FREDERICTON — New Brunswick's right-leaning People's Alliance has agreed to prop up a Tory minority government, but the Liberal premier is urging skeptical Progressive Conservative legislators to rebel against "the deal" — and keep his party in power.
People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin said Friday he had met with Lt.-Gov. Jocelyne Roy Vienneau and told her he had agreed to back Blaine Higgs' Tories for 18 months after Monday's deadlocked election results.
However, Premier Brian Gallant held his own news conference shortly afterwards, saying he'll continue talks to form a minority government with the Green party, and will recall the legislature by Oct. 23 or sooner for a throne speech.
Gallant challenged members of the Tory caucus who may not be sympathetic to People's Alliance policies to either cross the floor or publicly reveal their discontent with the new relationship between the two parties.
"We believe that there is not unanimous support within the Conservative caucus to support the deal that Blaine Higgs and Kris Austin have clearly struck," Gallant said.
Later in the day, Higgs insisted the Tories had not struck a formal deal with the People's Alliance — no conditions were attached to their verbal agreement.
"Mr. Gallant wants people to believe that I have a secret agenda, and that I made a deal with the People's Alliance," he said, adding that he and Austin have only spoken on the phone.
"He's made a verbal commitment that says, 'I won't bring the house down' .... There is no coalition, there's no backroom deal."
Monday's New Brunswick election produced a deadlocked result, with the Tories winning 22 seats to the Liberals' 21. A total of 25 seats are needed for a majority in the 49-seat house. The Green party went from one to three seats and People’s Alliance earned three seats, putting the third parties in a position to bargain for their support.
The premier referred to Robert Gauvin, an Acadian who won the Tories' only seat in the largely francophone north.
Gauvin has cautioned against any suggestion of a coalition with the People's Alliance, which is unpopular among French-speaking New Brunswickers because it has pledged to eliminate linguistic duality in some government services and do away with the office of the official languages commissioner.
The premier said in French that Gauvin and others in the Tory caucus will have a choice between a deal with the People's Alliance or a formal coalition between the Greens and the Liberals.
"At the end of the day, they will maybe have an influence on the fate of the province for generations to come," said Gallant, who added that his party is hearing from Progressive Conservative members of the legislature expressing unease with Austin's announcement.
Higgs, though, said all members of his caucus were "comfortable" with the informal 18-month arrangement with the Alliance.
Gallant said the Liberals will not form a coalition with the People's Alliance, saying there are "fundamental values" the Liberals don't share with the smaller party, particularly their language policies.
In its news release, the People's Alliance was vague about whether conditions were attached to their support for the Tories, while Austin declined requests for interviews on how informal the agreement with the Tories is.
"Kris Austin met with the lieutenant-governor this morning to discuss working with other parties in the upcoming legislative assembly to make government work," the party said in a statement.
"Mr. Austin informed her honour that he has met with Blaine Higgs and has agreed to provide stability for a Progressive Conservative minority government for up to 18 months."
Higgs confirmed that he plans to meet with Green Leader David Coon on Monday.
The Greens were not giving interviews Friday, saying only in a statement that "we are pursuing formal discussions with both the Liberals and PCs beginning next week.
The Canadian Press