As discussed in our latest podcast, Victor Boudreau was saddled with, er, selected for, the job of interim Liberal leader last week. The position will tap every ounce of political acumen that Boudreau possesses in the next 12 to 24 months.
Boudreau was high on many Liberals' lists for the full-time leadership position. The 40-year-old Shediac-Cap Pelé MLA made it known very early on that he did not covet the position being vacated by Shawn Graham.
Boudreau reiterated his lack of interest in the position on Friday and by taking the role of interim leader has taken himself out of the running. (As an historical footnote, it should be recalled Bernard Richard had to withstand a significant draft movement in 2001 to abandon the interim position and run for the permanent job after others, such as Mike Murphy, quit the race and it appeared that Paul Duffie would win in a rout.)
The very first, and possibly most important, political bomb that Boudreau will have to diffuse is one that he spent Wednesday telling reporters was not his problem: the timing of the Liberal leadership convention. It's expected the Liberal executive will meet later in November to pick a date for the leadership convention, likely fall 2011 or 2012.
There is a growing chorus of Liberals who want a snap convention, a decision that would favour better-known candidates, such as Michael Murphy.
Others want a renewal process to take place along with the leadership convention. That would help other candidates who may not have the same profile, say Donald Arseneault, or who need time to rebrand themselves, say Kelly Lamrock. It would also give Liberals who want a clean break from the Graham government more time to draft a candidate.
Boudreau said the decision on the next Liberal convention rests with the party executive. That's true technically. But if he doesn't think it is his job to smooth over any bruised egos, keep warring factions together or sell the process to Liberals, he's sorely mistaken.
The brewing fight over the timing of the leadership convention could tear apart a Liberal party that has already been fractured by the Sept. 27 election.
Boudreau will also become the face of the regrouping Liberals. Boudreau should ask Richard or Jeannot Volpé about the thankless task of touring every community supper, church breakfast, chamber of commerce luncheon, local corn boil, etc. to rebuild a party that is in opposition.
Boudreau may be away from home more in the next two years than he was as a senior cabinet minister. The work Boudreau does in the rebuilding of the party will lay the groundwork for the party's ability to compete in the 2014 election.
And Boudreau must also lead a small Liberal caucus into the next legislature. Boudreau has a few more MLAs leftover than Richard did when he took the interim leadership position in 2001.
However, Boudreau will lose at least one caucus colleague to the leadership race, perhaps more. And only Roland Haché remembers what it is like to be an opposition MLA in a small caucus. The class of 2003, such as Brian Kenny, Rick Doucet, Hédard Albert, Denis Landry (first elected in 1995 but on the government side), will soon learn the effort required by a small opposition bench with few resources.
Boudreau will likely need to take the lead in question period and in legislative committees.
And finally, Boudreau will have to lay out a very delicate balancing act when it comes to holding the Progressive Conservative government to account. Just attacking program cuts for the sake of attacking may ring hollow considering he was the finance minister that plunged the province back into a deficit.
And if the Tories break any campaign promises in order to avoid a larger deficit, will the Liberals criticize them or applaud them? (Paul Wells recently wrote a fantastic blog on this subject.)
An individual with Boudreau's political experience surely understood the Herculean task that he was undertaking when he accepted the interim leader's responsibilities. History shows that as interim leaders, Richard and Volpé, effectively set the stage for their full-time replacements.
It will be easy to score Boudreau's success, or lack thereof, by his performance in question period or holding in the party together. But the Richard and Volpé examples proves the real measure comes at the next election.