Monday's historic victory for the PC Party is troublesome for Liberals in a very tangible and immediate way, but it should also stick in their craw for a less obvious reason: it cements Bernard Lord's status as a transformational figure in New Brunswick politics.
Take Monday's colour-coded results map and overlay it on the map of Lord's 1999 landslide. The two match up almost perfectly. Alward's win was almost as massive, and with the exception of a handful of ridings, the results are virtually identical.
Say what you will about Lord's uneven record in government (and I will do just that in a moment): his place in history results from his success in extending the PC brand into areas of the province considered Liberal bastions. As I've written elsewhere, he completed the journey that was started by former premier Richard Hatfield to change the Tory party from a predominantly anglophone institution to a coalition that was competitive and politically relevant in all corners of the province.
Many of those areas reverted to Liberal form in 2003 and stayed Liberal in 2006, but the break in the historical pattern that Lord engineered in 1999 created the foundation for future PC wins; voting Conservative was no longer unthinkable, and Alward (though lacking the benefit of Lord's half-francophone background) was able to build on that underlying transformation. The PC Party won ridings on Monday that would have been unwinnable if not for Bernard Lord.
Alward has a decision to make about Lord's other legacy: seven years of diffident leadership. The province has experienced wild swings in governing styles in recent years and the new premier may want to shun another swing. Frank McKenna, blessed with a fractured opposition, was known for big, bold leadership. When the electorate decided it was tired of that, in 1999, Lord responded with caution and indecision. The Liberals took their 2006 win (despite the virtual tie in the popular vote) as a sign the public hungered for McKenna-style boldness, and tried to return to that kind of radical reform. The public firmly rejected that on Monday.
Alward may now be tempted to respond by reverting to the Bernard Lord style of governance. That would be a recipe for paralysis. The better option may be to synthesize the McKenna and Lord styles: consult, but lead. Don't be a slave to public opinion, but don't get too far ahead of it, either. If Alward can pull that off, he gets the best of Lord's legacy and avoids the worst.
-- Jacques Poitras