The incoming head of the Liberal Party in New Brunswick said that county unity is at the top of the party’s concerns as the party continues to rebuild after it failed in the 2020 elections.
“The district is divided, the party is divided,” said Brian Murphy, a former Moncton city councilor and member of parliament.
“What I liked about the Biennial was the result, as a lot of our representation in the executive branch was in English-speaking New Brunswick, and the state of New Brunswick was not adhered to … Of course our caucuses and caucuses were largely Northern and Francophone.”
Murphy said the party needs to rejuvenate after it has largely closed outside the Big Three cities and garnered only 18 percent of the vote in the southern regions.
“How does this manifest itself in specific politics is not my job, not my mandate, but to make liberals proud again of being liberals,” Murphy said.
“I believe in myself as a cheering leader, and that we really need to be proud of what the liberal party has done and what it can do.”
Joined Murphy as Executive Director of the party, former Vice President of Fundy Royal Alaina Lockhart as Regional Vice President, Robert Kitchen as Vice President of Policy, Teresa Blackburn as Vice President of Communications and Helen Hebert as Vice President Membership.
Shaking up party executives is often a helpful first step when evaluating after an election loss, according to St. Thomas University communications and public policy professors, Jamie Gillis.
“The Liberal Party is going through some post-mortem scrutiny to see what they need to do in the upcoming elections to win district,” Gillis said.
“A change of executive branch is a good place to start because this usually leads to changes in fundraising, hiring, and getting good candidates for the upcoming elections.”
The election of the delegates as chief executive primarily from non-seat districts shows that the party sees progress in the south as an important part of the rebuilding effort.
“The liberal party is taking the right steps in trying to reach the broadest possible coalition,” Gillis said.
“Because if you stick to what you did before and the mistakes you made, you are more likely to repeat them.”
The executive branch will be responsible for implementing the process of selecting a new leader to replace Kevin Vickers, who resigned on election night after failing to secure his seat. The feeling in the party, Murphy says, is that it will benefit from the well-organized and much contested leadership race.
The New Brunswick Decision: Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers resigns after losing his Miramichi seat
Murphy says he’s not sure when the convention will take place, but he says the first step will be to strengthen the party apparatus, raise funds and more, from the leadership level up.
“I think everybody agrees that we should have a really strong conference or conference, no matter what,” Murphy said. “In order to do this we have to be a little more organized, a little bit on our feet. I don’t know how long it will take, but I think we need a little bit of time to prepare. I think we need some time to attract as many candidates as possible.”
“I think the voters, the liberals, want to have a good choice, a nice box of chocolates. This is our job.”
The last liberal leadership conference in 2019 saw Vickers being praised for the position after other rivals withdrew, shortly after he joined the fray. This is something the party should learn from and avoid, says JB Lewis, associate professor of political science at the University of New Brunswick.
“If you have a recognized leader, you shy away from the enthusiasm and employment opportunities of the leadership campaign and the farm is betting on that person,” Lewis said.
According to Gillis, the type of leader the party is looking for will also be an indication of which direction the party is headed.
The Liberal Party knows they have a strong support base in some areas of the province. “This is a difficult political calculation to do,” Gillis said. “Would you choose someone known and known from within the party group who constitutes your support and hope that the other parties will make mistakes, which is the way the parties end up in majority governments. Or do you take another deck and find a new person, a new face who becomes the face of the party?”
“They really have to find support and expand from where their base is.”
At the moment, the party is led by interim leader Roger Melanson. He says the only positive side to Blaine Higgs winning the majority last year is that it gives the party time to focus on itself, without the threat of a possible election looming.
“One thing after the 2018 elections did not allow the party to refocus on itself, there was a majority government,” Melanson said.
“Of course we wanted to win in 2020, but we did not do that and there is a majority government and we know exactly when the next local elections will be. Obviously we have a roadmap and we have some runway to do what we need to do.”
Both Lewis and Gillies agree that the party has a relatively stable electoral basis to build on going forward. The party won 34 percent of the vote in 2020 and 37 percent in 2018, largely driven by strong support in the northern part of the province.
“They have the luxury of really focusing on one area, because they are doing a good job in another. Not to say that they are going to ignore that area, but control over it is very strong,” Lewis said.
It is similar to the Federally Tory. When they prepare their strategies, they don’t really think about Alberta and Saskatchewan. “
But this feature is not limited to liberals. The English-speaking and Francophone divide between North and South is a historical feature of the political situation in the region that was most prominent in the last elections. The difference in the last elections is due to the victories of the personal computers and the losses of the liberals in the Big Three.
“In the 2020 elections we said there was a clear path for either party and it goes through Moncton, St. John and Fredericton,” Lewis said. “As for the liberals, if you regain those seats, you will suddenly approach a small majority again.”
“It’s not like they’re too far away, but it’s still an obvious challenge that they have to take on.”
Gillis said the liberals also have a chance to start welcoming more diversity into the party, especially after women made up only 20 percent of the party’s candidates in the last election.
“There is a need for more female representation, and women in leadership positions within these parties,” Gillis said, “and that must be part of their scrutiny as well.”
“Not just the women, but the indigenous voices, people of color, and LGBT people who have to be part of the process. Not just in the liberal party but in all political parties in the province.”
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