Liberal Leader: Shawn Graham
Last Updated: Friday, August 13, 2010 | 11:51 AM ET
By Daniel McHardie, CBC News
Liberal Leader Shawn Graham is behind in the polls heading into the Sept. 27 election but he said he is unconcerned about the latest public opinion surveys. Liberal Leader Shawn Graham is heading into his third straight provincial campaign in a familiar position: underdog.
After winning a narrow three-seat majority in the 2006 election, Graham soared in the public opinion polls, wooed over two Progressive Conservative MLAs onto the Liberal bench and picked up two byelection victories.
But a series of political missteps has dropped the 42-year-old Liberal premier in the polls since last November, shortly after he launched his failed attempt to sell NB Power to Hydro-Québec.
"In any election, you always campaign like you are behind. We have a real opportunity to continue moving the province forward. I feel that we can win the election," Graham said in an interview
"This election is about the future of New Brunswick. Our government has built the foundation to continue moving the province forward."
Graham says "polls will fluctuate" in every election campaign so he's paying little attention to the ebbs and flow of his party's standings in public opinion surveys.
"This will be the third election that I'll be running in [as Liberal leader] and it is the strength of our team that gives us a significant advantage," Graham said.
Graham entered his political career in a 1998 byelection at a time when the Liberals were in a downcycle. Graham took over the riding of Kent, which his father, Alan, held for more than three decades.
He was one of 10 Grit MLAs to hold onto their seats in Bernard Lord's Tory tidal wave in 1999 and he was the last person to enter the 2002 Liberal leadership race.
'We haven't been perfect in everything we've attempted to do.'— Shawn Graham, Liberal leader
Many Liberals thought he was joining the race to gain a higher profile in the party and potentially set the stage for a future run for the leadership. But Graham ended up victorious in the leadership contest defeating Jack MacDougall, who is running as the Green Party leader in the 2010 election.
The Liberal leader entered the 2003 provincial election against Progressive Conservative Leader Bernard Lord trailing by a large margin and ended up capitalizing on the anger over the auto insurance file and came within one seat of being the first political leader to topple a one-term New Brunswick government.
Graham headed into the 2006 campaign neck-and-neck in the polls with Lord but ended up pulling out a small majority government.
The Graham Liberals started quickly in its first cabinet by making four high-profile decisions. The new Liberal government cut the provincial gasoline tax by 3.8 cents per litre, representing a $41-million reduction.
The cabinet also signed a memorandum of understanding to fund its portion of the Saint John Harbour clean-up project.
Graham's first cabinet meeting also saw the Liberals approve a new system of $2,000 grants to first-year university students and eliminated the parental and spousal contribution requirements for student loans. Also, the Grits removed seniors' homes, assets and life savings from the calculation of nursing home fees.
The Liberals also scored a series of other early successes, such as Potash Corp.'s decision to build a $1.7-billion second mine near Sussex.
Within the first year in office, the Liberals also selected Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. to lead a consortium exploring a second nuclear reactor. By July 2010, AECL had been squeezed out of the second reactor project and Graham tapped French nuclear giant Areva to explore a second reactor and a clean energy park.
The Liberal leader won power in 2006 promising that he would not waste a mandate and promised to be an activist government.
And it was a busy four years that were marked by a number of high-profile controversies for the Liberal government.
Graham admits that his government was not perfect in its first four years, but said all the decisions were made in an attempt to move the province forward. (CBC)Graham said he's learned a lot from the self-inflicted controversies that his government has dealt with in the last four years.
"We haven't been perfect in everything we've attempted to do," Graham said.
"It has all been in an attempt to improve the province forward and build a stronger economy."
Within months of taking office, the Liberals backtracked on a promise to keep the Lord government's HST rebate on home-heating fuel bills. The Liberals argued it was a bad policy and that the province couldn't afford to keep the rebate.
Three months later, the Liberals sparked anger, particularly among small businesses, by raising taxes in their first budget to help balance the provincial budget.
The three biggest controversies were still to come, however.
Problems with polytechnics
Graham promised to usher in the largest reforms to post-secondary education since former Liberal premier Louis J. Robichaud in the 1960s.
The special report written by Rick Miner and Jacques L'Ecuyer called for many reforms but the most controversial was the idea to transition the satellite campuses of University of New Brunswick in Saint John and the University of Moncton's campuses in Shippagan and Edmundston into polytechnics.
The concept of polytechnics was ill-defined and before either the consultants or the Liberal government could explain why the new post-secondary education institutions were needed protests erupted throughout the province.
The Liberals shelved the L'Ecuyer-Miner report and hatched a follow-up report with the four university presidents and four community college principals. And that report killed the idea of polytechnics in the province of New Brunswick.
French immersion fight
Graham answers questions during a live phone-in show with CBC News. (CBC)The Liberals again found themselves mired in controversy when they hired James Croll and Patricia Lee to reform the province's French second language system.
The argument was that too many high-achieving students were leaving the core English program for the French immersion program and that was hurting the English program.
The Croll-Lee report called for the elimination of early French immersion and recommended that a universal program start in Grade 6. That decision sparked a massive revolt and protests, particularly in Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John.
A group of parents filed for a court injunction, which was offered by Justice Hugh McLellan on June 11, 2008.
Kelly Lamrock, Graham's education minister at the time, was forced to consult longer on the policy change and ended up with a hybrid policy that kept an early entry point in Grade 3 and will offer French training to all students in Grade 5.
But the largest controversy was still a year away.
NB Power drama
Graham explains the NB Power deal at Government House on Oct. 29. (CBC)On Oct. 29, Quebec Premier Jean Charest joined Graham at Government House, the official residence of the lieutenant governor, and announced NB Power would be sold to Hydro-Québec for $4.8 billion.
New Brunswick residential ratepayers would get a five-year rate freeze and large industrial customers would receive a roughly 30 per cent cut in power prices.
The deal was immediately unpopular, according to internal polling numbers that have since been released, and protests started breaking out across the province. Graham was forced to revise the deal in January down to $3.2 billion, which sold off fewer NB Power assets.
Graham announces inside the legislative assembly that the deal to sell NB Power has fallen apart. (CBC)Tourism and Parks Minister Stuart Jamieson resigned from cabinet and the Liberal caucus in early February for his insistence that the power deal should be put to a referendum.
By March 24, the Quebec government had pulled out of the deal, citing new costs that had emerged and that the New Brunswick government was unwilling to cover, particularly around the Mactaquac dam and the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station.
When the Liberals were elected, Graham was touting his self-sufficiency agenda, which aimed at getting the province off of receiving federal equalization transfers by 2026.
Graham tapped Francis McGuire, a Liberal strategist and president of Major Drilling Group International, and Gilles Lepage, the former president of the Mouvement des caisses populaires acadiennes, to lead the self-sufficiency task force.
McGuire and Lepage released a series of reports before issuing the task force's final report that laid out a series of recommendations on how to spur on the province's economy.
Some of the recommendations were followed and some were ignored.
Jean-Guy Finn issued a sweeping report on reforming local governance structures in December 2008. By the afternoon, Graham said the report would not be implemented, citing the costs associated with the report during the economic downturn. (Daniel McHardie/CBC)For instance, the task force called for a major reform to how local governments were organized, particularly how the province was broken into so many small unincorporated areas. Graham picked Jean-Guy Finn, a former clerk of the executive council, to write a report on the contentious issue.
Finn handed in his report in the morning of Dec. 18, 2008, which called for massive shift in how local governments were organized. By the afternoon, Graham said the province's financial position made implementing the Finn report impossible.
The Liberals did push through an aggressive package of tax cuts in the March 2009 budget designed at attracting more businesses and people to New Brunswick. The province has legislated a tax cut package that will eliminate four tax brackets into two in 2012 and it will lower the corporate tax rate to the lowest in Canada by 2012.
The tax cuts were intended to be even deeper but the Liberals decided against raising the HST or imposing a carbon tax, which would raised additional revenue and paid for deeper tax cuts, because of public unrest with the idea of higher or new taxes.
Graham has a bachelor of education degree from St. Thomas University and a bachelor of physical education degree from the University of New Brunswick. Graham had started a master's in business administration degree at UNB before entering politics in 1998.
He worked as a public servant before entering politics.
Graham was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of New Brunswick in 2009.
Graham served as an executive assistant to his father Alan when he was a cabinet minister in Frank McKenna's government.