New Brunswick’s Liberal Party will elect a new leader Saturday afternoon, two years after becoming the first government in the province’s history to lose after a single mandate.
Liberals will be voting for either Michael Murphy, a former health minister, Brian Gallant, a Moncton-area lawyer and Nick Duivenvoorden, a former mayor of the northern village of Belledune.
Gallant and Murphy are considered the two frontrunners in the leadership campaign.
Murphy has tried to cash in on his experience and has largely run his campaign by criticizing the party’s establishment.
The former cabinet minister quit the Shawn Graham government in January 2010 at the height of the controversy over the proposed sale of NB Power.
Murphy was the first leadership contender to speak on Saturday.
He offered a long list of policy ideas during his 20-minute speech, including a vow to be tough on the environment.
"When a Texas CEO tells you not to worry, tell them this is our earth, this is our water," Murphy told the crowd.
In the end, the former cabinet minister guaranteed that he could deliver an election win in 2014.
"Today we are in the fight of our lives for our children and our seniors and our rightful place in this country. … Ladies and gentleman, Liberals across this province, I will win that election for you."
Gallant opted against having speakers introduce him on Saturday. Instead, the newcomer to New Brunswick politics used the entire 30 minutes to outline his vision for the party.
Throughout the campaign, Gallant has tried to present himself as a fresh face to Liberal members.
But the 30-year-old lawyer has faced criticism over his inexperience.
Gallant used his speech to fill in his biography to those Liberals who may not know him.
While he outlined his view of the role of government, Gallant’s speech was not as policy heavy as his chief rival’s speech.
He closed his speech by calling everyone who voted in the Liberal leadership convention to stay active in politics after the convention, even if their candidate does not win on Saturday.
"I ask you to stay involved. To the 18,000 people who registered to vote, and the famous dog, I ask you to stay involved as well," Gallant said.
"No matter if it is with our party or outside of partisan politics. Together I am convinced that the Liberal party and all New Brunswickers can make this place better for all."
Duivenvoorden was the final candidate to speak on Saturday. While his speech was short on policy, it was infused with a healthy dose of humour.
The crowd, including delegates from all three leadership camps, laughed at Duivenvoorden's many anecdotes from his farm and the leadership campaign.
While he dismissed the insinuation that he was a "fringe candidate," the dairy farmer admitted that he was not likely going to win the party's leadership.
"I never entered the race to finish second, to finish third, to lose, nobody ever does. But I realized in this race really, really quickly that when this race started that there would be no loser," he said.
"There may be just one winner but there will be no losers today."
Tribute to Graham
Party members started the leadership convention on Friday night by paying tribute to Shawn Graham, who led the Liberals to defeat in 2010.
The three candidates running for the party's leadership have all said they would govern differently than Graham and many party members remain bitter about some of the controversial policies he pursued as premier.
Graham acknowledged during his speech that he didn't do enough to involve grassroots Liberal members in policy decisions, one of the subtexts of the party's recent renewal efforts.
The three leadership candidates have all promised to give the party members a greater role in future decisions.
When the Liberals emerge out of Moncton on Saturday afternoon, the party's new leader will not have a seat in the legislature.
None of the candidates has a seat in the legislative assembly.
The party is using a preferential ballot system, so there will be only one ballot on Saturday.
If there is not an outright winner after counting the first ballot choices, the votes cast for the last-place finisher will be re-examined and their second-choice votes will be distributed.
The Liberals have said 19,000 people have signed up to vote in the leadership contest and officials said on Saturday that roughly 13,800 have already voted.