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.



The People’s Alliance: Where to go from 2014?

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
  • Albert
  • Sussex-Fundy-St.Martins
  • Charlotte-Campobello 
  • Fredericton-Grand Lake 
  • Carleton-York

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.


On Electoral Reform

Yesterday the New Brunswick government announced potential reforms to the electoral system in the province. These changes are wide and deep, looking at potential changes to the voting age, changes to donation limits, and how New Brunswickers vote; either online or changing the entire electoral voting procedure as a whole.

Electoral reform has been a sticky subject in Canada as of late with the Federal Government proposing similar changes at the national level. The opposition Conservatives feel that a referendum is needed to provide enough public support to implement these changes. The argument, at least from the ruling Liberals, is that because they ran in the 2015 election on the promise of changing the electoral system, and subsequently gained a majority government, that this is support enough for the government to enact these changes.

The Federal Liberals have also had to jump through hoops regarding how the electoral reform committee is composed and also are facing difficulties regarding their timelines for implementing a full range of changes in time for the next federal election in 2019.

The New Brunswick proposal faces similar issues. No committee has been struck as of yet and this committee is supposed to be publishing a final report on these proposals in January 2017. For anyone who has had any experience working with government at any level should know this is an ambitious target and it seems doubtoful it will be met accordingly. Even if it is met it would still have to be put through the legislature and all of the due diligence that comes with that.

In the event the Liberals are able to pass the electoral reform legislation in the Spring of 2017 it leaves the government and Elections NB with roughly 12 months to implement changes in time for the next provincial election in the fall of 2018.

What’s more important than timelines of course is what these proposed changes are! So let’s take a look:

The Good:

Changing donation limits
The most important of these reforms is the possibility of reform or (hopefully) complete removal of corporate and union donations to political parties or independent candidates. Nova Scotia, Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec, and the Federal government have restricted and removed corporations and unions from donating and thus holding influence over candidates. It’s a smart move for a province as unique as New Brunswick with such large industry for such a small population. Removing these donations removes possible foul play and undemocratic practices that generally floats around with private and union forces affecting politics and really forces parties to look for donations from citizens – the people actually voting for them.

Allowing for permanent residents to vote
Permanent residents are people who live in the province much the same as anyone else. There have been calls recently for permanent residents to gain the vote in municipal campaigns which was not mentioned in this discussion paper. Still, it looks like progress.

Fixed election dates
This proposal is pretty straightforward and has already been implemented at the federal level. A fixed date for an election every four years provides for stability and reliability, particularly for organizations such as Elections NB which needs to make preparations for elections. This does not mean elections cannot be held more frequently than four years (no confidence votes, snap elections) but does mean that they’re set in stone and must be held within a four-year time frame.

The Unlikely:

Online/Internet voting
Internet voting poses a number of difficulties which were previously found in Quebec when the Chief Electoral Officer in 2005 found issues with online voting mechanisms. A lack of transparency, accountability, ability to verify voters, and costs are among many of the issues surrounding online voting or the creation of online voting kiosks. As of yet, none of the costs for this have been outlined, so it remains to be seen what the financial implications would be.

“The technical audits and tests helped to determine that electronic voting systems are exposed to many risks since they have limited or no formal protection and security measures, thus making them vulnerable to technological attacks. In addition, the systems are thus exposed to major service or network defects and breakdowns.” – Elections Quebec, 2006

I see no issue in making things easier for voters to cast their vote but I have seen nothing proposed by the government in terms of a serious plan on this to offer any reasonable yea or nay at this point. Perhaps the January Report will glean some light on this.

Anything > FPTP Voting
There’s no doubt that first-past-the-post is a wildly inefficient system of voting. It’s the simplest, and it works, and that’s about it. The major issue revolves around convincing an electorate that it would be wise to tinker with it, and so far four of those votes have been rejected in various provinces across the country in the past twenty years. As of yet there hasn’t been much support or momentum for a change in voting system in New Brunswick despite reports developed over a decade ago recommending them.

Is FPTP a flawed voting system? Sure. Is it the easiest to understand? Absolutely. Do I think New Brunswickers would support a change in the way they vote if it was put to a referendum? Not a chance.

The proposed alternatives are outlined very well in the discussion paper and it provides good graphics and explanations of how they work. I am supportive of the current one-member-per-riding system with a ranked ballot with the victor requiring 50% of the vote to be elected. Other alternatives, like party lists, get into the murky waters of party officials not tied by area or region ending up in the legislature and opens up the door to fiddling…and not the kind on the roof.

[I’m also supportive of the province further cutting down on the number of ridings in the province from the current 49 to a more reasonable 45 or 41, but that recommendation is nowhere to be found]

The Bad:

Lowering voting age
Although an admirable and understandable goal I don’t see much from a policy perspective to support this. The negatives, such as allowing those to vote who may not have a full understanding of what their vote is going towards, far outweigh the positives on this file. It would be wiser for the government to provide for more education on civics and allow interest to swell from that.

It’s clear that lowering the voter age is an attempt to increase voter turnout in elections but lowering it may very well have the opposite effect. Allowing a whole new segment of the electorate to vote is great but if they vote at levels below the average they’ll only serve to drag down turnout further. There’s nothing that I can find that shows that 16 and 17 year olds are kicking down the door to be heard….the discussion paper mentions that there will be fewer and fewer of them in the coming years. No growth in this demographic.

What government should be aware of is that turnout in elections, although important, isn’t the be-all, end-all measuring stick of how interested an electorate is in the political process. Turnouts rise and fall based on elections and can swing for many different reasons. Elections with higher turnouts generally have a specific issue or decisions revolving around them that leads to more people heading to the polls. An example of this would be the 2010 election which reversed a trend in NB of successive falling turnouts. Why did turnout rise in this election? It likely had to do with the incumbent Graham Liberals seeking to sell NB Power. Big ticket issues like this generally drive turnout up. NB either doesn’t have these issues come up during elections or political parties are too afraid to step on toes to bring them up in the first place.

The idea that government can create a more “effective” legislature by making it easier for underrepresented groups to become elected to the legislature is laughable at best. Having elected members from more diverse backgrounds doesn’t provide for a more effective legislature –  it simply provides for a more representative legislature (and that is always up for interpretation). The issues surrounding the legislature would still persist whether the entire legislature was made up of women or visible minorities or not. Many issues remain, like the lack of sitting days, overall lack of decorum, and many others.

There are many ingrained issues surrounding the legislature and political culture in New Brunswick as a whole. Creating reforms for electoral reform with the goal of fixing these issues points the finger at the electorate as the cause for these issues – this is simply untrue. New Brunswick’s voters haven’t driven the province to economic stagnation. New Brunswick’s voters haven’t restricted legislature sitting hours this session. These issues rest with the elected members of the legislature and the ministers and premier of the province. Surely efficiencies can be found within the political system rather than pointing the finger at voters.

New Brunswick voters do, and can, have the power to change who sits in the legislature after all.

It remains to be seen if all of these proposed changes will make it to the (presumably very rushed) final report in January but from what I can see I would be particularly surprised if all of them were implemented in time for 2018. Why is the government deciding now to push this issue? The Liberals did mention some parts of this in their 2014 Election Campaign [“Investigating means to improve participation in democracy, such as preferential ballots and online voting.”, pg. 37] but made no mention of changing the entire electoral process.

If that’s the goal why not tie a referendum vote onto the general election vote in 2018? It would be simple, a good election platform for them to build off, and would negate the negative press of a government trying to force reforms on an electorate that didn’t really ask for them. Perhaps they think they would lose such a vote.

A referendum tied to the general election in 2018 would almost certainly raise voter turnout – isn’t that what’s being sought for in the end?

On Celtic Affairs

Earlier this week the Gallant Government announced a shuffling of its provincial cabinet positions. The most notable, or perhaps most notorious of these changes, was the creation of a Minister Responsible for Celtic Affairs. The creation of this portfolio can be construed a number of ways, but i’m of the opinion that this is merely politics on behalf of the government to appease Anglophone voters who have been feeling hard-done-by this government’s policies. It can perhaps be assumed that the government has been leaning more towards Francophones in some of their decisions since coming into government, so the creation of this portfolio is to appeal to the other linguistic group.

Celtic Affairs is, at least in appearance, a position which is purely political posturing and an office that nobody requested in a time when the Government should be focusing on more pertinent matters. Job creation? Education? Healthcare? Celtic Affairs. That’s the sweet spot.

Was anyone asking for a Celtic Affairs portfolio? Any individuals? Non-Profits? Non-Governmental Organizations? I find it doubtful. So why create it in the first place?

Along with this, the size of Cabinet has increased by two, up to 14 Ministers plus the Premier for 15 members of Cabinet. This goes against various pledges the government has made in the past of reeling in the size of government, or committing to a smaller cabinet. As a comparison, when the Alward PC Government was defeated in 2014 it had a Cabinet of 18 Members for a Legislature of 55 Members. Currently this government is sitting at 15 Cabinet for a Legislature of 49 Members. Effectively, the Liberal cabinet consists of 31% of total Legislature members compared to the 33% the PCs enjoyed. The Liberals, at this stage, have only decreased the size of Cabinet relative to the size of the Legislature by 2%. Smaller Government.

In my opinion smaller government should actually be smaller. Currently the 15 Cabinet Members in New Brunswick share 37 separate titles. Some of these, like Deputy Premier and House Leader, are of course creations of political conventions handed down through Centuries of Government in New Brunswick. Other positions, like Celtic Affairs and Literacy, are purely creations to improve government exposure in certain areas. So, is it possible to merge these portfolios to make Cabinet smaller and more efficient? Absolutely:

EDUCATION: Education & New Economy Fund; Innovation; Post-Secondary Education; Education and Early Childhood Development; Literacy

INTERGOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS: Rural Affairs; Intergovernmental Affairs; Regional Development Corporation; Local Government; Service New Brunswick; Northern & Miramichi funds

SOCIAL & HERITAGE: Women’s Equality; Aboriginal Affairs; La Francophonie; Celtic Affairs; Official Languages; Poverty Reduction and the Economic and Social Inclusion Corporation; Liasion for Military Affairs; Tourism, Heritage, and Culture

JUSTICE: Justice & Public Safety

INDUSTRY: Training & Labour; Agriculture, Aquaculture, and Fisheries; Trade Policy; Economic Development; Opportunities NB

ENVIRONMENT: Environment; Energy & Resource Development

HEALTH: Health; Families & Children; Seniors & Long-Term Care

TRANSPORT: Transportation & Infrastructure

FINANCE: Finance; Treasury Board

This is a proposed Nine-Member Cabinet (without Premier), meaning that you could have a Ten- Member Cabinet with the preceding layout. If the Government feels that these broader portfolios would need more support they could create Ministers of state (Or Province?) to help with larger portfolios such as Industry or Education, but on the whole in a province with 3/4s of a Million people this shouldn’t be too time-consuming or difficult. Finance is straightforward. Health is straightforward. Justice is straightforward. Intergovernmental affairs should be straightforward.

Social and Heritage (and “Culture”) portfolios in New Brunswick are the most bloated and, in my opinion, the easiest to merge. Because of New Brunswick’s seemingly persistent “cultural” divisions, which I won’t get into with this post, many of these posts seem to be required, but there is a lot of overlap in what many of them are responsible for. Is there overlap between Official Languages and La Francophonie & Celtic Affairs? Is there Overlap between official Languages and “Heritage and Culture”? I would imagine it would be easier to have all of these aspects under the same portfolio rather than splitting them between three or four Ministers as is currently the case.

There are clear overlaps or redundancies to be found in Intergovernmental affairs. Rural Affairs, Regional Development, and Northern Funds can be merged. Surely they can be accommodated under one title. What’s the difference between Local Government and Intergovernmental Affairs? If Intergovernmental Affairs leans more towards Federal Issues can this not just be put under the auspice of Justice? Or Industry?

In the end 15 Ministers and 37 Titles is a bit too many for a province of 750K. That’s a Ministerial position for every 20K residents.

CBC Political Panel Analysis, May 12 2016, Marijuana Legalization

The CBC’s Political Panel, filmed on May 12 2016, examined upcoming Federal Liberal legislation which is expected to legalize marijuana in Canada in the Spring of 2017. Host Terry Seguin quizzed the following attendees on the subject of how regulation will exist in the province:

Carl Urquhart (Progressive Conservative)
David Coon (Green)
Dominic Cardy (New Democrat)
Kris Austin (People’s Alliance)

Most interesting, prior to the discussion beginning, was that the governing Liberals did not attend this session. Minister Donald Arsenault spoke as recently as three weeks ago saying that the Provincial Liberals were prepared to draw up legislation to reflect federal realities on this topic. For this panel, however, the Liberals were absent.

The initial stances by each party can be summarized as follows:

Urquhart (PC): It’s a government tax grab seeking to generate more revenue. The Federal Conservatives, although technically unaffiliated, do not support legalization. The PC Party has yet to develop policy on this and will wait until the election of their new leader before doing so. Urquhart, personally, is against legalization.

Coon (GRN): This must be driven through a public health lens. Greens Federally support legalization. Greens provincially have not had discussion but Coon supports it personally.

Cardy (NDP): NDP Federally and Provincially support legalization. Cardy stressed as few regulations as possible when legalizing. How do we regulate this? Do we allow for edibles, etc.?

Austin (PANB): Agreed with stances around the table. Need to ensure youth are protected from dangers. No discussion within party on this matter but Austin supports legalization as long as it’s “done right”. Wants heavy regulation to ensure public safety.

“Should revenue made from marijuana regulation be streamed into certain

Urquhart (PC) viewed this question similar to the issue of revenues made from natural gas extraction (fracking). “It would be very good if we could [direct the revenue] but the governments are not introducing marijuana to make money to target back into one specific field. They’re bringing in something – otherwise they would decriminalize it. If they had decrminalized it a lot of people would have looked at it completely different … why they’re doing it to do it is to make money.”

Coon (GRN) believed that a portion of the revenues made from regulation should be dedicated to education and drug use prevention. He believed the regulations put in place should put heavy emphasis on this.

Cardy (NDP) cited the Colorado revenue method as the one to follow. He offered the opinion that, to counter some people who believe marijuana to be an inherent evil, that regulating said evil and putting that money towards an inherent good (education) should be viewed positively.

Evaluating Their Performances:
Urquhart’s (PC) police background gave him insight on what happens when, if for example, a police officer decides to arrest someone in possession of marijuana. He listed, in almost sarcastic detail, how long and tedious the process is when examining and filing confiscated drugs. This was beneficial in highlighting the current issues with drug enforcement in Canada and, if anything, showed how broken it currently is.

So, when Urquhart followed this by saying that we needed regulation to ensure that employees at high-risk jobs (Construction, millwork, etc.) are heavily- screened to ensure sobriety, and that we need roadside breathalyzers to ensure sobriety whilst driving, it came off as if most of the revenue being captured by new regulations would be put into programs regulating the regulation. His proposal seemed to add another layer of bureaucracy, another layer of regulation, and as Cardy put it, emphasizing “nanny-state” attitudes to something that should be increasing civil liberties in New Brunswick – not decreasing them with more red-tape.

Indeed, outfits such as Worksafe New Brunswick already exist to prevent injuries and issues on worksites. Marijuana regulation would almost certainly fall under this once legalized, similar to alcohol-consumption currently.

Coon (GRN) saw legalization and regulation as something that had to be viewed through the lens of public safety. Coon suggested selling marijuana through current NB Alcohol stores (not agency stores, he stressed). He suggested a legal age of 19 as the likely limit as it is easily matched with the legal age required for purchasing alcohol. He believed a strong public awareness campaign needed to be created to ensure that the public is not harmed by this upcoming legalization.

Most interesting, at least for me, is Coon’s insistence that NB Alcohol’s agency stores are a step in the wrong direction for public safety. Coon believed that these agency stores, which are essentially gas stations and convenience stores permitted to sell alcohol, encourage the use of alcohol for drivers visiting these stores, and encourages driving under the influence. As someone who frequently visits Quebec, a province where alcohol can be bought in any corner store and gas station, I believe Coon’s comments to be unfounded. Particularly since, as Cardy pointed out, NB has some of the strictest rules for the sale of alcohol in Canada which still leads to one of the country’s highest DUI rates. Coon’s concern over public safety superseded most other views on this subject.

Cardy (NDP), at various parts of the session, frequently went after Urquhart’s viewpoint on this subject, particularly his moral stance. Urquhart, as a former police officer, had insight on the legal aspect of marijuana laws as they currently exist in Canada, but Cardy seemed to imply throughout that Urquhart was out of touch with the moral issues surrounding marijuana.

Cardy seemed to be the most innately prepared and aware of marijuana laws and legalizations throughout North America. His repeated reference to Colorado’s laws were promising as Colorado has had, in my opinion, the best delivery, legislation, and revenue-orientated stream for marijuana sales currently in place. In the previous fiscal year Colorado gathered nearly $135M USD from marijuana sales; $35M of which was then put towards schools and the education system in that state.

Cardy stressed throughout the session the need to have as little regulation on this topic as possible. His almost-Libertarian stance was taken straight from a Conservative Party handbook and was refreshing to hear from an NDP leader on a social issue.

Austin (PANB) seemed on the outside looking in on this subject. This isn’t a strong subject for the People’s Alliance but I was surprised by Austin’s support and admittance to having used marijuana in the past. The People’s Alliance aren’t going to be winning many votes on this policy, so it’s not vital for Austin to be overly vocal on this topic.

So, what did we learn?

PCs -> Still unknown where they land on this subject. Their leadership race should go over this topic, so it will be interesting to see which candidates take Urquhart’s strong anti-legalization stance and which are more pro-legalization and regulation.

GRN -> Nothing overly surprising. Coon has stressed public safety many times in his tenure as Green Party leader. However, he really dislikes NB Alcohol Agency Stores.

NDP -> A strong performance from Cardy. He knew the subject well and dominated discussion at times. A pretty clear win in this session.

PANB -> Austin was on the sidelines throughout but did offer some insight – particularly one from rural NB where he stated it was easier to get marijuana than alcohol when underage. Because he supports legalization it seems his party will also support legalization.