A rookie Progressive Conservative member of the New Brunswick Legislature has decided not to seek re-election this fall, and some of his supporters say he’s being forced out against his will.
Wes McLean says he will not run in the new riding of Carleton-Victoria, which includes his hometown of Perth-Andover.
“I’ve just decided to move on,” he told CBC News. “I’ve enjoyed the experience. I’ve loved it. I love the people. But I’ve decided now is the next chapter in my life.”
McLean was elected in 2010 to represent Victoria-Tobique, but most of the constituency is being merged with the riding of Carleton. That’s because the Alward government reduced the number of seats in the Legislature to 49 from 55, forcing a commission to merge ridings on the new electoral map.
McLean, 33, says he’s been thinking about the decision for a while and has another career opportunity lined up, although he won’t say what it is.
But some people in his riding are upset by his decision, saying McLean has been pushed aside by the party brass.
The other candidate who has announced for the PC nomination is Dr. Colin Lockhart, a physician and longtime supporter of Carleton PC MLA Dale Graham, who is retiring. A large part of Graham’s current riding will form the southern part of the new Carleton-Victoria riding.
Dave Eagan, a Perth-Andover resident and longtime friend of McLean, says the rookie MLA is “falling on his sword” to allow Lockhart to win the PC nomination uncontested.
'Anybody is entitled to challenge him, but this whole thing doesn’t pass the smell test.'- Dave Eagan, Perth-Andover resident and friend
“As far as I can see, he is being pushed out,” said Eagan.
Eagan is not a member of the PC party but has supported McLean because of their long friendship. He predicts McLean’s decision will hurt the Tory vote in the northern part of the new Carleton-Victoria riding.
“I don’t think it will make any supporter of Wes really happy. He’s the incumbent. Anybody is entitled to challenge him, but this whole thing doesn’t pass the smell test," he said.
"It’s engineered from within the party, apparently. Most people around here don’t think it’s a really nice thing for them to do to Wes.”
McLean, however, says his decision was entirely his own. “I have the utmost respect for Dr. Lockhart and there’s been no movement afoot by him or others to ask me to step down. That’s certainly not the case.”
McLean says he will campaign for Lockhart, or whoever else becomes the PC candidate in the riding.
“We have to remain together and be a big Tory family,” he said. “When parties are united, they have the best chance of winning.”
The Liberals have nominated businessman and Bristol village Coun. Andy Harvey in Carleton-Victoria.
Conviction has not hurt popularity
More than 20 of McLean’s supporters met with him last week to try to persuade him to change his mind and stay in the race for the PC nomination against Lockhart, but he told them his mind was made up.
McLean pleaded guilty to a drunk driving charge last year, but Eagan said that has not hurt his popularity in Victoria-Tobique, where he is seen as a hard-working MLA.
“He certainly was a full-time MLA, and he has done and still is doing, as far as I’m concerned, a marvellous job,” said another supporter, Robert Davenport.
Davenport says as a doctor, Lockhart would likely be unable to devote as much time to his role as an elected representative.
McLean’s decision to bow out in favour of Lockhart also comes in the wake of renewed speculation about the Hotel-Dieu of St. Joseph Hospital in Perth-Andover.
Lockhart, a medical doctor, is affiliated with the newer hospital 60 kilometres away in Waterville. Many Perth-Andover residents have long feared their local hospital might be closed and its services moved to Waterville.
After sections of the Perth-Andover facility were flooded in 2012, labour and delivery services were moved to Waterville permanently and the operating room was closed.
And last year, the provincial government scrapped plans to build a new, smaller hospital on higher ground to replace the existing flood-prone building.
Eagan says there are fears that without an elected member from the Perth-Andover area of the riding, there will be no one in Fredericton to fight for their hospital and against more centralization of services in Waterville.
Earlier this year Mike Allen, the federal Conservative MP for Tobique-Mactaquac, announced he won’t run for re-election in the national campaign expected in 2015.
McLean won’t rule out running for the federal Conservative nomination to succeed Allen.
The other Progressive Conservatives who have announced they won't seek re-election include: Jack Carr, John Betts, Dale Graham, Glen Tait and Greg Davis.