Here are some things I will be watching for tonight.
1. Bellwether ridings
Earlier this year, I tried to identify the tipping point riding for New Brunswick elections. No matter how you diced the numbers, these 7 ridings came up as most likely to be decisive in the election outcome.
- Kent South
- Moncton South
- Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin
- Miramichi Bay-Neguac
However, if it looks as though one party is winning all or most of these ridings, they are likely to win the election. If there is a split decision among these ridings, it should be a long night.
2. Minor party leaders' seats
All three of New Brunswick's "third party" leaders have an outside chance of winning their seats. I would give David Coon a 50-50 chance in his riding, Dominic Cardy a 40-60 chance and Kris Austin a 25-75 chance.
David Coon is running here and appears to be well organized. His big signs went up fast and he is winning the lawn sign war. He has focused almost exclusively on campaigning in the riding and has had two visits from Elizabeth May. The Greens clearly have an all-in strategy here, which proved very effective for them with May and Saanich-Gulf Islands in the last federal election. On paper, it would be difficult to craft a more left-leaning urban riding in the province. The municipal wards within this riding stood alone in voting for left-wing professor Matt Hayes over Brad Woodside in the last municipal election. The NDP would likely have won this riding in 2003 had these boundaries been in place. And the Liberals would have eked out a narrow win in 2010 despite losing provincewide by 14 points.
But Coon faces tough competition. Energy Minister Craig Leonard stands for the PCs and former Liberal cabinet minister Kelly Lamrock stands for the NDP. The Liberals are running a lesser known candidate in Roy Wiggins. With an independent candidate on the ballot as well, it is conceivable that the victor could take this riding with less than 25% of the vote, and likely it will be won with less than 35%.
Several observers were surprised when Dominic Cardy opted to run here rather than the seemingly safer bet of Fredericton South. Perhaps he feared splitting the vote with Coon who announced for Fredericton South before Cardy chose a riding. Or perhaps he was trying to make a show of a "new NDP" who didn't need to put its leader into its safest seat.
This will be a tight three-way race between Cardy, PC incumbent from Fredericton-Silverwood Brian Macdonald and Liberal newcomer Bernadine Gibson. Green candidate Gayla MacIntosh has signs up and was runner up for the Liberal nomination and probably will get into the double digits of percentage support.
Cardy has been traveling all of the province and not spending as much time in his riding as Coon or Austin. Is this because he has the riding all sewn up? Or is it because he hopes a rising tide provincewide will lift all boats? We'll find out tonight.
Kris Austin rounds out the party leaders running in the Fredericton region. He took an impressive 20% of the vote in the old riding of Grand Lake-Gagetown despite having founded his party just months before the vote. He took most of his base with him to Fredericton-Grand Lake, having had over 30% of the vote in the polls that moved into this new riding. That means in the overall riding of Fredericton-Grand Lake, despite there having not been a People's Alliance candidate in half the riding, he starts with a base of 15%. The question is, can he expand his appeal beyond the Minto-Chipman area and into the Fredericton part of the riding? In a three-way race with the PCs and Liberals, 40% of the vote should be more than enough.
3. Interesting races
The Fredericton South race covered above is one of the most interesting in the province. Other interesting races include:
This riding and its predecessors have voted with the government in every election going back to the creation of single-member ridings in 1974. Blaine Higgs has a strong personal brand, perhaps unprecedented for a non-party leader in recent New Brunswick political history. If the Liberals win big as polls suggest, this will be a fascinating test of whether or not a strong local candidate can trump a provincial trend.
The old riding of Tantramar (which makes up about 70% of this new riding) was the best seat for the Greens in 2010. The NDP won this seat in 1982 and nearly won it in a 1997 by-election. The PCs have held it since 1997, but it voted strongly for the Liberals in 1987, 1991 and 1995.
This race features two incumbents: PC Mike Olscamp who has held Tantramar since 2006 and Liberal Bernard LeBlanc who has held Memramcook-Lakeville-Dieppe since 2006. Both have served in cabinet when their respective parties formed government. The NDP is running a well known candidate in Helene Boudreau, though she is better known in Dieppe than in this riding. Margaret Tusz-King who delivered the strong Green showing in 2010 is not offering again, but Megan Mitton seems to be a candidate cut from the same cloth and should do well.
This is probably the most competitive incumbent vs. incumbent race in the province and also is the only riding aside from Fredericton South which offers the potential for a four-way race.
Add to that that this was identified as a potential tipping point riding based on the results within these new boundaries going back to 1995.
Though not on the list of tipping point ridings, this was very close. Based on its past results, it should lean slightly to the Liberals and is a seat they could win in an election they lose overall. The question is, what will the Andy Harvey affair have done to the Liberals' chances here? Harvey has seen the charges dropped and is playing the victim card. Does that hurt or help? It will be curious to see how the results stack up vs. what the expectation would have been for generic candidates in a generic election.
Saint John Lancaster
The infamous Abel LeBlanc is making a comeback bid in the riding he represented from 2003-2010, but this time for the NDP. Is Abel's distinct salt-of-the-earth brand enough to propel him over the top in this riding which has never been a bastion of NDP strength?
Fundy-The Isles-Saint John West
This is one of two (with Memramcook-Tantramar) incumbent vs. incumbent races which interests me. Rick Doucet has won this riding easily, and its predecessors were regularly won by Liberals Eric Allaby and Sheldon Lee going back to 1987 and 1978 respectively. However, David Alward has been making a heavy play for both Greater Saint John and rural anglophone New Brunswick to save his skin. With the outspoken Dr. Jim Parrott running here, Doucet faces a far more able opponent than he has seen before. Even with a likely Liberal victory if polls are to be believed, this seat has an outside potential of switching hands in the opposite direction.
This riding features incumbent Bev Harrison standing for the NDP. The NDP has a bit of a history in this riding as it is made up of parts of the old Kings West (where former party leader George Little got more than 30% of the vote in the 1980s) and the old East Saint John (which the NDP won in a 1984 by-election).
Hampton-Kings was a Tory stronghold when Harrison held it for the PCs from 1999 onward, but this is a much different riding having traded the rural Kingston Peninsula for suburban and urban parts of Saint John.
Nonetheless, there is a strong PC base here and with the PCs and NDP running hard, the Liberals could sneak up the middle. It is no coincidence that Gallant and Cardy both spent time here over the weekend.
4. Signs of an NDP breakthrough
The NDP's best hopes are Fredericton West-Hanwell, Fredericton South, Saint John Harbour and Hampton. It is conceivable to me that they could win any one of these ridings. For them to expand beyond this base, they probably need to have had sufficient strength to have won all four.
So, if the NDP starts winning some of the following seats in their second tier, they have probably won 4+ seats: Fredericton North, Portland-Simonds, Saint John East, Memramcook-Tantramar.
5. Signs of a Liberal sweep
The Liberals seem to be running strong candidates and strong campaigns in two ridings which would tend to be Conservative strongholds: Gagetown-Petitcodiac and New Maryland-Sunbury. Despite strong campaigns, it would be a major accomplishment to win either of these seats for the Liberals. If they win both, they are almost certainly in the 40+ seat range.
6. Signs of a PC comeback
If the PCs manage to steal Fundy-The Isles-Saint John West or Miramichi from the Liberals, it is probably a good night for them. If they hold seats like Victoria-la-Vallee, Fredericton-Grand Lake or Restigouche West they are likely to be re-elected.