Being the fifth out of five parties is not an enviable position to be in for the People’s Alliance of New Brunswick. It’s been six years since the party was first formed and it is interesting to note the direction it has taken in those six years. Formed seemingly as a protest party it has developed nicely into a fringe party in the province, slowly eating away at the popular support of the bigger parties. But where do these votes come from – and where will they come from in the future?
Despite garnering only 2.14% of popular support in the 2014 election there is a bit more going on than that. Running a slim slate of 18 candidates (in 49 ridings) the party received 5.88% of popular support in ridings it ran in. The highest received was leader Kris Austin’s 28.48% in Fredericton-Grand Lake. Due to the joys of vote-splitting within the first-past the-post electoral method, Austin lost his riding by a mere 25 votes behind the PCs Pam Lynch. Liberal Sheri Shannon finished 47 votes behind Austin, meaning that all three finished within a percentage point of each other.
Other PANB candidates saw varying degrees of success. Former Liberal Leroy Armstrong received 10.39% of the vote in Sussex-Fundy-St. Martins, good for third behind the PCs and Liberals. Wes Gullison received 8.61% in Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin, again good for third in that riding. Three other PANB candidates received over 5% popular support in their ridings. Compare this to 2010’s results where only three candidates received over 5% in their ridings (with Austin topping at 19.95%) and the improvement is obvious.
The overall improvement is a popular vote total increasing from 4,389 in 2010 to 7,964 in 2014, a total improvement of 1.18% to 2.14%. What is even more important to note is where these votes come from, and in what ridings the PANB does well in. All of the ridings are similar, and all of the areas where they succeed in receiving votes are similar as well.
In the Albert riding, where Bill Brewer received 7.66% of the total vote, these votes were gleaned from the more rural areas of the riding. Hillsborough voted 11.58% for PANB, and 12.20% in Riverside-Albert. This is compared to sub-4% in the more urban Riverview. LeRoy Armstrong’s results in Sussex-Fundy-St. Martins are similar. His total of 10.39% is buffeted by 12.84% received in areas like Bloomfield, Passekeag, and Moosehorn Creek. Armstrong was second in voting in Apohaqui and a consistent third place through Roachville and Penobsquis. However, in more metro Sussex, he lost ground to the NDP and Liberals, the latter of which he would push for second in some rural areas of the riding.
Similar numbers can be seen in Joyce Wright in Charlotte-Campobello and, of course, with leader Kris Austin in Fredericton-Grand Lake – where Austin easily swept Chipman and Minto before losing support as the riding moved towards Fredericton. Gullison’s numbersare aided by a 28% showing (and 2nd place) in Upper Miramichi, which evaporates to just above 2% in Baie-Ste-Anne.
The ridings where the PANB received more than 5% of the total vote are the following:
- Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin
- Fredericton-Grand Lake
None of these ridings are within the Big Three cities of New Brunswick, although a few are on their borders. These ridings are mostly rural and encompass some medium-sized centres, most notably Sussex and St. Stephen.
So what does this all mean? Simply put, the PANB does well in Angolophone, rural New Brunswick. This isn’t an overly shocking revelation. For the PANB, they’re a simple, easy, and rather straightforward party with simple, easy, and relatable policy points. They do have some lofty goals that I think would be difficult to implement (such as free voting for MLAs in the Legislature) but I think some of their policies are well-intentioned moving forward.
With the future of rural NB very much up in the air (as noted on this blog frequently), and a population increasingly becoming urbanized, are the PANB going to be the party that represents the dwindling rural population of the province? Perhaps. For the PANB to increase their support they’ll need the rural population for sure, but will also need to break in a bit more in more urban areas. Of course, the PANB would benefit from a larger slate as well, and would do well with candidates in Gagetown-Petitcodiac and New Maryland-Sunbury. The issue of Francophone voters will have to be resolved over time: PANB candidates in Kent North and Kent South received 1.44% and 1.96% respectively in 2014.
In 2010 PANB only fielded 14 candidates in 55 ridings (25% of ridings). In 2014 that number increased to 18 candidates in 49 ridings (37%). For 2018, i’d imagine a good goal for them to have would be having candidates in at least half of the province’s ridings. That means finding seven more candidates. The PANB fared decently well in some ridings in 2010 for which they had no candidates in for 2014, including areas like Miramichi, Saint John and the Fundy Isles. Expanding in areas like suburban Fredericton and filling in the remainder of the rural anglophone ridings would likely see them poke above the 10,000 vote barrier with their current trending.
What would help the PANB immensely would be Austin winning his riding in 2018, similar to the Greens breaking through in Fredericton-South in 2014 with David Coon. Having that exposure and ability to have an outlet on the public stage would be huge for the party in legitimizing itself. A lot of voters in NB think that the PANB are an anti-Francophone party and are keen to place their votes elsewhere. Having their leader in the Legislature would legitimize them immensely and help with their exposure moving forward. Exposure to the public is key, as well as not looking like a temporary fixture. The PANB are moving there slowly but surely, which will require patience and a keen eye for policy points. So far the party and Austin have done well in that regard.
In terms of other parties, a lot depends on the future of the PC Party Leadership race. The PANB are surely hoping a candidate like Monica Barley comes out as the winner. Having other hopefuls win, like Jake Stewart or Mike Allen, would almost certainly eat into PANB’s rural vote and provide for a big roadblock for their increased exposure. Having Barley win wouldn’t affect their goal areas as much, it has to be said.
The Liberal Government’s policies have come across varyingly in different areas of the province. One area that should be noted is St. Stephen, where the Liberals were pushing for the alteration/reduction of services to the hospital in that town, leading to protest. PANB has garnered over 6% of the vote in Charlotte-Campobello the past two elections and one has to think that number will rise as more and more pressure is applied to the rural area from Fredericton and the larger urban centres. The PANB must be watching the situation closely, just as leader Kris Austin was with the Potash Mine closure in Sussex earlier on in the Liberal mandate. These are prime areas for the PANB to make some serious gains in 2018.