New Brunswick voters are heading down a potentially bumpy road with hidden twists, but the recent electoral odyssey in British Columbia could provide a useful roadmap.
And, as in B.C., the ultimate navigator on the journey might be the lieutenant-governor, highlighting the considerable — though rarely used — powers the unelected viceregal representatives enjoy.
Brian Gallant is exercising his right to show the Liberals can govern New Brunswick despite winning just 21 seats, compared to the Tories’ 22, in Monday’s provincial ballot.
Gallant met Tuesday with Lt.-Gov. Jocelyne Roy-Vienneau to discuss the election, in which two smaller parties won three seats apiece.
The next step will be to recall the legislature for a throne speech and see if his government enjoys enough support from other members to govern and pass legislation.
B.C.’s Christy Clark faced a strikingly similar scenario following the province’s 2017 election when no party won a majority of seats. Clark convened the legislature, but her Liberals were defeated on a confidence vote just seven days later.
Clark stepped down and asked the province’s then lieutenant-governor, Judith Guichon, to call a fresh election. Instead, Guichon invited NDP Leader John Horgan to form a minority government and he has since governed with the support of Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver’s handful of members in a sometimes uneasy partnership.
What if, like Clark, Gallant fails to attract enough ad-hoc support to see his legislative plans through?
It would suddenly be up to Roy-Vienneau to examine the situation and decide whether another election would be worthwhile.
She would consider whether it was appropriate to have another ballot so soon and, in the alternative, whether Tory Leader Blaine Higgs could fare any better in cobbling together support, said Don Desserud, a University of Prince Edward Island political science professor and native New Brunswicker who keeps a close eye on the province.
“That’ll be a very interesting constitutional question for our lieutenant-governor to answer, but that is part of the job. It rarely happens, but here we are,” he said Tuesday in an interview.
“These are the sort of things that once in a while remind us that we do have a system that was created in the 19th century, and some of the institutions we have are somewhat arcane.”
Lieutenant-governors can pass their entire term without having to make a crucial call on a government’s fate, he noted. “But it does bring to mind the fact that this is a very important position and should be thought of that way.”
In late 2008, Michaelle Jean, the governor general at the time, was thrust into the centre of a political drama when the opposition parties in Ottawa forged a plan to defeat the Conservative minority government of Stephen Harper on a non-confidence motion, just six weeks after a general election.
But the motion — fuelled by the government’s controversial fiscal update — did not come to a vote, as Jean agreed to a prorogation of Parliament on condition it reconvene early the following year.
Harper created an ad-hoc advisory committee to help choose the next governor general, David Johnston, in 2010. He built on that process two years later with a permanent, non-partisan advisory committee on vice-regal appointments, but the Trudeau Liberals shunned the panel after coming to office in 2015.
Making the viceregal positions elected offices would require a constitutional amendment with unanimous consent of all of the provinces, Desserud said.
That would be a steep challenge, particularly given the lack of appetite on the part of successive federal governments to even think about reopening the Constitution following Brian Mulroney’s ill-fated attempts.
However, Desserud suggests there may be ”more transparent ways” to appoint the governor general and their provincial counterparts.
“It would at least be worthy of a debate and a discussion.”
Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press