FREDERICTON – A byelection to replace a New Brunswick cabinet minister who gave up her seat for an appointment to a well-paying government job has added some interest to what otherwise might be a fairly sleepy campaign in Rothesay.
The circumstances surrounding Margaret-Ann Blaney’s resignation have made a debate around patronage the key issue for opposition parties in the riding.
Blaney quit her seat in May when Premier David Alward appointed her as president of Efficiency New Brunswick, a Crown agency tasked with promoting energy efficiency.
She’ll be paid between $150,000 and $175,000 a year. The appointment is for five years, but that can be renewed.
“The big issue everyone is raising is the question around patronage,” New Democrat Leader Dominic Cardy said as he campaigned in the riding. “People have been very frustrated about that.”
Monday’s byelection is Cardy’s first run to become a member of the legislature, where his party has not had an elected member since 2005 when Elizabeth Weir quit her Saint John seat to become president of Efficiency New Brunswick.
Cardy said patronage isn’t a new issue and it isn’t exclusive to one party.
“This isn’t a Tory problem in 2012, it’s a Liberal and Tory problem in New Brunswick that’s gone back 150 years. It’s the system we’ve got to try and change,” he said.
The outcome of the byelection won’t have much of an impact on the legislature, where the governing Progressive Conservatives hold 41 seats, while the Liberals have 13.
Conservative candidate Hugh John (Ted) Flemming is quick to label Cardy an opportunist.
“The fact is that he is here not because he has any great affinity to Rothesay,” Flemming said. “Rothesay happened to be the first place that a byelection opened up, so here he is.”
Liberal John Wilcox, a retired Saint John police officer, also attacks Cardy’s decision to run in the riding.
“I’ve been here 26 years and Dominic has been here 26 minutes,” Wilcox said. “I know the issues of my own particular neighbourhood and I’ve dug in to understand the issues from the other parts of the riding.”
Wilcox said he’s hearing a lot about Blaney’s appointment as he goes door-to-door.
“The residents are insulted by it,” he said.
Flemming said he fully supports the premier, but he isn’t offering an opinion on Blaney’s appointment. He said he doesn’t know all the facts surrounding the appointment and hasn’t asked.
The government has defended the hiring, saying that Blaney is the best person for the job, and the position needed to be filled.
The Green party’s Sharon Murphy and Independent candidate Marjorie MacMurray both say they’re trying to stick to other issues.
Murphy said people want good government services for their tax dollars.
“People that just want clean water, a place for recreation, a place for their youth to go, for the seniors to hang out,” she said. “These sorts of things that other ridings take for granted, we don’t get in Rothesay.”
MacMurray said she’s hearing a lot of dissatisfaction with politics and politicians who don’t keep their promises.
She said Alward didn’t keep a promise to permanently freeze property tax assessments for seniors over the age of 65.
“It’s an insult to our intelligence to say, ‘I kept my promise, and I froze it.’ He’s deferring it. That wasn’t in his platform,” MacMurray said.
The riding consists of a number of affluent bedroom communities east of Saint John.
Wilcox said the big issue for him is the number of young people leaving the province to find work.
“We’ve got to go after business and knock on doors and go into the corporate world and sell New Brunswick,” Wilcox said. “We’ve got to bring some businesses back to New Brunswick for our people.”
Meanwhile, Flemming said he supports efforts by the Tories to tighten spending and begin tackling the debt.
“Yeah, we want health care and education and affordable daycare, and we need infrastructure, but all of those things aren’t going to work if you’re spending all your money on interest.”
A total of 846 people voted in two days of advance polls, while 94 people cast write-in ballots at the returning office. The riding has almost 9,400 eligible voters.