Ex-Liberal minister wants leadership review, despite caucus loyalty pledge to Gallant
All 20 Liberal MLAs pledged to support Gallant into the next election
A veteran Saint John-area Liberal says a pledge of loyalty by all 20 party MLAs for Premier Brian Gallant carries no official weight, and the party's board of directors should vote to hold a review of his leadership.
Roly MacIntyre, a former cabinet minister and MLA for Saint John East, says the party's poor showing in southern New Brunswick requires a look at whether Gallant should remain at the helm.
"I think a leadership review is a great idea," MacIntyre told CBC News. "We didn't exactly beat down the doors in southern New Brunswick."
He said the premier is "still in a learning curve, and maybe he's the leader for the future. I don't know."
Asked how he'd vote in a leadership review, MacIntyre — who supported Gallant's campaign for the job in 2012 — said, "I really don't know." He added: "I'm with Brian Gallant until the end, and the end could come quickly."
MacIntyre was commenting on an extraordinary letter signed on Oct. 22 by all 20 Liberal MLAs, addressed to the party's board of directors, saying they supported Gallant and wanted him "to lead our party into the next provincial election campaign."
CBC News reported Friday that Gallant told the caucus he would go through with his plan to resign if the loyalty pledge did not extend to him leading the party in the next election.
Liberal party rules say the party's board of directors must decide within three months of an election in which the party "has not formed a government" whether to schedule a leadership review.
The board, made up of the party executive and the presidents of the 49 Liberal riding associations, must vote 75 per cent in favour of holding a review.
'There's nobody better than Brian Gallant'
Liberal house leader Lisa Harris said the caucus wanted to tell the board that because no party holds a majority of seats in the legislature and a new election could be triggered without warning, Gallant should remain as leader.
"There's nobody better than Brian Gallant to lead the Liberal party. And that's just how it is. And we understand fully that an election can come very, very fast," she said.
I felt it was extremely important for us to show the board how important it was and how much we were behind the premier.- Liberal MLA Lisa Harris
MacIntyre pointed out that the letter has no official weight in the Liberal board's decision and amounts to a recommendation.
"Caucus doesn't decide whether a leader stays or doesn't," he said. "Caucus doesn't decide how we administer the constitution of the party."
Liberal caucus chair Jean-Claude D'Amours said Monday that "the whole caucus supports the leader so I'm pretty confident the [party] board will listen to our position."
Harris said she pushed for the loyalty pledge — but also said she wasn't sure who authored the letter, or how the line about the next election became part of the text.
"I'm not a hundred percent sure what was wanted," she said. "I'm not exactly sure who did the letter."
The letter was drafted Oct. 22, as it dawned on the Liberals that they would not be able to strike a deal with the Green Party to prop up their minority government, nor to persuade an opposition MLA to become Speaker.
That made it less likely that the Liberals, with 20 votes in the 49-member house, would be able to pass a motion supporting their throne speech.
A defeat on that vote, due Friday, would topple the government and lead to the swearing in of the Progressive Conservatives.
If, by any chance or any means, there was another election called, we would be not able to find another leader in time to go into the campaign.- Roly MacIntyre, former Liberal minister
The letter, signed by all 20 MLAs, says that "regardless of the outcome" on the throne speech vote, all of them have confidence in Gallant to stay on until the next election.
Harris said Gallant initially told the caucus Oct. 19 he planned to resign because there was no path to the party staying in power.
But at another meeting the evening of Oct. 21, "every single individual MLA offered to support him as leader regardless of the outcome of the vote," Harris said. "He reluctantly agreed with us."
A day later, the decision was made to have all 20 MLAs sign the letter.
"I felt it was extremely important for us to show the board how important it was and how much we were behind the premier," Harris said.
It was during that meeting that Gallant said the support had to extend to the next election for him to stay on.
Confusion over binding nature of letter
Harris did not confirm that Gallant made that demand, claiming she wasn't in the room when it was written and doesn't know who wrote it.
She also said "there was confusion there" among some MLAs about why they needed to sign a letter and how "binding" it would be in the future.
Harris said by last Friday, at a new caucus meeting, "everybody was happy with it and there was no animosity at all."
D'Amours agreed that while there were "different views" at first, all the MLAs agreed that the party needs "stability" in case there's another election.
Harris conceded though that the letter may have a short shelf life if the Liberals lose Friday's vote.
"Who knows what would happen whether we win or whether we lose? Decisions can be made after that," she said.
She also conceded that "maybe there's somebody that doesn't quite agree" within the caucus or the party. With Gallant talking about leaving, other Liberals may have "felt it was time to look at different options."
MacIntyre said he likes Gallant, and if he wins the leadership review vote, "fine and dandy."
He also said triggering a leadership race carries a risk because a potential PC government could lose a confidence vote at any time, triggering an election.
"If, by any chance or any means, there was another election called, we would be not able to find another leader in time to go into the campaign," he said.