FREDERICTON - Questions surrounded New Brunswick's election overnight as technical problems caused vote counting to be suspended for almost two hours with the Liberals jumping out to a lead once the tally resumed.
Before the count was stopped, Brian Gallant's Liberals and the governing Progressive Conservatives under David Alward were locked in a tight contest.
But that changed once the results were updated with Brian Gallant's Liberals leading and elected in 27 ridings compared to the Tories with 21.
Green party Leader David Coon was elected in the riding of Fredericton South. The result was a breakthrough for his party, which has never held a seat in the New Brunswick legislature.
The vote counting glitch caused the Tories to call for all the votes to be counted by hand, while the Liberals said Elections New Brunswick needed to be left alone to determine the outcome.
A spokesman for Elections New Brunswick said the agency encountered a technical problem with the tabulation machines it was using to count ballots.
Paul Harpelle said in an email that there were problems uploading data from memory cards and they were working "frantically" to resolve the issue.
The president of the Progressive Conservatives raised the possibility of the party rejecting the results without every vote being counted by hand.
"We are calling on Elections New Brunswick to count every vote by hand as they always have," Jason Stephen said. "It is best to make sure that all votes are counted properly. At that time we will accept the outcome of the election from the New Brunswick population."
Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc, a key member of Gallant's election team, took a different line, arguing the parties should allow Elections New Brunswick to do its work.
"The results in this election will not be determined by the bluster of political parties," he told party supporters at Gallant's campaign headquarters near Moncton.
"It's important that Elections New Brunswick be allowed to determine the vote in every riding."
Gallant, 32, has been the perceived front-runner in the race long before the campaign even began.
Like Alward, Gallant focused his campaign on economic growth, promising to create thousands of jobs by spending $900 million over six years to pave roads, repair bridges and upgrade other infrastructure.
By contrast, Alward sought a second mandate by committing to spur economic growth through expansion of the province's relatively new but contentious shale gas industry.
Alward's position was polarizing in the province, where public protests have raised concerns about the industry's use of hydraulic fracturing.
But Alward, 54, said New Brunswick is on the verge of $10 billion in private investment if it develops its deposits of shale gas and welcomes the proposed Energy East Pipeline, which could see oil shipped from Alberta to Saint John.
Alward and Gallant were both elected in their ridings by wide margins. But eight of Alward's cabinet ministers went down in defeat.
Gallant has said there should be a moratorium on fracking until the risks to the environment, human health and water are known.
However, Gallant has refused to rule out allowing fracking during the first term of a Liberal government, prompting criticism from anti-fracking activists who say his stand is muddled.
As well, Gallant appeared to stumble late the campaign as his rivals pressed him to explain how the moratorium would work and how the province could afford a stimulus plan worth nearly a billion dollars when it is looking at carrying a projected deficit of $387 million.
The province's economic growth rate was the worst in the country last year.
While the province's jobless rate dipped to 8.7 per cent last month — slightly lower than its three Atlantic neighbours — that snapshot figure masks an annual trend that has seen steady increases since 2007.
Employment for workers between the ages of 25 and 44 has fallen by 3,800 people since 2010 when the Tories were elected to govern with a majority. The public debt stands at $12.2 billion and rising.
NDP Leader Dominic Cardy, 44, spent much of his time shifting his party's economic policies to the centre, promising a balanced budget, tax credits for employers who create new jobs and an end to corporate subsidies.
But the strategy failed. Despite running four high-profile candidates in the hopes of a breakthrough, the New Democrats did not see a single member elected. The last time the NDP had a member in the legislature was in 2005.
Cardy, who lost in the riding of Fredericton West-Hanwell, promptly announced he would resign as party leader in a couple of weeks.
He said he realizes the party could have focused its efforts where he was running, but he preferred to make a provincewide bid to improve the NDP's standing.
"My message to my party that I love, and my province which I love, is that it's much better to reach your arms out wide and to fall and to stand up again than it is never to dream at all," Cardy said to throngs of supporters.
In the final weeks of the campaign, Gallant took aim at the NDP, saying Cardy's platform doesn't contain cost estimates for 24 of its main commitments.
The Liberal shift in focus prompted some pundits to suggest the party was worried that the NDP could siphon votes from the Liberals in key ridings, making it possible for the Tories to come up the middle.
Coon, 57, pushed for action on climate change, saying practical solutions to reduce New Brunswick's carbon footprint would lead to new jobs.
When the legislature dissolved, the Progressive Conservatives had 41 members, the Liberals 13 and there was one Independent. The election is being fought on a new electoral map that cuts the number of seats in the legislature to 49 from 55.