Photo: Annik MH De Carufel archives Le Devoir Rumors that circulated for several months in New Brunswick regarding the potential calling of provincial elections in 2023 ultimately cost the government more than $3.2 million, including nearly $2 million in expenses that cannot be recovered.
Hina Alam – The Canadian Press in Fredericton
January 20, 2024
The rumors that circulated for several months in New Brunswick regarding the potential call of a provincial election in 2023 ultimately cost the government more than $3.2 million, including nearly $2 million in expenses which cannot be recovered.
This is what New Brunswick's Chief Electoral Officer, Kim Poffenroth, concluded in a letter she addressed Friday to the Standing Committee on Procedure, Privileges and Senior Officials of the Legislative Assembly.
In the letter, Ms. Poffenroth argued that Elections New Brunswick went way over budget for 2023-2024 because it had to be prepared in case voters were called to the polls earlier than expected.
“The event I am referring to is the highly publicized rumor that surfaced in June 2023, and again in September 2023, that the next provincial general election, scheduled for October 21, 2024, could be triggered earlier than expected,” she said in her letter.
“Furthermore, no directives have been given to contradict these rumors. In fact, statements made in the media fueled them. This left Elections New Brunswick with no choice but to accelerate preparations in order to be ready to hold an early provincial general election. »
In her letter, Ms. Poffenroth does not mention the name of Prime Minister Blaine Higgs, but the dates she refers to correspond to several of his public statements.
Premier Higgs began saying in June that he needed a new mandate to end the discontent within his party. He only put an end to the rumors after the Speech from the Throne in October.
The Prime Minister's Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Ms. Poffenroth's letter. But in an interview with The Canadian Press last month, Mr. Higgs assured that he was ready to pull the trigger and call a snap election.
“We were ready to go. We had prepared a bus. We were in campaign mode,” he said during the interview.
“But in the end, we won the vote of confidence [in the Throne Speech]. I had reason to believe that we would be able to manage and continue until [next] fall. »
The opposition does not budge
In her letter, Ms. Poffenroth says the province spent at least $1.7 million non-recoverable dollars to hire and train election staff, rent polling stations and install telecommunications equipment.
“Certain expenses, such as purchasing equipment and printing materials, would have been incurred regardless of the date of the election. In most cases, they were to be budgeted for in the next fiscal year,” she wrote, noting that the figure totaled about $1.5 million.
“Other expenses, such as rental fees, training expenses, returning office staff salaries, are sunk costs, in the sense that they cannot be recovered and will likely be invested again when the election takes place. »
The leader of the New Brunswick Liberal Party, Susan Holt, denounced the way things happened.
“It’s frustrating. We could have used this money to provide services to New Brunswickers,” she lamented.
“We could have used it to pay retention bonuses to nurses or to invest in the education network. But no, we throw it in the trash because of the Prime Minister’s indecision and his ego. »
The leader of the province's Green Party, David Coon, argued that Mr. Higgs should have been firm and not hesitated about the possible calling of the election.
“It was irresponsible of the Prime Minister,” in his opinion.
“When a prime minister plans to call a snap election, he calls them. He does not hesitate. I think it just reflects the divisions within his party. And in the end, it was the taxpayers who paid the price. »