After nearly a month’s campaign, the by-election train pulled out of Rothesay Monday night, delivering Progressive Conservative candidate Hugh John (Ted) Flemming III to Fredericton smiling and waving from the caboose. Or it would if trains actually ran to Fredericton anymore. And they let you stand outside the caboose.
Underthought metaphors aside, Flemming goes to the legislature after beating Liberal John Wilcox by 298 votes, with NDP leader Dominic Cardy a not-too distant third. For more on the totals, read this CBC story. The results, however, send a number of positive and negative messages to New Brunswick’s political parties.
The PCs have the most obvious positive of night, holding Rothesay with a candidate tabbed as a potential cabinet minister. A closer look at the numbers, however, seems more troubling.
Flemming took 38.3% of the vote Monday night, the lowest share for a PC candidate in Rothesay (né Saint John-Kings) since 1995 and nearly ten points worse that former MLA (and new Efficiency NB President and CEO) Margaret-Ann Blaney’s worst result. That indicates Blaney’s success owed much to her personal popularity, popularity Flemming could find elusive in two years.
It must also serve as a warning to Premier David Alward about pulling this kind of patronage stunt again, what with few other seats likely to remain blue with a similar 18 per cent drain. It will also reinforce how much of our politics is shaped by party leaders – Flemming took fewer than two in five votes despite taking pains to associate himself with Finance Minister (and Quispamsis MLA) Blaine Higgs, arguably the most respected politician in the province. In 2014, the buck will stop with Alward and Monday’s result should remind him of how much he must work to retain the trust of New Brunswickers.
The Liberals, oddly, can take much positive from the night
despite finishing because they finished second. Wilcox ran a very low-profile campaign, with visits from Liberal MLAs receiving considerably less press than visits from PC and NDP politicians, but still grew the Liberal share by three points. It indicates the party’s much-ballyhooed renewal is perhaps being accepted by disillusioned former Liberal voters, both party members and independents.
Clearly, though, the Liberals need to cleanse themselves deeper (or Alward’s PCs need a mistake of NB Power Sale-proportions) to have a shot at returning to government in 2014. That means the new leader has to continue the renewal process and, perhaps just as importantly, stay humble – arrogance across government was the sin that did in the last two Liberal governments and replacing the flash and dash of the Graham Grits with a more low-key, hardworking, gritty (pardon the pun) approach will help the party long-term.
The New Democrats have the most to stew over. Leader Cardy more than tripled the NDP’s vote share in Rothesay, a remarkable result for the party in an affluent suburban riding attributable to his hard work and reputation. The result, however was the same – third place.
Patronage clearly wasn’t the biggest issue in town – otherwise the pork-friendly Liberals wouldn’t have taken second place and there will have to be some evaluation of what – if anything – the party could have done better. The third place result has already brought out the boo birds on Twitter and could encourage opposition to Cardy from within the NDP. Many in the party still resent the way he ascended to the leadership, some on the party’s left feel it’s moving too far to the right, and Cardy isn’t exactly the Sainted Jack Layton. Again, hard work is the order of the day for New Brunswick’s New Democrats.
Later in the week, I’ll have reviews of the term, nationally and provincially. I hope to post in this space a couple of times a week. Feel free to share and talk about what I write, whether you agree with it or not.