New Brunswick

Former Liberal MP Karen Ludwig plans to run in upcoming provincial byelection

Former Liberal Member of Parliament Karen Ludwig is jumping into what could be a pivotal byelection race in the provincial riding of Saint Croix.

Will seek Liberal nomination for Saint Croix riding, motivated, in part, by reports PCs may close small labs

Karen Ludwig, elected MP for New Brunswick Southwest in 2015, was defeated in her bid for a second term in last fall's federal election. (CBC)

Former Liberal Member of Parliament Karen Ludwig is jumping into what could be a pivotal byelection race in the provincial riding of Saint Croix.

Ludwig, who represented New Brunswick Southwest in the House of Commons for four years before losing her seat last fall, will seek the Liberal nomination for the unscheduled byelection.

She said her decision was prompted in part by reports that the Progressive Conservative minority government is looking at health reforms that could close testing laboratories in small hospitals, including in St. Stephen.

"That's too much," Ludwig said. "That's really significant to people here. I know a number of people in Charlotte County who have chronic disease. They're in for lab testing weekly, and even to consider cutting that is out of touch with what people need."

Ludwig lost last fall to Conservative John Williamson, though she won a number of polls in Saint Andrews, where she lives, and St. Stephen. The two ridings are the largest communities in the provincial riding.

She said it was natural that she would win support from her closest neighbours.

But she said many who voted against her federally told her privately they liked her but could not support her leader, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"Just after the election, people were reaching out to me daily asking me if I would re-offer, and then when there were some of the changes being proposed by the Higgs government, people were asking me if I would run provincially," she said.

Premier Blaine Higgs will announce the date for the byelection in Saint Croix and in Shediac Bay-Dieppe in March, though he can choose to hold the votes months later.

Former journalist Kathy Bockus is the only candidate for the PC nomination. The People's Alliance has nominated wildlife biologist Rod Cumberland and the Greens plan to nominate a candidate soon.

Another Liberal to seek nomination

No date has been set for the Liberal nomination. One other person, St. Stephen resident Tony Mann, has said he will seek the party nod.

If the PCs or Alliance don't win Saint Croix, Higgs would lose his ability to get bills and budgets passed in the legislature.

The Alliance has pledged to prop up the Tories but combined they have only a two-vote margin over the Liberals and Greens without the Liberal speaker voting.

Higgs said in December that a Liberal win in Saint Croix would therefore force him to call a provincial election. "I wouldn't have a choice," he said.

"The decision [for voters in Saint Croix] is probably not so much, 'Do I support the Alliance over the PCs,' or vice versa? It's, 'Do I really want to take a chance of the Liberals getting back in government?'"

'It's about serving'

Ludwig said she was undaunted by that threat, saying that doesn't diminish issues like health-care cuts and a PC economic development policy she says is focused on large cities.

"Whether it's an election or not an election, it's about serving the people first and foremost," she said. "And I can tell you I'm really tired of people who are focusing on an election or an election cycle. I never thought like that when I was a politician."

But she also suggested voters will want an MLA with experience who would play a role in a future Liberal government.

"What they're looking at is not only today but also tomorrow, and they need strong and experienced representation to have a voice at that table," she said, citing her role on a House of Commons committee on international trade during the renegotiation of the Canada-U.S.-Mexico free trade agreement.

Greg Thompson, the former PC MLA for Saint Croix, died of cancer on Sept. 10 after a long career in federal and provincial politics. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

Saint Croix has been without a member of the legislature since the death of MLA Greg Thompson last September.

Shediac Bay-Dieppe has been vacant since former premier Brian Gallant resigned his seat last October.

The PCs have 21 seats in the legislature and the Liberals have 19, not including Speaker Daniel Guitard, who does not vote unless there is a tie. The People's Alliance and the Greens have three MLAs each.

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