New Brunswick's Progressive Conservative Party is trying to cash in on the end of the COVID-19 pandemic with a fundraising appeal that appears to compare the Opposition Liberal Party to the coronavirus.
In a fundraising appeal sent by email on June 22, Premier Blaine Higgs predicts the Liberals will be "coming after us" when the pandemic is over.
"The truth is, as soon as the battle against COVID-19 is won, we will be under attack again," the email says. "This time from the Liberals."
Higgs asks for donations, suggesting recipients donate amounts ranging from $25 to $2,500.
"I know I can count on you to stand with me again when the Liberals take the gloves off," he writes in the email obtained by CBC News.
The PC government isn't facing an election until the fall of 2024.
In the email, Higgs quotes a question period exchange he had with Liberal Leader Roger Melanson on May 12. Melanson said his party's role on an all-party COVID-19 committee and support for Public Health measures did not amount to support for the PCs on other issues.
The two leaders were debating the shortage of nurses in the province, and Higgs urged other parties to show a similar "common focus" on that issue like they had on COVID-19.
Melanson responded that he joined the all-party committee "not to support your government but to work with Public Health and [chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer] Russell to save people's lives during this pandemic."
In the email Higgs says that's evidence Melanson is "abandoning" collaboration "and getting back to politics as usual."
He also quotes Melanson saying Higgs is only interested in co-operation when it supports his ideas — more evidence of Liberal partisanship, the email says.
It's quite disturbing for the premier and the PC Party to use the pandemic as a backdrop to raise money for their own party. - Roger Melanson, Liberal leader
But Melanson says it's more proof that Higgs thinks anyone who disagrees with him is politically motivated, even as the government plans for major reforms in areas such as health care and local government.
"Partisan politics he will define as partisan politics. It can also be, and has been, having a different idea or a different opinion on how to go about addressing some of the most significant challenges New Brunswick faces."
PC Party president Claude Williams defended the email, saying Melanson should express support for the government because "they're the ones that did all the groundwork there in the field" to protect the province from the pandemic.
"This is government," Williams said. "It's not the four leaders who went out there and dealt with the border issues."
Melanson said it's "bad judgment" for the premier to do partisan fundraising now, given the challenges businesses, families and others have faced during the pandemic as a result of restrictions.
"It's quite disturbing for the premier and the PC Party to use the pandemic as a backdrop to raise money for their own party," he said.
Higgs said in May that he expects the all-party committee could be dissolved as soon as the government terminates the COVID-19 state of emergency, which he says will happen when 75 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers are fully vaccinated.
That's expected in about two weeks.
Melanson said in May that's when he could leave the all-party committee, but he said the Liberal caucus hasn't made a decision yet and is focused on encouraging people to get vaccinated.
2 possible byelections pending
Williams said he didn't know how much the party raised through the email but said the party's "in good financial standing" at the moment.
The Liberals say they haven't sent out any fundraising emails recently.
While the parties aren't facing an expensive provincial election anytime soon, two provincial byelections are possible if a federal election is called later this summer.
Southwest Miramichi-Bay dun Vin PC MLA Jake Stewart is nominated as the federal Conservative candidate in Miramichi-Grand Lake, which means he'll have to resign his provincial seat once an election is called.
Miramichi Bay-Neguac Liberal MLA Lisa Harris is running for the federal Liberal nomination in the same riding and would also have to quit provincially if she becomes the candidate and an election is called.