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New Brunswick Liberals try to keep momentum going in Eastern Canada

After majority victories in Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario, Brian Gallant is trying to keep the winning streak alive for the Liberals by taking New Brunswick in the Sept. 22 election.

It's a vote that some political observers are closely watching to determine if a trend in Eastern Canada could play a role in next year's federal election.

Liberal Premier Robert Ghiz holds a strong majority in Prince Edward Island. The provincial Liberals in Newfoundland and Labrador have won three consecutive byelections over the last year in ridings that were held by two Tory cabinet ministers and a premier.

Against that backdrop, there is a possibility of Liberal governments in every province east of Manitoba in just over a year's time.

That's a factor that could benefit the federal Liberals, says David Johnson, a political science professor with Cape Breton University.

Johnson said he believes the Liberals would interpret further provincial success as proof of a "Liberal wave" rising in the East.

"Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals can play the card that they are much more in tune with provincial interests," said Johnson.

He said a Liberal victory in New Brunswick would also give the federal Grits increased support through their provincial wings.

"The more ridings you've got provincially, that's more of a base that you can work with at the federal level," he said.

Trudeau wasted little time jumping into the New Brunswick election, stumping for Gallant on the third and fourth days of the campaign. The federal Liberal leader said he supported Gallant's view that more science is needed before the shale gas industry can be expanded.

That statement drew fire from Progressive Conservative Premier David Alward, who accused Trudeau of being "50 years late" on the issue because that scientific work has been done.

Don Desserud, a political scientist at the University of Prince Edward Island, said it remains an open question whether the federal Liberals can capitalize on the gains of their provincial counterparts by the time the federal election comes in October 2015.

"There is some correlation but it's not simple to define," said Desserud.

"There's no ideological connection or loyalty to a party anymore since there's just not much there to be loyal to."

He said if the Liberal tide continues to grow, it would signal a re-emergence of a traditional ideological split between East and West.

"While it's nothing new, every once in a while it gets translated into provincial governments divided in this kind of way," said Desserud.

The New Brunswick Liberals were turfed four years ago in an election that marked the first time in the province's history that a party was voted out of office after one term.

The party would have to make up a lot of ground to secure a win.

At dissolution, there were 41 Progressive Conservatives in the provincial legislature, 13 Liberal members and one Independent.

There are also six fewer seats in contention, with the number of ridings dropping to 49 from 55.

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