That’s all that stood between Blaine Higgs and a majority government in New Brunswick’s 2018 provincial election. If his Progressive Conservatives can hold every seat they won in that vote, then that’s all that will stand between Higgs and a majority on Sept. 14.
So where can he find them? And where does Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers need to look for enough seats to form a government of his own?
It’s not a given that Higgs and the PCs will be able to win all 22 seats they carried in 2018. Robert Gauvin won the riding of Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou largely thanks to his own personal profile but quit the cabinet and PC caucus in February over the government’s proposed closures of six emergency departments at night.
Gauvin is now running for the Liberals in the riding of Shediac Bay-Dieppe and the PCs will be hard-pressed to hold Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou without Gauvin carrying their banner.
That puts the PC search up to four seats.
Using the seat projection model of the CBC’s New Brunswick Poll Tracker, it’s possible to identify the seats the PCs have the best chance of gaining.
At the top of the list are two seats won by the Liberals by narrow margins in 2018. Carleton-Victoria was won by just 3.2 percentage points, while Saint John Harbour was won by only 10 votes. With the Liberals down and the PCs up in province wide polling since the last election, these two seats could be the first to flip.
Fredericton-York was won by the People’s Alliance by just 2.8 points in the last election. Support for the Alliance has been cut in half since that vote. That will make it difficult to hold this seat.
With these three, the PCs would be at 24 seats — meaning they need just one more.
They could win one of either Fredericton North or Victoria-La Vallée from the Liberals. The PCs finished less than five percentage points short of the Liberals in these two seats. In Fredericton North, the PCs don’t need to draw away much of the 21 per cent that went to the Alliance in 2018 to move ahead.
If the PCs could carry both of these seats, their count would be up to 26. That would give their majority government some stability, even if they named a speaker from their caucus.
For more of a cushion, the PCs could look to Moncton East and Moncton South. The Liberals took them by relatively wide margins in 2018 — 11 and 15 points, respectively — but with the 13-point swing the Poll Tracker is estimating between the two parties province wide, those are margins the PCs could overcome.
Fredericton-Grand Lake, the riding represented by People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin, could also be within the PCs’ grasp if the sharp decrease in Alliance support throughout the province is replicated in Austin’s own seat.
It gives Higgs some room to manoeuvre, including gains from both the Liberals and the Alliance in multiple regions of the province. But his options are relatively limited. Beyond these seats, the well looks pretty dry for the PCs.
Liberals need to hold their seats before thinking bigger
The Liberals have a far narrower path to government considering where they stand in the polls. Trailing the PCs in province wide support is no path to victory for the Liberals. Even a narrow lead might not be enough to overcome the PCs’ better vote distribution.
But, let’s assume the Liberals recover over the last days of the campaign and are able to hold the 21 seats they took in 2018. While that will be no easy feat — several of the seats mentioned above are trending PC — it would leave them only four short of a majority.
Two seats jump out as must-wins for the Liberals. Though Gauvin is running elsewhere, the party would need to win his previous seat of Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou. The next would be Miramichi, the riding in which Vickers is running. He’ll need to beat the Alliance’s Michele Conroy, which is by no means a given. But it is hard to imagine a good night for the Liberals if their leader goes down to defeat.
With those two gains and 23 seats, the Liberals might be able to form a minority government. If the aim is a majority, then they will need at least two more.
Their best options would be in the southeast of the province. Polls suggest the Liberals are running third in and around Fredericton, but they are much more competitive around Moncton.
If a Liberal recovery was due to a PC decline, then they might be able to wrest Moncton Northwest and Moncton Southwest from them. The PCs won these seats by narrow margins in 2018. Helping matters for the Liberals is the presence of an Alliance candidate in Moncton Southwest, unlike two years ago.
On the other hand, if the Liberals pull support from the Greens they might look to win back the seats of Kent North and Memramcook-Tantramar that were lost to the Greens in 2018.
Either of these scenarios, however, imagine a considerable improvement in the Liberals’ position. What if, instead, the Greens continue to make inroads at their expense?
Greens need PC as well as Liberal votes
Finding new seats for Green Leader David Coon to win is not easy. His party won three in 2018 but finished second in only two others: Restigouche West and Restigouche-Chaleur. The Greens finished 21 and 54 points, respectively, behind the Liberals in these two seats. The party will need to make significant gains among francophones in the province in order to move into contention in these ridings.
Fredericton, where the Greens won a seat in the October 2019 federal election, has more promise — but only if support for the PCs comes down. Polls suggest the PCs have pulled a lot of support away from the Alliance in and around the city. If they hold that support on election day, the Greens would struggle to win any new seats with Liberal votes alone.
The People’s Alliance, too, needs to see PC support drop in order for them to have a hope of retaining all three of the seats they won in the last election. Keeping the balance of power in a minority government also depends on it. Gains will be hard to come by.
In the end, the fate of all four parties and their leaders could come down to just a handful of individual seats. The path to victory looks easiest for Higgs.
He has just over a week to take it.