As MLAs count the days until the legislature adjourns for the summer, their focus, and their vocabulary, is shifting north toward the Miramichi area.
Mentions of the area are increasing during question period, and elected members from all three parties are making plans to spend time there ahead of two byelections on June 20.
"It's very likely I'll be in the Miramichi area," a coy Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Jill Green said Tuesday. "We have lots of transportation and infrastructure in the Miramichi area."
Asked if she plans to canvas for Progressive Conservative byelections, Green demurred.
"I have no immediate plans to do that but you never know what's going to happen when you're in the Miramichi area," she said.
The race is on
Voters in Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin and Miramichi Bay-Neguac will elect new MLAs to replace PC Jake Stewart and Liberal Lisa Harris.
The two members resigned last year to run against each other in the federal election, with Stewart defeating Harris.
Several PC cabinet ministers have been to the two ridings to support the party's two candidates.
Liberal health critic Benoit Bourque said he was in both ridings in the last couple of weeks and will be there again next week. The legislature adjourns Friday.
"There's going to be mobilization from our end, in both ridings. We feel that we are in play in both ridings," Bourque said.
The two contests are the first electoral test of the Higgs government since it won re-election in 2020 and took a popularity hit over an increase in COVID-19 cases last fall.
Now voters are restless about inflation, particularly the cost of gasoline and groceries. The most recent Narrative Research poll had more respondents dissatisfied with the government's performance than satisfied.
Opposition Liberal Leader Roger Melanson opened question period Tuesday by raising cost-of-living issues that he said he heard while knocking on doors in the two ridings "and going into people's homes, and listening to their concerns, and their struggles."
"I have also been in the Miramichi and spoken to people in different communities about what we're faced with," Premier Blaine Higgs responded, "and what the solutions are, because they're not short-term solutions."
Green Leader David Coon said he's been to the ridings to campaign for his party's candidates and will be back again.
But he said the question period rhetoric wasn't focused on particular Miramichi issues he was hearing about, such as the quality of service at the regional hospital in the city and the shipping of wood harvested in the region to mills elsewhere in the province.
"It's not a surprise but it's just very contrived," he said of the PCs and Liberals one-upping each other about the area. "I think that's how people will read it."
Not all PC MLAs are jumping on the bandwagon.
Government House Leader Glen Savoie, who has family roots in Neguac, said his focus is getting all the government's legislation passed by Friday and he isn't thinking beyond that.
And Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said she will not be in the area between now and the byelections on June 20.
But most PC MLAs will be in the area next week when the party holds a caucus retreat on Wednesday and Thursday in Miramichi, a setting that will conveniently put them next door to the two contested ridings.
PC caucus chair Greg Turner said members will be able to campaign while in the area.
"There's free time if members want to get involved with it," he said. "That would be on their own."
The People's Alliance is also fielding candidates in the two by-elections. The NDP did not nominate candidates by the deadline set by Elections Brunswick.