Premier Blaine Higgs has made a dramatic offer to the three opposition parties, committing to put off a snap election and listening to their policy ideas if they agree to keep his minority government in power for another two years.
Higgs released a letter Monday to the other party leaders, asking that all four of them agree to avoid forcing an early election until the scheduled date in October 2022 or until the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
Higgs has been hinting for weeks that he would trigger a campaign, justifying the threat by saying the province needs stability to manage the pandemic and continue restarting the economy.
“If we can attain that” through this deal, Higgs told reporters, “we just keep moving forward.”
The agreement would include a promise by the other parties to not defeat the government on confidence and supply votes such as the budget. A defeat there would normally trigger an election.
Higgs said he would be looking for “fundamental agreements … on how we would operate.” His letter said he wanted “a mutually agreed-upon legislative agenda including proposals from each participating party.”
Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers welcomed the premier’s offer.
“I believe this is the right decision at this time,” he said, adding he looked forward to meeting with Higgs this week to discuss a possible agreement on a “progressive program.”
He said what he needs in order to sign on is “mutual trust and meaningful consultation” from the premier.
Higgs acknowledged that he and the Liberals disagree on issues such as taxation and spending, but said he hoped for a consensus on “general philosophical guidelines” on the economy.
Under the proposed deal, three byelections expected this fall would go ahead as planned.
Higgs’s letter included a proposed deadline. He said he’d like to meet the party leaders Wednesday, with party representatives continuing negotiations Thursday and Friday.
“We should be able to conclude discussions with the final approval by the close of the last day of talks,” he said.
Asked by reporters if that meant an immediate election call if there’s no deal by Friday, Higgs did not respond directly.
But he did say that if an election has to happen, “this is the time to do it” given the current lull in COVID-19 cases.
Higgs’s letter says he wants to formalize the all-party cabinet COVID-19 committee that was set up in March and that includes other party leaders.
He also said he was open to including Liberal, Green and People’s Alliance MLAs as ministers in his cabinet as part of a possible deal.
“It is interesting to consider new options,” he said. “Would I take that offer off the table? I would not.”
The tricky part is where it gets into the weeds of specific policy and legislation.– Kris Austin, People’s Alliance leader
People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin said he supported the idea of a four-party agreement but said it remains to be seen whether they will all be able to agree on an agenda.
“I guess the tricky part is where it gets into the weeds of specific policy and legislation.”
Green Party Leader David Coon was not available for comment on the proposal. A spokesperson said he would consult his caucus Tuesday.
Higgs didn’t say Monday whether he needed all three opposition parties to sign on or whether two or the three would be enough for him to opt against an election.