Former New Brunswick premier Shawn Graham used a Friday night speech to warn Liberal Party members of future energy problems that are on the province's horizon.

Graham spoke to more than 500 Liberals in Moncton, where he thanked party members for supporting him during his political career.

However, the Kent MLA did not shy away from talking about tough problems facing the province, especially in the energy sector. Graham's failed plan to sell NB Power to Hydro-Québec is largely credited to his 2010 election defeat.

But Graham said there are still major problems with NB Power.

"There are serious challenges with this utility, and while many of these challenges will only be fully evident in 10 or 20 years, they do need action today," he told the party members.

"But there are huge structural and financial challenges that can’t be addressed by tweaking around the edges."

Graham pointed to the massive deferral account that must be paid back once the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station is operating again.

He also said the Mactaquac Dam will either need to be decommissioned at a cost of $2 billion or taxpayers will need to spend $3 billion to rebuild the dam.

A future government is also going to need to make a decision about the future of the Belledune coal plant, he said.

"I just outlined billions of dollars’ worth of challenges and something is going to have to be done to deal with these issues," he said.

"And I believe it will take a Liberal government to tackle them. Because that’s what we do as Liberals.  We take on the tough challenges."

New Brunswick Liberals are gathering in Moncton this weekend and will pick Graham's permanent successor on Saturday.

Political future


Shawn Graham pauses while he talks to Liberals in Moncton on Friday night. (Daniel McHardie/CBC)

Graham has kept a low profile since the disastrous September 2010 election that saw the Liberals become the first New Brunswick government to lose an election after one term.

Moncton East Liberal MLA Chris Collins, who served as a cabinet minister in the Graham government, told the crowd at a Moncton convention centre how Graham encouraged him to run in politics.

Collins said Graham served the province with "grace and dignity."

Britt Dysart, the president of the Liberal party, also called Graham "a man of vision and a man of integrity."

"Yes, we had a setback in 2010, but I’m sure there is not one person in this room who is not proud to have stood shoulder to shoulder with Shawn Graham," Dysart said.

Graham told reporters on Friday night that he intends to continue as the MLA for his eastern riding, which he has held since a 1998 byelection.

But Graham left open the possibility that he could step aside to allow the party's next leader to run in his riding. None of the three leadership contenders currently hold a seat in the legislature.

The former Liberal leader said he's always put the party ahead of his personal ambitions.

Graham won the Kent riding in 1998 after his father, Alan, retired. Alan Graham had held the riding since 1967 for the Liberals.

Elected leader in 2002

Graham was elected Liberal leader in May 2002, defeating his only challenger, Jack MacDougall.

He hung onto the party's leadership despite losing the 2003 election to Bernard Lord's Progressive Conservatives.

The Liberals, however, were able to oust Lord's Tories in the 2006 election.

Graham was a controversial premier during his four years in office.

The Graham government ignited several major controversies over post-secondary education reform, early French immersion reform and health changes.

However, Liberal government's proposed sale of NB Power to Hydro-Quebec ended up looming over the rest of Graham's mandate.

The Liberals limped out of the 2010 election with 13 of 55 seats.

Michael Murphy, a former health minister, Brian Gallant, a Moncton-area lawyer and Nick Duivenvoorden, a former mayor of Belledune, are running to replace Graham.

Murphy and Gallant are considered the two frontrunners.

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.

The party's president told party members on Friday night that 13,100 people have already voted in the leadership contest.

But, there have already been questions raised about the quality of the party's membership list.

The executive director of the Progressive Conservative Party signed up his dog as a Liberal and Pitou the dog voted for a leader.

Dysart admitted having a dog vote was "not our best moment."

Boudreau's service remembered

Liberals also used Friday evening to thank Victor Boudreau for serving as the party's interim leader for the last two years.

Beausejour Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc told the crowd how he recruited Boudreau into active Liberal politics during the leadership race for former prime minister Jean Chretien.

LeBlanc said he believes Boudreau's best days in politics were ahead of him.

For his part, Boudreau said he was proud of what the party has accomplished during its time in opposition.

Boudreau said the incoming leader will need to bring the party together once the leadership race concludes.

"Tomorrow we need to come together as a party," he said.

"And we must turn our focus toward the Alward Tories and the 2014 election. If we do this  … I am convinced we can win the next election.