Premier Blaine Higgs spent part of his week outside New Brunswick rustling up much-needed cash for his Progressive Conservative party as he ponders the possibility of an election call as early as three months from now.
Higgs travelled to British Columbia and Alberta for meet-and-greet events, inviting participants to donate to the New Brunswick PC party.
"There is no ticket price to attend this event. However, it is a fundraising event in support of Premier Higgs, so any and all donations are very much appreciated!" said the web pages for the two events.
A third event, scheduled for Toronto's tony Albany Club on Feb. 8, has a ticket price of $250 to attend a reception with Higgs and $1,000 for the reception plus a dinner.
PC campaign manager Steve Outhouse posted a photo on social media Tuesday showing Higgs speaking to a crowd of people in a large room in Abbotsford, B.C. (Steve Outhouse/Twitter)
Liberal Leader Susan Holt said Higgs should not be leaving New Brunswick for partisan events while health-care challenges and homelessness are reaching crisis points.
"I think it's a terrible time for him to be out of the province," she said Wednesday.
"If he wants to be listening to people, I suggest it's not a hundred people at the Ranchmen's Club in Calgary but a hundred people on the ground in our health-care system right now, or maybe a hundred people on the ground who are working to house people."
The Tories could use the money.
The Tories reported an accumulated surplus of $431,160.14 as of last June 30, according to their most recent public financial return. The Liberals had $228,011.62 and the Greens reported $95,438.58.
Elections New Brunswick estimates that parties that run candidates in all 49 ridings in this year's election will have a spending limit of $1.4 million — meaning each of the three parties can spend more than what they had last June, if they can raise it.
Liberal Leader Susan Holt says Higgs should not be leaving New Brunswick for partisan events while health-care challenges and homelessness are reaching crisis points. (CBC)
The next provincial election is scheduled for Oct. 21, but Higgs has not ruled out an early election in the spring. The government will introduce the provincial budget March 19.
The PC party already spent an undisclosed amount of its war chest in late 2023 when Higgs considered calling a fall campaign.
Organizers booked a bus and outfitted it with PC branding and a large photo of Higgs before the premier finally decided to wait until 2024 to go to the polls.
The party has ramped up its out-of-province fundraising in the last six months.
It created a "Help Higgs Win" website that promotes parts of Higgs's record that appeal to conservatives nationally, including balanced budgets, his support for the Canadian oil and gas sector and his embrace of "parental rights" as an issue.
St. Thomas University political scientist Jamie Gillies said the Tories "want to capitalize on maybe what they see as the premier as a poster child for some of these issues in conservative movements across the country."
But Gillies says the appeal is a turn away from the moderate PC tradition in New Brunswick and could backfire at the polls.
"Certainly it's out of character for Maritime politics," he said.
PC Party president Erika Hachey and executive director Doug Williams did not respond to an interview request about the fundraising.
Organizers booked a bus and outfitted it with PC branding and a large photo of Higgs before Higgs finally decided to wait until 2024 to go the polls. (Submitted by Charles Doucet)
New Brunswick is one of a handful of jurisdictions that allows provincial political parties to raise money outside the province's boundaries.
Holt said she held one fundraising event in Toronto shortly after becoming Liberal leader but has no other such events planned for outside New Brunswick.
The premier's travel to Alberta and B.C. was paid by the party, not taxpayers.
The invitation to donate points out that corporate and union donations are not allowed and that the maximum allowable donation by an individual is $3,000.
PC campaign manager Steve Outhouse posted a photo on social media Tuesday showing Higgs speaking to a crowd of people in a large room in Abbotsford, B.C.
"The work Premier Higgs is doing in New Brunswick is having an impact and is appreciated across the country," he said.
Outhouse said in the post that about 100 people attended the event but he didn't say how much money was raised.
The PC party also held a "Victory Circle" fundraising reception in Fredericton last week and is promoting a $50-per-ticket roundtable discussion with Finance Minister Ernie Steeves in Penniac, north of the capital, later this month.
Money in the bank in the year before an election isn't necessarily a predictor of a winning election campaign.
In June 2017, the PCs were saddled with a six-figure debt and had just $20,260 in cash on hand, compared to more than $2 million for the Liberals.
Yet 15 months later, the Tories won one more seat than their opponents in the 2018 election and have held power ever since.