With a provincial election call potentially looming, politicians of all stripes were caught by surprise Friday by the news a new-old party may join the fray.
The Parti Acadien, last on a provincial election ballot 38 years ago, announced its revival in a press release on Facebook on Thursday.
But by mid-day Friday its Twitter account had already been deleted, and Elections New Brunswick reported there's been no application to officially register the party.
Spokesperson Nelson Cyr told Radio-Canada Friday morning that the party would run candidates in the next provincial election.
But he refused to say who was involved other than himself, nor what its platform would be.
"No party is representing Acadians at this time," said the Thursday press release. "Acadians have to get organized themselves."
Green Party MLA Kevin Arseneau said he had "serious doubts" whether the supposed return of the party was for real.
Cyr, a former Rogersville village councillor, said in an email it was "impossible" for him to grant an interview to CBC News on Friday. The party's website contains no information about meetings, candidates or policies.
The original Parti Acadian was created in the 1970s, a time when New Brunswick francophones were winning new linguistic rights but some activists felt existing political parties weren't doing enough.
The party advocated the creation of autonomous, decentralized governing institutions in francophone areas, and even discussed the idea of carving out a separate Acadian province.
Disrupting the vote
It peaked in the 1978 election, winning 12 per cent of the vote in the 23 ridings where it ran candidates. It came within 171 votes of winning a seat in Restigouche West.
But its biggest impact was in disrupting long-standing Liberal voting patterns in francophone areas.
That made it easier for the Progressive Conservative government of Premier Richard Hatfield to attract some of those voters with both concrete policy moves and symbolic gestures. The PCs won nine francophone ridings in 1982 and the Parti Acadian vanished.
Arseneau said he's not concerned about a similar dynamic now that might help the current PC government.
He said if the party has issues to raise, it has the right to campaign. "Democracy is democracy. … The more parties we have, the better for democracy."
But Liberal leader Kevin Vickers said he worries this is another sign of growing political polarization along language lines.
He compared the Parti Acadien to the People's Alliance, which won three seats in 2018 after criticizing many aspects of official bilingualism.
He noted that no elected official from the PC government has addressed New Brunswickers in French at COVID-19 briefings, frustrating some francophones.
"Every effort should be made to resolve this … without taking approaches that are extreme on either side," Vickers said. Otherwise, "it really is a win, I believe, for the People's Alliance in that it divides our province."
Alliance leader Kris Austin could not be reached for comment.
The current PC government has no francophone MLAs, and activists frequently complain Premier Blaine Higgs has no interest in advancing language rights.
Higgs, who can only speak French well when reading from a text, said the simultaneous translation provided at COVID-19 briefings meets the requirements of the Official Languages Act.
But Arseneau said it helps explain francophone unease
"I understand that some people might feel left behind by the current government in northern New Brunswick and the Acadian regions of New Brunswick," said Arseneau, a former president of the Acadian Society of New Brunswick.
"I do refute completely the phrase in that press release that says that no party is defending Acadians in New Brunswick. I don't think that's true."
He pointed out he often raises language issues in the legislature and has been criticized for it by Higgs and the Alliance.
The new party's website is short on details and doesn't identify any current supporters.
Cyr told Radio-Canada the party "could" adopt the same positions held in the 1970s, including the call for decentralized francophone government institutions.
He was also vague about election readiness.
"We'll see how far we can go," he said. "We plan to have candidates. I don't know if we'll have candidates in all francophone areas, but we'll have candidates."
Higgs has not ruled out calling an early election by the fall. As of Friday morning, the PCs have scheduled 17 nominating conventions for candidates, more than one-third of a full slate, to be held through mid-August.
Only registered parties can have their names appear on ballots alongside their candidates. But to become registered, a new party must set up at least 10 riding associations and hold a convention to elect a leader.
That hasn't happened, and Elections New Brunswick spokesperson Paul Harpelle said the agency has no record of any application to register the Parti Acadien.