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Premier's election flirtation cost taxpayers $1.7 million

 Blaine Higgs opened the door to a snap election call last September and did not rule out the possibility until Nov. 3. (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)
Blaine Higgs opened the door to a snap election call last September and did not rule out the possibility until Nov. 3. (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)

Premier Blaine Higgs's flirtation with an early election call last fall cost taxpayers more than $1.7 million in expenses that turned out to be unnecessary, according to New Brunswick's chief electoral officer.

Kim Poffenroth identified the costs in a letter explaining to the legislature's committee on procedures, privileges and legislative officers why her office is over-budget this year.

Higgs opened the door to a snap election call last September and did not rule out the possibility until Nov. 3.

"We were ready to pull the trigger. I've got to say that," he said at the time. "We were. It wasn't an idle discussion here. It was real."

Kim Poffenroth is the Chief Electoral Officer for the province of New Brunswick.  She says there will be some changes for voters in two by-elections coming up in the Miramichi area.
Kim Poffenroth is the Chief Electoral Officer for the province of New Brunswick. She says there will be some changes for voters in two by-elections coming up in the Miramichi area.

Kim Poffenroth, chief electoral officer for the province, says Elections New Brunswick had 'no choice but to accelerate preparations in order to deliver an unscheduled provincial general election.' (Elections NB/Facebook)

Poffenroth wrote that she had no choice but to shift her office into high gear in case Higgs launched a campaign.

"No direction was offered to contradict these rumours," she wrote.

"In fact, statements being made through the media fuelled the speculation. This left Elections New Brunswick with no choice but to accelerate preparations in order to deliver an unscheduled provincial general election."

The letter says Elections New Brunswick spent $1,750,808 on expenses such as polling station rentals, returning office rentals and phone and Internet connections and the training of returning officers.

Liberal Leader Susan Holt suggested Wednesday that changes to the governance structure of district education councils was part of the government's plan to alter sex education curriculum.
Liberal Leader Susan Holt suggested Wednesday that changes to the governance structure of district education councils was part of the government's plan to alter sex education curriculum.

Liberal Leader Susan Holt said in a social media post Friday afternoon that the letter from Poffenroth proved that Higgs's election speculation was fiscally irresponsible. (Aidan Cox/CBC)

That's money the office will have to spend again this year when the election finally happens.

Poffenroth said another $1.5 million in expenses last fall won't go to waste. It was used for items such as tabulation machines and laptop computers that the agency can use this year.

The election is officially scheduled for Oct. 21 but nothing prevents Higgs from calling it early.

Liberal leader Susan Holt said in a social media post Friday afternoon that the letter proved that Higgs's election speculation was fiscally irresponsible.

"This money should have been invested in our healthcare workers, education staff and helping you with the rising cost of living," she wrote.

Radio-Canada obtained this photo taken Friday of the PC campaign bus that would have been used in a fall election.
Radio-Canada obtained this photo taken Friday of the PC campaign bus that would have been used in a fall election.

Radio-Canada obtained this photo last fall taken of a PC campaign bus that would have been used in a fall election. (Submitted by Charles Doucet)

Progressive Conservative campaign manager Steve Outhouse responded with a post of his own, claiming it was Holt who was "trying to force an election by tabling a confidence motion to bring down the government. She held press conferences saying it was time for an election."

In fact, Higgs first opened the door to a snap election Sept. 15, and Holt initially responded by saying New Brunswickers didn't want one.

She later changed her position and dared the premier to call one, introducing a no-confidence amendment on Oct. 19 to the government's Throne Speech motion and inviting five unhappy PC MLAs to vote for it.

That amendment was defeated.

In her letter, Poffenroth offered to appear before the committee to answer questions about the expenses.

"I accept that there are things over which I have control and for which I am responsible. Equally, there are those things over which others have control and for which others are responsible," she wrote.

"It is Elections New Brunswick's responsibility to be ready to conduct a free and fair election no matter when it is called. We did so as responsibly and efficiently as we could."