People's Alliance supporters push to resurrect party ahead of June byelections

·4 min read
Supporters of the People's Alliance of New Brunswick are working to keep the party alive despite the exodus of its only two MLAs, including Kris Austin, the former leader, who's pictured surrounded by supporters on election night in 2018. (CBC - image credit)
Supporters of the People's Alliance of New Brunswick are working to keep the party alive despite the exodus of its only two MLAs, including Kris Austin, the former leader, who's pictured surrounded by supporters on election night in 2018. (CBC - image credit)

The People's Alliance isn't dead yet.

Supporters of the party, which seemingly dissolved less than a month ago, are seeking to re-register it with Elections New Brunswick in time to field candidates in two provincial byelections in June.

Board of directors president Rudy Walters says there was unanimous support on the board for trying to carry on, despite the defection of the party's only two MLAs to the Progressive Conservatives.

"I've received a lot of support, a lot of phone calls and emails from people who were very upset by the move and who truly want to continue building on what we've developed so far," he said.

Leader Kris Austin and MLA Michelle Conroy made the stunning announcement March 30 that they were joining the PCs.

Only leader's signature needed

Austin said at the time that he had de-registered the party, a move that under provincial law requires only the signature of a party leader.

The provincial Elections Act allows a party to be re-registered after 60 days.

"We didn't stop existing as a party," Walters said. "We just simply were de-registered with Elections New Brunswick."

Rudy Walters/Facebook
Rudy Walters/Facebook

Chief electoral officer Kim Poffenroth said in a statement that a party can re-register if it follows the same requirements as a newly formed party, such as having riding associations in at least 10 ridings.

Former Fredericton-York Alliance MLA Rick DeSaulniers is acting as interim leader until party members choose a leader May 28.

Austin, who founded the Alliance in 2010 and led it to its breakthrough win of three seats in the 2018 election, turned down a request for comment on the party's potential revival.

Last month he said he de-registered the party after consulting "several" board members because some members had quit the board and the internal structure of the party was "eroding" along with its public support.

Ed Hunter/CBC
Ed Hunter/CBC

Skepticism about revival

On a Facebook discussion of the effort to re-register the Alliance, some supporters questioned what it could accomplish without Austin in charge.

"The People's Alliance was Kris Austin," wrote Chris-Elisabeth Paisley, adding the party "won't be able to do anything without a strong voice."

Walters said he understands that sentiment, given "how big a personality" Austin was.

But he added, "the party had already grown bigger than Kris Austin and we've proven that with the work that we've accomplished over the past couple of weeks and where we expect to be in time for the byelections later in June."

Voters in Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin and Miramichi Bay-Neguac will elect new MLAs June 20.

Walters calls both of them "very winnable" ridings.

The Alliance came within 35 votes of winning Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin in 2018, and its 11 per cent of the vote in Miramichi Bay-Neguac in 2020 would have allowed the PC candidate to beat the Liberal winner.

If people truly want change, then supporting parties like ours is how you effect that change. - Rudy Walters, board president for the People's Alliance party

Walters said the Alliance had already chosen Thomas L'Huillier as its candidate in Miramichi Bay-Neguac before the de-registration on March 30 and he will be on the ballot in June.

Another candidate who had planned to run in Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin will soon be approved to run there.

Party supporters see a purpose

Walters said there's still a need for the Alliance.

"It's a rotating cycle of Liberal and Conservative governments that do nothing to further the cause of everyday New Brunswickers," he says.

"If people truly want change, then supporting parties like ours is how you effect that change."

One challenge for the party is fundraising.

When the party was de-registered, $150,000 in cash and equipment was turned over to the provincial supervisor of political financing, who after paying off any debts must hand it over to the provincial treasury.

"We have to start from scratch," Walters said.

The party is looking at legal options to get the money and assets back, but he said even if successful, it won't have it in time for the byelections so the focus is now on raising money for those campaigns.

Poffenroth said in a statement that the provincial election law "does not provide for returning any of the funds forfeited to a party or its district associations."

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