Third Party voting in New Brunswick

The 2010 Election was the first for two parties in New Brunswick politics: The Green Party and the People’s Alliance. Their introduction onto the NB political scene represented more options for the New Brunswick voter to consider and opened up the political landscape to a more grassroots, a more under-the-radar approach, and more options away from the Big 2 Parties in the province: the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives.

The Liberals and the PCs have dominated New Brunswick’s provincial political landscape. Both parties have won every election in New Brunswick’s history and have rarely, if ever, been challenged by a third party in most ridings. Third parties typically have difficulty even getting elected members into the Legislature – David Coon’s election in Fredericton South as a member of a third party in 2014 was the first election victory for a candidate not in the main two parties since Elizabeth Weir won Saint John Harbour for the NDP in 2003.

However, third party presence in provincial politics is about more than simply winning seats. Third parties can split votes in many different ways and lead to many unusual and different circumstances which would not normally occur with only two parties running candidates. Indeed, with more third parties running candidates, New Brunswick elections have become much closer and far more volatile.

With the introduction of the Greens and People’s Alliance, NB elections saw five official parties entering candidates, three of whom (PCs, Lib, NDP) running full slates of candidates while the Greens ran a near-full slate with PANB running a very abbreviated slate of 14 candidates in 55 ridings.

Although none of the third parties won seats in the 2010 Election their results provided a sort of warning shot across the bows of the Big 2 parties. The NDP amassed 10.41% of total votes, the Greens 4.56%, and the PANB a small 1.17%. Altogether, third parties in NB combined for 16.75% of the total provincial vote, or 62,267 total votes. These totals were the highest for third parties since 1991 when the confederation of Regions made a breakthrough winning eight seats after the splitting of the PCs following 1987’s election.

16.75% for third parties was an 11.5% increase over the 2006 election in which the NDP were the only third party option. In 2010 NDP leader Roger Duguay scored 32% in Tracadie-Sheila, good for 2nd place. The Greens scored eight 3rd-place finishes, mostly centered around Moncton and southest New Brunswick. PANB scored two 3rd-place finishes, with leader Kris Austin acheiving 20% of the vote in Grand Lake-Gagetown.

The 2014 election would continue the trend of increased third party votes. In this election the Greens increased their vote share to 6.61% (and won a seat), the NDP increased to 12.98%, and the PANB increased to 2.14% with a still abbreviated slate of candidates.

In total, 84,096 New Brunswickers voted for third parties in 2014 – an increase of just under twenty two thousand over 2010. This meant nearly 6% more voters chose third parties in 2014 compared to four years earlier. In 2014, 22.62% of voters choose parties that were not the PCs or the Liberals.





Coon’s victory for the Greens is a testament to this increased presence of third parties in New Brunswick. He’s the first ever Green Party candidate elected in the province’s history. However, his win was due to his own votes as well as some very fortunate vote splits along the way.

Fredericton South split nearly four ways, with rounded percentages as follows:
GRN 30% [COON]
PC 26%
LIB 22%
NDP 20%
IND 2%

Can Coon repeat this in 2018? Perhaps. It will take a lot of ground work and Get-Out-The-Vote to ensure one of the other three parties in contention don’t leapfrog him. With a riding this close it is the absolute definition of a tossup.

NDP Leader Dominic Cardy saw similar circumstances in his riding, although more of a three-way race than a four-way race. Cardy unfortunately did not benefit from the vote-split that Coon did, and it will be interesting to see if he chooses this riding again (see my previous article on this subject)

Fredericton West-Hanwell split three ways, with rounded percentages as follows:
PC 35%
LIB 28%
GRN 7%

The closest third party race undoubtedly was in another Fredericton-area riding, this time the riding of PANB’s leader Kris Austin in Fredericton-Grand Lake. We’ll call this a three-and-a-half way race:

Fredericton-Grand Lake split three-and-a-half ways, with percentages as follows:
PC 28.79%
PANB 28.48% [AUSTIN]
LIB 27.91%
NDP 10.53%
GRN 4.29%

Austin came within 26 votes of winning his riding and being a bigger surprise winner than Coon. Austin’s win would have been the first time in 23 years that four parties had been represented in the Legislature with the most votes spread throughout those four parties provincially.

From 1999 to 2006 roughly 90%-95% of New Brunswickers voted for either the Progressive Conservatives or the Liberals. In 2010, with the introduction of the Greens and People’s Alliance, that number shrank to 83%. In 2014, with increased growth for the new parties and larger growth for the NDP, the percentage of voters voting for the PCs or Liberals shrank even further to 77%. In other words, the two big parties had 15% less voters to count on than just a decade earlier.


The introduction of third parties in this first-past-the-post voting system also leads to difference in outcomes. Prior to the introduction of the Greens and People’s Alliance a winning MLA averaged between 52% and 56% of the vote in their riding. With the two new parties that number has shrank to 48% in 2014. This means that to win a seat in the legislature the average vote of the winning candidate has decreased by 5% with more parties gaining more votes.

In 2014, the average winning candidate in Central New Brunswick (Fredericton-area ridings) needed only 37% of the votes on average to win their riding. This is due in part to three party leaders running in this region but also to the competitive nature of all five parties in this region as well.

In fact, Central New Brunswick (Fredericton and environs) is becoming increasingly tighter and tighter as we progress with more third parties:


In Eastern New Brunswick (Kent-Moncton-Tantramar areas) a similar trend is forming:


Will this trend continue for 2018? Possibly. The NDP did well in some regions of the province and will need a similar showing to continue that trend. The 12% of votes they received in 2014 is roughly 4% more than their current provincial polling, and even then that 12% total didn’t give them a seat in the Legislature. Focusing their efforts on a single area or region may glean less votes overall but a better chance at winning a riding.

The Greens, with Coon, will almost certainly focus on his re-election campaign in Fredericton South and may increase focus on adjoining ridings in the area. The Greens did well in Kent County due to the fracking debate and may not see similar numbers in the next election.

The People’s Alliance, as i’ve written on before, are likely poised for continued growth. With continued trending Austin should win his Fredericton-Grand Lake riding in 2018, unless there’s a big PC increase in vote share, and other candidates may see similar strong showings if their trending continues. Running more candidates in more rural Anglophone areas will only serve to increase their vote total. This is a party which has still not yet run a full-slate of candidates and averages somewhere around 4% or 5% in the ridings they do run in.

Whenever I bring up third parties in New Brunswick improving their vote totals I always have one or two people say something like: “Yeah but they’ll never run government“. You’re right, they won’t, but even if they’re not winning ridings they’re having an effect on the outcome, and when they are winning ridings they’re having an effect in the legislature and in committee. Just by existing and fielding candidates these third parties are applying pressure to the larger two parties to keep up. A decade or two ago it was very common to win a riding with over 50% of the total vote in a riding because there were only effectively two choices. In 2018 there will be five choices, and every single percentage point can be the difference between sitting at home and sitting in the legislature.

In 2014 the third parties combined for 23% of total votes and ended up with 2% of the seats in the legislature. In 2018 they can still combine for 23% of total votes and end up with 6% or 8% of total seats. It remains to be seen. There’s no denying the impact that third parties are having on campaign races, though, and it’s going to make for an interesting election in 2018 with the currently-governing Liberals only two or three ridings away from minority status.



On the NDP & Dominic Cardy

Yesterday, The SUN’s Ottawa Bureau Chief David Akin made the completely serious suggestion that New Brunswick NDP Leader Dominic Cardy should enter the race to be the next leader of the Federal NDP following the vote Sunday to cast aside Thomas Mulcair. The vote, along with the approval of the Leap Manifesto, was a clear swing to the left for the Federal NDP following the blitzkreig that was their 2015 election.

Cardy’s resume is surely fine enough but he has never been successful in winning a seat. Cardy is also too far to the right of the spectrum politically for where the NDP are aiming. Mulcair found them no votes in the centre and lost a lot elsewhere in the process. Similarly, Cardy has found some votes for the NDP in the centre in NB but it hasn’t been concentrated enough to win a seat.

So nevermind Cardy running for the Federal NDP Leadership – what does he need to do to win a seat in the New Brunswick Legislature? What riding would this be? First we need to take a look at what he’s working with.

The NDP have been NB’s historic third party. In their history, founded as a continuation of the Federal CCF in 1933 and becoming today’s NDP in 1962, they have never elected more than one member to the legislature at any given time. In total they’ve had three different members in the legislature, most notably Elizabeth Weir. Weir was elected four times in Saint John South/Saint John Harbour between 1991 and 2003, sitting from 1991 until 2005.

As arguably the strongest and most influential NDP member in New Brunswick history she barely won her 1991 bid; winning by 89 votes over Liberal incumbent John Mooney. Election 1995 saw her margin of victory widen to just under 1,000 votes. Election 1999 was a 1,000+ margin, with  Election 2003 being a whopping 1,700 vote margin between her and her nearest competitor. The PC and Liberal runners could have combined their vote totals and still would have fallen short of victory in that contest. In the end, Weir lead the party for 17 years from 1988 to 2005, failing to have any NDP members elected to the legislature besides herself. During her tenure as leader the NDP’s strongest consistent base was the Saint John area surrounding her riding – in 2003 the party attained 17.2% of the Greater Saint John vote. The NDP could barely muster the occasional second place finish and never really challenged for a seat anywhere else in the province.

The post-Weir NDP saw Allison Brewer become leader, placing a distant third in Fredericton-Lincoln whilst Roger Duguay finished a respectable third in Miramichi Bay-Neguac in 2006. By the 2010 election Duguay had become leader, and the Northeast became the NDP’s strongest vote-getting region. Duguay managed second in his riding in 2010 but still lost by more than 1,300 votes. There were respectable showings in Saint John but these results and others can be seen mostly as a result of dissatisfied Liberals attempting to escape the Shawn Graham regime.

By 2014 Dominic Cardy had become leader, shifting the support base away from the Northeast and towards Fredericton. In this election the NDP netted 12.98% of the total Provincial vote – the strongest result in their history. Cardy lost his riding by 400 votes in a three-way race in Fredericton West-Hanwell, meaning the NDP would be unrepresented in the Legislature for the third consecutive election.

It’s clear that NDP support floats around the province following its leader depending on the election. As of this writing Cardy is still leader; the stability of which should benefit the party if they plan on centralizing their campaign in the next election. In 2014 they ran an above-average Provincial campaign but failed to do well enough in any particular riding to gain a seat. This is compared to the Greens who piled on to David Coon’s campaign in Fredericton South: Despite receiving less than half of the total votes of the NDP provincially the Greens won a seat and would be represented in the Legislature.

The lesson here is that if parties are to be represented they must have good provincial optics but must also balance strong regional and local campaigns. Although NDP results have come with their leaders they haven’t been strong enough to warrant being elected; this could change in the future. Cardy’s choice of riding in 2014 was intriguing, as he was up against a strong PC incumbent in Brian Macdonald (now in the PC Leadership Race)…had he chosen a different riding (perhaps even a different Fredericton riding) he could have won and been in the legislature.

So where do the NDP go from here? For starters Cardy, who has seemingly escaped the fate that Mulcair found himself in federally, will have to run in a riding where the NDP have done historically well and try his best to not run against an experienced and strong opponent. Perhaps the best riding for Cardy to run in in 2018 would be Hampton. There are a couple things to support this:

  1. – The NDP finished second in Hampton in 2014 with candidate Bev Harrison
    (ex-PC incumbent) receiving 25.97% of the vote. The former riding of
    Hampton-Kings gave the NDP 15.94% and 12.83% in 2010 and 2006
    respectively; good totals for them.
  2. – Hampton swallowed up parts of the old Saint John East and Saint John
    Fundy ridings for the 2014 election following riding redistribution. The
    area moved from Saint John Fundy, in particular, voted over 30% for the
    NDP/Harrison in 2014 (the Red Head and Garnett Settlement areas).
  3. – Cardy ran in a byelection in Saint John East shortly after the 2014
    election –  triggered when Liberal incumbent Gary Keating decided politics wasn’t his
    thing immediately after winning the riding. Cardy managed to win 21.88% of
    the vote in this byelection and should already have some exposure and name
    recognition in the area.
  4. – Likewise, Cardy also ran in Rothesay in a 2012 byelection, receiving
    27.27% of the vote.

Depending on if Harrison wants to run again in Hampton it would seem a reasonable riding for the NDP to target with or without Cardy.

The Fredericton Silverwood riding, which became part of the new Fredericton West-Hanwell riding where Cardy ran his full campaign in 2014, did vote 16.08% for the NDP in 2010, which was a good base for the NDP and Cardy to build off of. However, PC Brian Macdonald was the incumbent and is popular in the area – this decision to run against him likely cost Cardy a seat in the legislature.

Saint John Harbour is another possible landing point for Cardy to look for a seat in the legislature. Harbour was former leader Elizabeth Weir’s seat but since her departure the NDP’s popular vote percentage has fallen in the riding from Weir’s 43.39% in 2003 to 17.13% (2005BY), 12.38% (2006), 27.69% (2010), and 21.39% in 2014.

The issue for the NDP and Cardy is that Saint John Harbour is a bit of a crowded house and Cardy would be wise to avoid it. Rumours of soon-to-be-former Saint John mayor Mel Norton’s run for the PCs would likely have him running in Harbour against Liberal incumbent Ed Doherty with little room for Cardy to gain much traction. There is also the risk of former NDP candidate Wayne Dryer running again for the Greens as he did in 2014. Dryer garnered the highest vote % for the NDP in Harbour since Weir’s departure and in 2014 garnered the Greens highest vote % in Harbour at 13%.

(It’s worth noting that the Greens finished second in voting in the South End portion of this Harbour riding and third in the ‘Uptown’ area, which i’ll certainly touch on in a future post.)

Outside of Hampton and Harbour, Fredericton is likely still Cardy’s best bet, whether in West-Hanwell again or elsewhere. Fredericton North? Fredericton -York? Cardy’s optics of bouncing around and parachuting into byelections around the province shows desperation at an attempt to win a seat. If the NDP were wise they would plant Cardy in a riding for years, and years, and have him build up enough of a base to make a serious charge at running a strong, centralized campaign. Just don’t pick a riding with a strong incumbent (and potential party leader) in the future.