memramcook-Tantramar, Tory Mike Olscamp is facing Liberal Bernard LeBlanc. Both MLAs have served two terms in their former ridings and are now running in a merged riding.
The new Memramcook-Tantramar riding is being challenged in court by groups that believe the francophone minority population in the Memramcook side of the riding is not being protected from the anglophone majority in the Sackville area.