New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham’s political life is on the line in Monday’s election and power could slip out of his hands over public anger fuelled notably by the failed NB Power sale.
Recent polls suggest the Conservatives, led by Opposition leader David Alward, have a seven-point lead over Graham’s Liberals.
The Liberals had the support of 38 per cent of those polled, compared to 45 per cent support for the Conservatives.
The race remains tight, but political observer Donald Savoie believes change is in the air.
“My sense is that we are looking at a Tory majority government, but not a landslide,” said Savoie, chair in public administration and governance at the University of Moncton.
He noted Graham’s government took on a number of controversial files during its mandate — including early French immersion, health-care reforms and the botched sale of NB Power to Hydro-Quebec — and was forced to backtrack several times. In the process, he said, Graham alienated support from different segments of the population.
“I think the ballot question is a referendum on Shawn Graham and people are fairly critical of him,” Savoie said. “I don’t sense a great degree of enthusiasm for any party. I think it will be a classic case of the government sort of defeated itself.”
Graham’s highest profile flip-flop was his attempt to sell the assets of debt-ridden NB Power to Hydro-Quebec for $4.7 billion last October.
Charles Cirtwill, president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, has paid close attention to the NB Power saga and thinks it’s one of the issues hurting the Graham government in the Sept. 27 election.
“If you read comments on op-ed pages and listen to phone-in shows, you’ll see that the anti-NB Power sale sentiment … is clearly still at play,” said Cirtwill, head of the Halifax-based think-tank.
Both Cirtwill and Savoie lamented that the party leaders have steered clear of telling voters how they will tackle the province’s deficit, pegged at $750 million. Liberals and Conservatives alike have pledged not to raise taxes or cut spending to deal with the fiscal challenges.
“Either party will have to break that commitment,” Savoie said. “There’s no way around it.”