New Brunswick·Analysis

Gallant's regrets turn to successes in 'jaded' Liberal leader's farewell

The newly humbled, newly contrite Brian Gallant was a little less humble, a little less contrite Thursday as he announced he would resign as leader of New Brunswick's Liberal Party.

Former premier points at others as he explains how adversarial politics took hold

Former New Brunswick premier Brian Gallant, with wife Karine Gallant behind him, announces his resignation as leader of the Liberal Party at the New Brunswick Legislature on Thursday. (James West/Canadian Press)

The newly humbled, newly contrite Brian Gallant was a little less humble, a little less contrite Thursday as he announced he would resign as leader of New Brunswick's Liberal party.

In his speech to close the throne speech debate on Nov. 2 — his last chance as premier to win over opposition MLAs in a confidence vote — Gallant offered a tantalizing glimpse inside the mind of a leader who had squandered his 2014 majority election win.

He reminded the house that he ran for the leadership of the Liberal Party on a promise of "a new approach" — a more collaborative style of governing that, he admitted, he had failed to deliver.

Premier Brian Gallant delivers his speech at the closure of the throne speech debate on Nov. 2. Gallant's Liberal government was defeated. (James West/Canadian Press)

"One of my greatest regrets as a legislator is that over time, I became too jaded and fell into some of the old, adversarial ways of this place," he said.

But Thursday, as he revealed his decision to step down, there was less self-examination. Gallant argued that the "new approach" had worked out after all.

"This new approach helped us as a government make substantive changes to improve transparency and strengthen our economy," he said.

Brian Gallant announced his resignation as leader of the Liberal Party. Now we look back at his time as leader. 0:55

Never mind that the first example he cited — a ban on corporation and union donations to political parties — actually came to pass as a result of a Progressive Conservative amendment to a Liberal bill.

It seemed fair to ask: precisely how did he became more jaded as premier and fall into the adversarial ways of politics? How would he advise future party leaders to avoid that trap?

"I'll get all theoretical with you on what I think happens to a lot of people, not just myself," he answered.

But first, he took credit for less heckling in the legislature, a rule he imposed on his Liberal MLAs.

"That's improved a lot on the side of our caucus, and that's helped the tone," he said.

Pointing the finger

Then, he indeed talked about "a lot of people, not just myself" — by blaming others for the cynicism that took hold of him.

He faulted the Progressive Conservatives, for example, for not going along with his "new approach" to be less partisan.

"When you try, if you're the only one, it's a bit difficult," he said.

He pointed to his first day in the house in 2013 as Opposition leader. He told the Liberal caucus that they would approach question period differently — not by attacking the PC government but by asking what they could do to help.

His MLAs were against the idea, Gallant said.

"They said we would just get 'thumped,' as they called it," he said. "I said, 'No, no, it'll change the tone.' And we did that, and all the government of the day did was get up and start criticizing us."

Gallant also blamed the media for conflict-centric political coverage that rewards those who behave badly.

"Sometimes when there's an important issue, politicians feel they have to take on those adversarial ways to get a bit of attention," he said.

"That certainly fuels that cycle a little bit, but it's not an excuse. We all have to be mature about the roles we've been asked to play here."

Gallant's farewell address struck a different tone from his speech at the closure of the throne speech debate. (James West/The Canadian Press)

Not having explained his own role in becoming jaded, Gallant committed himself to being a more collaborative leader of the Official Opposition while the Liberals seek a new leader.

He said he would speak around the province about official bilingualism, a subject he admitted he didn't address enough as language issues grew in importance and toxicity over his four years in power.

"We can strengthen our social fabric and be more united than ever if we talk about this issue in a fact-based and respectful way," he said.

A bit of advice for Higgs

On Ottawa's plan to impose a carbon tax on New Brunswick — because his own plan failed to comply with the national standard — Gallant offered Higgs what felt like sincere advice.

Don't fight it in court, he said: the Liberal government's own legal advice had concluded it was a losing battle. Instead, negotiate with Ottawa to develop a regime that works here while complying with federal requirements.

He even tossed out Prince Edward Island's model as one Higgs might like.

After his government was defeated in the legislature, Gallant shook hands with Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs, who is now premier. (James West/Canadian Press)

But on other issues Gallant was decidedly, well, adversarial. He said Higgs — with 32 per cent of the popular vote in September's election — has "no mandate" to undo a Liberal moratorium on shale gas fracking.

And he said he hopes the PCs won't "sell their souls" by letting the three-member People's Alliance caucus dictate government policy.

And what about in the legislature — the place Gallant's "new approach" went to die?

"The caucus is completely resolved to do what we can to be more collaborative," Gallant said.

But that question period strategy from his first day 2013, when Gallant and his MLAs offered to help the PC government — only to be spurned? Will he try it again?

The new spirit of collaboration doesn't extend to showing your hand.

"I won't say anything now," Gallant said. "It might be a good strategy and I don't want them to be ready for it."

About the Author

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.

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