SAINT JOHN, N.B. — The struggle for control of the New Brunswick legislature moved to the courts Tuesday with recounts set for two ridings — including one Saint John district where a lawyer for the Progressive Conservative candidate filed an affidavit alleging voting irregularities.
An allegation that about 40 electors voted twice in the riding of Saint John Harbour, which was won by the Liberals by a 10-vote margin, was filed with the Court of Queen's Bench in Saint John on Monday.
However, during Tuesday's hearing, the application was withdrawn, as the party's lawyer said he will delay re-filing it until the results of the judicial recount and the official results of the election are filed.
Matthew Letson said if the recounts don't change the outcome in the district, then the application to have the Saint John result thrown out is expected to resume as early as next Tuesday.
"If the recount doesn't change anything there are some serious irregularities that have caused our client concern and at this point our intention is to re-file to challenge the result based on those irregularities," said Letson, in a telephone interview after the hearing.
The official recount of the Saint John Harbour result is scheduled to begin in the court at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, while a recount will also take place Wednesday at 9 a.m. in a Moncton court for the riding of Memramcook-Tantramar, which was won by the Green party by fewer than 25 votes over the Liberals.
A shift of even a single seat could bear on which political party eventually gains control of the New Brunswick legislature after the unusual results of the Sept. 24 election.
The Tories, led by Blaine Higgs, won 22 seats in the 49-seat legislature last week — one more than the Liberals led by Premier Brian Gallant.
Neither party has enough seats for a majority, and both leaders have been trying to gain support from the third parties holding the balance of power, with the Greens and the right-leaning People's Alliance each holding three seats.
"If the Liberals go down to 20 seats, it certainly makes their chances of continuing as government even more narrow than they already are. Their chances of continuing as government are slim anyway," said Thomas Bateman, a political science professor at St. Thomas University in Fredericton.
Meanwhile, Green Leader David Coon continued meeting with the Liberals and the Tories, though he said it's too early to even characterize the meetings as "talks," preferring to refer to them as "conversations."
Coon said in a telephone interview he wants to find a stable solution that will change the nature of the highly partisan, two-party system that has prevailed in the province.
"People voted to put an end to the old-style gotcha politics and voted for something far more co-operative and collaborative to tackle the challenges that New Brunswickers want us to find the solutions for," he said.
"We're taking our time. We don't want to see any hasty decisions made."
Asked whether an accord like the one between the NDP and the Greens in British Columbia is likely with the Tories, given their policy differences over carbon taxes and hydraulic fracturing, Coon said he's going to stay in discussions.
"We're talking to both of them. We haven't gone anywhere near talking about the substance of policies at all ... It's a conversation, a discussion at a high level," said Coon.
"I wouldn't jump to any conclusions about what the outcome of our dialogue will be."
Both Gallant and Higgs issued news releases on Tuesday to say the leaders had positive discussions with their Green counterpart
On Friday, Gallant said he would try to form a minority government with the Green Party and will recall the legislature for a throne speech by Oct. 23.
Gallant said the Liberals will not form a coalition with the People's Alliance, saying there are "fundamental values'' the Liberals don't share with the smaller party, particularly their language policies.
However, Higgs has said he has an informal, verbal agreement with the People's Alliance, even as his party continues in talks with the Greens.
— By Michael Tutton in Halifax.
The Canadian Press