The New Brunswick NDP is hoping to reclaim some of its members with former federal NDP candidate Jennifer McKenzie as its new leader.
The party, which has no seats in the legislature, officially announced Thursday that McKenzie was acclaimed to the top job and will lead the party into the provincial election in September 2018.
'I just want to tell all the former NDPs that have gone with another party, you are welcome to come back.' - Rosaire L'Italien, outgoing interim leader
McKenzie, a tech entrepreneur, engineer and mother of three who lives in St. Martins, is pledging to bring the party back to its roots of social, environmental and economic justice.
Outgoing interim leader Rosaire L'Italien described the change as a "rebirth" of the party.
"The NDP is open now," he told reporters and supporters gathered for the morning news conference at the Fredericton Inn.
"I just want to tell all the former NDPs that have gone with another party, you are welcome to come back," said L'Italien, who has served as interim leader since Jan. 1, when former leader Dominic Cardy stepped down.
"All the doors are open. You're all welcome with the new NDP, and with the new leader."
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Cardy had tried to move the NDP to the centre by embracing fiscal conservatism, distancing himself from public-sector unions and declaring his support for the controversial Energy East pipeline.
That caused rifts in the party and led some longtime members to leave.
Cardy blamed his departure on hard-left factions in the party and later joined the Progressive Conservative Party.
McKenzie, who announced her intentions to seek the leadership in April, said that in talking to thousands of people across the province, she has found "values that are entirely consistent with those of the NDP."
Tommy Douglas, who became the first leader of the federal NDP after introducing Saskatchewan to universal health care as the premier, had the right approach, she said.
"He implemented universal health care, and the most ambitious poverty and unemployment reduction program in history to that point, which has been the basis of social democracy in Canada ever since.
'I ask everyone to join us and build a party based on our vision and build a province in which we can all be proud.' - Jennifer McKenzie, NDP leader
"An NDP in New Brunswick under my leadership, will follow in his footsteps and lead us into the future," said McKenzie, who ran for the federal NDP in Fundy Royal in 2015.
"I ask everyone to join us and build a party based on our vision and build a province in which we can all be proud. A province where our youth will want to stay and return. A province that supports quality public services for all. A province that tackles poverty, illiteracy and unemployment. A province that values the environment and supports decent wages for workers."
Youth hope to have influence
Jacob Patterson and Mandy Hogan, who founded the Fredericton Young New Democrats, which is now provincewide, welcomed the party's new leader.
They said McKenzie has been very inclusive, and Patterson believes youth will "have influence on the NDP platform, introduce things that are actually for the youth, the free tuition, that the old leader opposed. "
McKenzie, who grew up in Fredericton and worked in Ottawa, said she hopes to be fully bilingual by the 2018 campaign but still hasn't decided where she will run.
Even with robust party support, she will be attempting to buck the odds. No provincial NDP leader has held a seat in the legislature since Elizabeth Weir won re-election in 2003.
McKenzie said living outside New Brunswick gave her "experience and perspective."
"I learned business acumen and how to grow from a small operation to an enterprise," she said.
She was also twice elected chair of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, where she oversaw an $800 million budget and 70,000 students.
"As chair of the Ottawa school board, I governed the turnaround of an organization of similar size to New Brunswick's [Department] of Education " said McKenzie.
Party 'excited, happy and united'
"We are really excited, happy and united as a party to have an outstanding permanent leader of the calibre and experience as Jennifer McKenzie," L'Italien said in a statement.
"Jennifer McKenzie will stand up for New Brunswickers and be a voice for change in the face of the failed Liberal and PC polices that have held our province back for too long."
McKenzie was the only person who met the Aug. 4 deadline and criteria for seeking the leadership, but the party had declined to confirm until Thursday that she was acclaimed.
She, too, had declined earlier this week to confirm her status.
People interested in the provincial leadership had to submit certain documents, including a form signed by 100 members of the NDP.