FREDERICTON – New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant’s chances of holding onto power are looking increasingly bleak, after every opposition member officially declared Thursday they don’t want to be Speaker.
That leaves few options for the Liberals, who won one fewer seat than Blaine Higgs’ Tories in last month’s election, when the legislature resumes next week.
The first order of legislature business is the election of a Speaker, but no one wants the job because of the tight numbers in the 49-seat house.
Even the governing Liberals issued a statement to say they aren’t offering a member.
“Eleven of our caucus members who are members of the provincial cabinet are not eligible for the role of Speaker. The other 10 members who are eligible have signed their Notice for Withdrawal from Election forms regarding the election of Speaker at caucus today,” the statement reads.
If no one offers for Speaker — which would prevent the Liberals from introducing their throne speech — the lieutenant-governor could ask the Tories to try to form a government, or she could call for another election.
The Liberals won 21 seats, while Blaine Higgs’ Progressive Conservatives won 22. The Green and People’s Alliance parties each won three seats.
Ted Flemming, the whip for the Tories, presented all 22 withdrawal notices from his party’s members to the clerk of the legislature Thursday — well ahead of the 5 p.m. Monday deadline.
He said many of the Tories were offered deals to support the Liberals or cross the floor.
“Many of our caucus have been approached and offered the Speaker, and assorted cabinet positions and things of that nature. It is very clear that the members of the Progressive Conservative party ran on a mandate to govern, and govern is what we’re going to do,” he said.
Flemming said the Liberal government failed over the last four years and now it’s time for them to go.
“If you can’t produce a Speaker on day one, it is pretty clear evidence to me that you are unable to function. So what is the logical conclusion — over to you, Mr. Higgs. Form a government, swear in a cabinet, call in the legislature and see if you can get a Speaker,” he said.
Green Leader David Coon said his party won’t offer a Speaker because, with just three seats, they don’t want to weaken their voice in the legislature.
People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin said he thinks it’s time for Gallant to take a look at the reality of the situation.
“I think if Mr. Gallant realizes he doesn’t have a Speaker or doesn’t have the confidence of the house, that he would resign before that, but we’ll wait and see,” Austin said Thursday.
But despite all the opposition members opting out for the Speaker’s job, Liberal member Jean-Claude D’Amours said he believes someone will opt back in before the deadline.
“We have still heard that some members are interested to take the position of the Speaker. We are only at Thursday,” he said.
But if no one else comes forward, the Liberals will be faced with deciding if they’ll relent and offer a member of their party for Speaker.
“We will need to make a decision Monday to verify what will be the next step, but up to that point I think it is legitimate to take the time to make sure that their members can put back their name,” he said.
The Tories have already said that if the Liberals get to deliver a throne speech, they will vote against it.
If the Liberals were to lose a confidence vote, the Tories would be given a chance to form a government.
Austin said New Brunswickers should not worry that “the sky is falling.”
“Stability will come. Minority governments work all over the world and we’re going to make it work here in New Brunswick,” he said.
The People’s Alliance have already said they would provide stability to a Tory government for up to 18 months.