The ‘Wil’ of the People: What you need to know this provincial election.

In this week's "The 'Wil' of the People," columnist Wil Robertson touches on the life of New Brunswick's first female MLA and his grandmother, Brenda Robertson. (Aaron Sousa/AQ)

‘Wil of the People’ is a series of political commentaries by third-year Great Books and political science student Wil Robertson.

I am starting my third year at St. Thomas University. There has been an election in the fall of each of these years. A provincial one in September 2018, a federal one in October 2019 and another provincial one on Sept. 14, 2020. It’s safe to say that for a political junkie like myself, it has been an interesting period in Canadian politics.

Here is what you need to know going into this provincial election. 

This election has been oddly friendly, with not a lot of serious attacks levelled against any of the parties. The debates on Rogers TV on Sept. 3 and Sept. 9 on CBC New Brunswick have followed this tone as well. While this makes for less entertainment, it has left the debates as a more informative forum than usual. Candidates have been able to elaborate on their platforms rather than just squabble like children. 

The parties of note in this election are the Progressive Conservatives (PCs) led by Premier Blaine Higgs, the Liberal Party (Libs) led by Kevin Vickers, the Green Party (Greens) led by David Coon, the People’s Alliance (PA) led by Kris Austin and the New Democratic Party (NDP) led by Mackenzie Thomason.

The distribution of seats in the legislature when the election was called was as follows: 20 PCs, 20 Libs, 3 Greens, 3 PA, one independent — now running for the Liberals  and two vacant seats. The number of seats needed for a majority government is 25. No government has won two terms in office since Bernard Lord (PC) in 2003. 

Here is a brief overview of some of the important issues in this election and where each party stands on the issue. 

Systemic Racism

St. Mary’s Chief Allan Polchies Jr., Chief Ross Perley of Tobique First Nation, Oromocto Chief Shelley Sabattis, Madawaska First Nation Chief Patricia Bernard, Kingsclear Chief Gabriel Atwin and Woodstock Chief Tim Paul stated on Sept. 9 that they would give the next elected government 30 days to launch an inquiry into systemic racism in the New Brunswick justice system. Every major party leader has acknowledged that systemic racism exists and is a significant issue in N.B. The Libs, NDP and Greens all support a public inquiry into systemic racism. The PAs aren’t opposed to an inquiry but would like it to be results-oriented. The PCs feel an inquiry is a possibility but would look for solutions that have already been suggested before spending public funds on an inquiry. 

Clinic 554

The health clinic in Fredericton offers significant LGBTQIA2S+ healthcare, abortion services and other family healthcare services to the Fredericton region and beyond was shut down by the Higgs government. The federal government found the province had violated the Canada Health Act in doing so. Higgs has publicly stated that he feels, based on legal advice, that the province has not violated the Canada Health Act by cancelling funding to Clinic 554. He challenged people who disagree with his judgement to challenge the government in court on the issue. The Canada Health Act explicitly prevents government from impeding, directly or indirectly, reasonable access to abortion services. Higgs feels access to abortion services in hospitals in Moncton and Bathurst is enough for the province. The federal government disagrees, as do many legal experts. The NDP, Greens and Libs have all committed to funding Clinic 554. The PA committed to not changing the status quo. 

Student Financial Aid

The PCs have committed no new student aid and will likely continue as they have. The Libs would bring back support programs the previous government had in place like tuition relief for families making less than $60,000. The Greens have committed to gradually eliminating tuition. The NDP has voiced support for similar ideas, including relief for college students. The PA would freeze tuition rates, increase funding by four per cent to universities and provide tax credits to students who stay in N.B. post-grad. 

There are many other important issues, but this is a summary of just a few. For more information, I recommend looking into each party’s platform, watching the leaders’ debates and paying attention to the news in the run-up to the election. If you are a university student aged 18 or older, please pledge to vote on the New Brunswick Student Alliance website. For information on when and how to vote, please visit the Elections NB website. Most importantly, please exercise your democratic right and vote on Sept. 14.