New Brunswick in a unique province. A single, privately owned company controls much of the economy and all of the print media. It is the only officially bilingual province in Canada. These two factors are the cause of a great deal of tension in the province. On any given day you can hear New Brunswickers debate whether Irving is a savior or a curse, help or hindrance. You will almost certainly hear a debate on language rights.
Language debates are not new in New Brunswick. They go back, at least to the repatriation of the Canadian constitution. New Brunswick, with its considerable Acadien population, cemented language rights in law. As with any civil rights advancement throughout history, there was an immediate backlash. A federal political party emerged; the Confederation of Regions. CoR was a far right, populist, party of the West. As it spread East to New Brunswick, the party also became vehemently opposed to French language rights. While federally the party hoped to restructure the electoral system by forming regions with an equal amount of MPs (making the Western provinces a super-power come election time), the NB CoR sought to eliminate French language rights.
Current PC leader, Blaine Higgs was a part of the CoR. He even ran for leadership but failed in that venture. Since running for the leadership of the PC Party, he has downplayed his involvement with CoR. Higgs has said that the reason for leaving CoR was the rising anti-French sentiment but that’s impossible as it was a key policy from day one. Higgs won the leadership of the PC Party on the third ballot, with considerable dissension from his opponents who gave their support to other candidates as they were eliminated from the ballot.
CoR was once the official opposition in the legislature but has since shuttered its doors after infighting, and failing to elect or reelect MLAs. As Higgs supporters would point out, that was a long time ago. But since the closure of CoR, Higgs is still not bilingual. As Premier Alward’s minister of finance, Higgs practiced CoR fiscal restraint which actually slowed economic growth to half of what Premier Lord enjoyed in the early to mid-2000s.
In 2014, the Conference Board of Canada actually ranked New Brunswick as having one of the worst economies in the world. This came after four years of Higgs’ use of CoR economics; itself a recycled policy of Social Credit economic policy; favoring big business in the hope that trickle down will strengthen lower social classes.
It is possible that Higgs’ support of big business economics stems from his lifetime career at Irving Oil and then Canaport LNG. Higgs’ connection to big oil and position as finance minister also explains why the Alward government put such a strong focus on oil, gas, and mining as opposed to agriculture, retail, tourism, and small business.
Higgs is in a tough position when he goes to the polls next year asking both Acadiens and small business to swing their support his way. His opponent, a fluently bilingual Premier, who also owned and operated small businesses is still riding high in approval ratings.