QUISPAMSIS, N.B. — Voters in New Brunswick delivered a majority win to Premier Blaine Higgs on Monday, effectively endorsing his decision to call a snap election in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic — a move described as unsafe and unneeded by his political rivals.
The closely watched campaign was the first in the country since COVID-19 hit, and though it looked much different than previous electoral races, elections officials reported few problems during the past four weeks or on voting day.
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“I want to thank every New Brunswicker who showed the country how democratic elections can be held safely during this pandemic,” Higgs said Monday night in front of about 50 supporters who were wearing masks and standing two metres apart in a Quispamsis, N.B., bingo hall.
He said a majority government would provide stability “through these challenging times.”
With all polls reporting, the Tories won 27 seats in the 49-seat legislature. The Liberals dropped to 17, the Green party held the three seats they won in 2018 and the People’s Alliance won two seats.
As Higgs walked to the stage with his wife and two daughters, all four were wearing full face shields. And as the premier looked at the sparse crowd, he said with a smile: “There’s nothing like coming to a packed hall. This is life in COVID.”
Soon after Higgs delivered his victory speech, Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers announced he would be stepping down.
“Obviously with the results of this evening, it’s time for another leader to step up and take this party forward,” said the rookie politician, who lost his seat.
It’s the first time a government in New Brunswick has won two consecutive terms since Bernard Lord led the Tories to re-election in 2003.
When Higgs called for the election last month, he insisted that his 21-month-old minority government lacked stability at a difficult time for the province.
The three other party leaders immediately accused him of political opportunism. But Higgs gambled that the electorate would see things differently.
Having won widespread praise for his leadership on the COVID-19 file, the 66-year-old former Irving Oil executive told voters he needed a majority to help his government focus on keeping people safe.
The premier reminded voters that New Brunswick still has one of the lowest levels of infection in Canada — bested only by P.E.I. and the territories. He also cited forecasts suggesting the province was leading the country in terms of an economic recovery.
At dissolution, there had been 20 Tories, 20 Liberals, three Greens, three People’s Alliance members, one Independent and two vacancies.
During the 28-day race, few candidates campaigned door-to-door, and those who did were careful to wear a mask and stand well back when speaking to voters. There were no handshakes, no kissing of babies, no big rallies.
As the Tories secured their majority win Monday, Green party Leader David Coon said the electoral system had to be changed.
“It speaks to the need for electoral reform, so we don’t have these majority governments where premiers can have their way,” he said.
People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin said he, too, was disappointed with the Tories’ majority win, but he insisted his party would continue to press for change in the legislature.
“We still have our foot in the door,” he said.
The NDP, led by 23-year-old Mackenzie Thomason, failed to win any seats, continuing a shutout that started in 2006.
While the Tories managed to secure a majority, they largely failed to make gains within the province’s French-speaking regions. As a result, the province remains divided along linguistic lines — a perennial problem that resurfaced in 2018.
Higgs said partisan politics are so entrenched in northern New Brunswick it is almost impossible to get a Tory elected.
“It wouldn’t matter what you did,” he said. “You could run a lampshade there and get a Liberal candidate (to win).”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 15, 2020.
It’s almost impossible to overstate the transformative effect on American politics ignited by the death of this one woman, at this one moment.
The far-ranging potential consequences from the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court justice and liberal legal icon, will start immediately, beginning in the election campaign that determines whether Donald Trump gets a second presidential term.
And they could last for decades in the staggering array of issues to be litigated before the court — some of whose consequences reach far beyond America’s borders and could have global repercussions.
Here are five changes prompted by her death.
It pours fuel on an overheating election
It’s been distressingly common to hear this election described as a do-or-die moment for American democracy.
It was the theme of Barack Obama’s speech to the Democratic convention. Meanwhile, figures inside the Trump administration, and close to the president, and on talk radio, have evoked scenarios of post-election violence.
There are books, essays and newspaper articles in which political scientists sound alarm bells about the durability of the American republic.
Which is to say this election was already heated enough, with a president insisting he’s being cheated, legal fights over mail-in voting, deaths at protests and armed demonstrations.
The stakes have now risen.
“I’m genuinely worried,” Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian Joseph Ellis said in an interview Saturday.
“The fate of the republic [has not been] genuinely at stake [since the Civil War].… I think we’re in a moment analogous to that now.”
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted that America will face its most difficult months in a generation, and asked for prayers for the country.
It means conservative court dominance, potentially for decades
The court recently had a 5-4 conservative tilt. It’s now 5-3, and will be 6-3 if Trump gets his nominee confirmed.
The Supreme Court has gained power throughout American history, starting in the 19th century, in its interpretive role over U.S. law.
Now, as bitter partisanship makes it harder to pass bills in Congress than a few decades ago, parties frequently rely on courts to resolve political disputes.
One big case before the new, Ginsburg-less court involves a challenge to the law known as Obamacare — hearings are scheduled for Nov. 10 on the Affordable [Health] Care Act.
Obama’s signature law, which extended health coverage to millions, appears in grave danger: the law survived one earlier challenge by a single vote.
This court could even decide the presidential election.
In 2000, the high court ended a Florida recount and made George W. Bush president; the numerous fights this year over mail-in ballots could be far, far messier.
Longer-term battles are inevitable over abortion, and over myriad presidential executive actions. Take climate-change regulations and immigration rules.
Obama signed a flurry of such climate and immigration executive orders; future ones would inevitably be challenged in a more hostile court.
“It would be the strongest conservative majority we’ve seen,” former U.S. federal prosecutor Joseph Moreno told CBC News.
“[Now you have chief justice] John Roberts potentially sometimes voting with the minority. [But with a change now] you’d have a potentially secure block of conservative votes.
“That would impact so many things in this country.”
Other big changes could be economic. In his book, Supreme Inequality, author Adam Cohen argues that the U.S. Supreme Court has, for most of American history, favoured the wealthy and powerful, with a rare exception being the 1960s court led by Earl Warren.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a champion for women’s rights, has died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 87. 3:00
He said the court has recently been a major driver of American inequality — stripping away union powers, allowing corporate money into politics and undermining the integration and funding of schools in minority areas.
Page 1 of his book carries an anecdote about Bader Ginsburg: she wrote the dissent for the losing side in a case involving a Black man subjected to racist abuse at work.
It upends the election focus
The court fight threatens to overshadow the presidential election issue Democrats hoped to focus on: the pandemic, which has killed around 200,000 Americans.
It will play out, day after day, as voters cast ballots. Voting has already started. Ballots are being mailed out, and in-person polling stations are open in some states.
The Supreme Court has been a winning issue for Trump before. In 2016, more than a quarter of Trump voters told pollsters it was the reason they voted for him.
.<a href=”https://twitter.com/GOP?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@GOP</a> We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices. We have this obligation, without delay!
Trump cemented his alliance with social conservatives by vowing to name only conservatives to the court, and he took the unusual step of releasing a list of candidates in advance.
He’s done it again: Trump released his new list of picks just over a week ago. He’s promised to announce his choice, likely a woman, within days.
Intriguingly, when asked Saturday about one candidate, Barbara Lagoa, Trump praised her and mentioned, unprompted, that she was “Hispanic” and “from Florida” — a critical voting group in a critical swing state.
There’s no guarantee this issue will help him. The intense upcoming debate on abortion is no slam-dunk for conservatives.
Some polling suggests a strong majority of Americans want to preserve, at least in part, the landmark abortion-rights decision Roe v. Wade.
It’s one of the first points mentioned in a fundraising letter to supporters from Democratic VP candidate Kamala Harris.
“Today, we fight for [Bader Ginsburg’s] legacy,” said Harris’ note.
Democratic donors certainly appeared energized: the party said it raised tens of millions of dollars in the hours after Bader Ginsburg’s death.
In an inimitably American political phenomenon, both parties were actively fundraising upon the judge’s death.
The Trump campaign released a similar message to supporters.
This sudden effect of this debate will likely resonate unevenly across the country, helping Republicans in some places but not others.
It’s illustrated in the different reactions from Republican senators involved in tough re-election fights.
Just compare their reactions to a map showing church attendance rates per state: Republicans running in more religious states dove headfirst into the fight, which will inevitably raise hot-button social issues.
North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, who heads the justice committee in charge of the process, vowed to support a nomination immediately.
By contrast, Colorado’s Cory Gardner dodged various questions on the topic and released a vague statement; Susan Collins of Maine said the presidential election winner should get to make the pick.
There’s some reason for optimism for Democratic nominee Joe Biden: surveys in three smaller swing states this week suggested he’s more trusted on court appointments than Trump.
It triggers a brawl on Capitol Hill
The power to pick judges rests with the president. The power to confirm them belongs to the Senate.
Right now Republicans control the Senate with 53 votes, to 47 Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents.
Those numbers would not, until recently, have guaranteed confirmation: for generations, 60 votes were required for most major actions in the Senate, but because Congress is so frequently paralyzed, first Democrats, then Republicans, began chipping away at the so-called filibuster rule.
Now it takes a simple majority, of 50 or 51, to confirm a judge. And it will be close.
The first question is how quickly Republicans proceed. Trump tweeted his own suggestion that the party move fast: “We have this obligation, without delay!”
His party has flexibility on timing a final vote. It can happen before or after the Nov. 3 election: the current Senate term lasts two months beyond the election, until Jan. 3, and the current presidential term lasts until Jan. 20.
It’s taken an average of just over two months to confirm justices since the 1970s. It used to be faster, in less-partisan eras, and it could be faster again with the new simple-majority rule.
Democrats are vowing to put up whatever fight they can — with legislative delay tactics, threats of revenge if they regain the chamber and efforts to embarrass Republican senators in tough re-election races.
Then there are the insults.
Both parties are calling each other hypocrites: Republicans for reversing themselves on their 2016 declaration that presidents shouldn’t name a judge close to an election, and Democrats for reversing themselves in the other direction.
Yet Republicans likely hold the upper hand in this nomination battle. They controlled the Senate in 2016 and they control it now.
It foreshadows a clash over institutions
The Republican Party has won the popular vote in a presidential election precisely once since 1988. Yet it has a stranglehold over the Supreme Court.
And Democrats are livid.
There are growing calls within the party to overhaul the country’s institutions to make them more representative of the country’s actual, increasingly diverse, demographics.
Obama spelled out some of this agenda in his eulogy for the late civil-rights hero John Lewis: he called for full votes in Congress for Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, a new voting-rights law and an end to the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster rule.
Many progressives want to go even further — and expand the Supreme Court: meaning add new judges.
Biden has opposed the idea and said Democrats would come to regret it.
The Democrat who leads the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on Saturday said that if Republicans proceed with this nomination, Democrats should immediately move to expand the court should they win the Senate.
Franklin Roosevelt famously failed in an effort to pack the court in the 1930s.
If Sen. McConnell and <a href=”https://twitter.com/SenateGOP?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@SenateGOP</a> were to force through a nominee during the lame duck session—before a new Senate and President can take office—then the incoming Senate should immediately move to expand the Supreme Court. 1/2 <a href=”https://t.co/BDYQ0KVmJe”>https://t.co/BDYQ0KVmJe</a>
To win political power will mean using it brazenly, extravagantly, and without comity or consensus.
The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is devastating, and not simply because it is the passing of one of the most influential jurists in American history.
It is what comes next that should alarm us the most.
If we lived in a normal democracy in which all political parties abided by basic democratic norms and traditions, both presidential candidates would spend the next six weeks debating— among other issues — who they would appoint to the Supreme Court in 2021 should they win the presidential election.
But if we lived in that country, Merrick Garland would be a member of the highest court in the land.
Instead, four years ago Republicans — led by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell — refused to give Garland a Senate hearing. As they argued at the time, nine months before a presidential election was too soon to appoint a Supreme Court replacement for Antonin Scalia. Fast forward to 2020 and McConnell announced within hours of Ginsburg’s death that there will be a Senate voteon Trump’s pick to replace her on the Court, even though voters in some states have already begun to cast ballots.
McConnell’s move is cynical, hypocritical, and completely in keeping with the nihilism that he has brought to bear on American politics. For McConnell, norms are for the weak. Might makes right and political power is a tool to be wielded in the pursuit of ones self-interested political goals, the consequences on the legitimacy of America’s democratic institutions be damned. We saw this when Republicans pushed through Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Court after credible allegations of sexual assault, and we will likely see it play out now. While it’s far from guaranteed that McConnell will persuade 49 of his other Senate Republicans to go along with his efforts to pack the Court, one would be foolishto bet against cynicism winning the day.
If this happens, what will Democrats do in response? Should the polls hold up and they win the presidency and narrowly take control of the Senate, American politics will dramatically change. As Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer made clear Saturday morning, if McConnell moves forward, “…nothing is off the table.”
That means, almost certainly, an end to the Senate filibuster if Democrats win control in November. Democrats would probably move forward with statehood for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, which could mean four new Democratic senators. And Democrats may be emboldened to expand the Supreme Court to make up for what the party rightly perceives as the theft of two seats by McConnell and the GOP.
Democrats would have already pushed for many of these reforms before Ginsburg died. But if the GOP rams through yet another new justice, the gloves will come off — not because Senate Democrats will be furious, but because it will be the only way to hold back the bile of party activists.
This is the right thing for Democrats to do. When one party refuses to abide by democratic norms; when it acts as an agent of only its own political supporters and makes no effort to honor institutional principles; and when there is no accountability and there are no political repercussions for nefarious actions, the course forward is clear. Democrats must play the same political hardball Republicans have played for much of the past two decades.
But we should not delude ourselves about the larger corrosive effect. For Democrats to imitate the actions of Republicans means a new era of cutthroat politics in which bipartisanship remains out the window and both political parties shove aside all of America’s political traditions. To win political power will mean using it brazenly, extravagantly, and without comity or consensus. It will complete the evolution of American government from its current state to one more representative of a parliamentary democracy in which once a party achieves power, it treats it as a mandate to put in place its political agenda lock, stock, and barrel. And when the other party achieves power, it will do the same. It’s not to say cooperation will be impossible or never happen, but rather that the system will evolve in such a way that it will not be necessary — and each party will put in place reforms to increase their power and weaken the other side. Republicans have been doing that for years. Now Democrats will likely follow their lead.
Perhaps this is the politics we need. Perhaps Americans need a starker reminder of the differences between the two parties. But the ugliness and divisiveness that will flow from this will only deepen the intense polarization that already defines American politics.
In an ideal world, Mitch McConnell would step back from the brink or enough members of the Senate Republican caucus would demand he do so. Don’t hold your breath on that happening. After all, if the last few years have taught us anything — we don’t live in that America.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.
In this emergency installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew discusses Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing and how the political fight around the new vacancy on the court might unfold.
The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.
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