In 1997, one Bernard replaced another as the leader of the New Brunswick PC Party. Bernard Valcourt, the well-known former federal MP and cabinet minister, drew the curtain on his brief, unsuccessful provincial career and handed the baton to Bernard Lord, the young, unknown lawyer from Moncton.
Lord was everything Valcourt was not: fresh, young, baggage-free, and completely at ease working a room and gaining the confidence of the Tory base in English New Brunswick.
Interesting, then, that as New Brunswick Conservatives throw themselves into the provincial election campaign, they're buzzing excitedly about the next federal race, and the possibility of not one Bernard comeback, but two.
The talk is that Valcourt will run for the Harper Conservatives in Madawaska-Restigouche, while Lord may finally make the leap to federal politics by running in Moncton. None of this is confirmed, but if both men were to run and win, Harper would pick up two seats in New Brunswick. And he would have something of a cabinet-making dilemma on his hands.
While it was no contest which of the two men provincial Tories preferred -- the guy who could fulfill the defining purpose of a political party to win power -- Harper would have to choose between a former premier who was a key supporter when Red Tories were still unsure about the federal PC-Alliance merger and a former MP who held some of the most senior and difficult portfolios in the federal cabinet, and who was once seen by Brian Mulroney as a potential successor.
A tough call. (Putting both of them in would be all but impossible: at best, New Brunswick gets two ministers in the federal cabinet, so a two-Bernard ministry would require dumping Keith Ashfield, which is hard to imagine.)
The tiebreaker might be Harper's long-term vision. It's well-known that his strategy is to see his Conservatives displace the Liberals as the natural governing party. He may then choose the Bernard best able to lead the party in the future. And which Bernard has the better chance of straddling all of Canada's myriad fault lines and expanding the Conservative coalition? Probably the one who pulled off the same trick in New Brunswick.
-- Jacques Poitras