'With a heavy heart,' Brian Gallant says he'll resign as Liberal leader

Brian Gallant has announced his intention to resign as leader of the New Brunswick Liberal Party as soon as a new leader can be chosen.

Former New Brunswick premier makes announcement at a news conference Thursday morning

Former New Brunswick premier Brian Gallant, accompanied by his wife, Karine Gallant, announces his resignation as leader of the Liberal Party. (James West/Canadian Press)

Brian Gallant has announced his intention to resign as Opposition leader and leader of the New Brunswick Liberal Party as soon as a new leader can be chosen. 

The former premier made the announcement at a news conference at the Legislative Building on Thursday morning. 

"It is with a heavy heart I will be resigning as Liberal Party leader of New Brunswick," said Gallant, whose party was diminished to 21 seats in the 49-member legislature, while the Progressive Conservatives won 22 seats.

I'm proud to say I'm leaving the province in a better state than when I became premier.- Brian Gallant, opposition leader 

"It has been an absolute honour to serve as premier and leader of the Liberal Party." 

Gallant said he'll stay on as leader for now to provide some stability while the party prepares to find a new leader. He did not say whether he would stay on as an MLA for Shediac Bay-Dieppe until New Brunswick's next election. ​

After Liberals elect new leader, Gallant said, he has "no idea what I'll do next."

Addressing bilingualism 

He did make it clear he plans to speak about official bilingualism, its merits, the myths about it, and concerns New Brunswickers might have.

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

"I think that we can find common ground and … the more people [who] know the facts, the better informed they will be for this important discussion that we're clearly going to have as a province."

Much of Gallant's resignation announcement sounded like a campaign speech as he ran through what was accomplished during his four years as premier, although he did acknowledge there were "a few hiccups and mistakes along the way." 

"I'm proud to say I'm leaving the province in a better state than when I became premier," he said.

After the Sept. 24 election, Gallant said he would try to continue governing the province.

He met with Lt.-Gov. Jocelyne Roy Vienneau, and received permission to continue governing, while he and his Liberals tried to win the confidence of the legislature — with fewer seats than their main opponents.

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant lost the confidence vote in the legislature 25-23. 1:34

But the Gallant government fell Nov. 2, when 22 Progressive Conservatives and three People's Alliance MLAs voted to defeat it. Twenty Liberals and three Greens voted to keep the government alive.

As a result, Premier Blaine Higgs and his Progressive Conservatives were sworn into power last week.

On Friday, Gallant advised Higgs not to govern as if he has a majority, and he cited shale gas development as something Higgs doesn't have a mandate to resume. The Liberals had imposed a moratorium on fracking, but Higgs has said his government will allow it in areas where local people want it. 

Gallant said his party wasn't perfect and he admitted he wasn't a perfect leader. But he said the Liberals increased tourism in New Brunswick, cut taxes for small businesses, grew the economy and reduced the number of job losses across the province, all while addressing the provincial deficit.

Moving forward he said the Liberal Party is the best party to grow economy, strengthen education, address health care wait-times, advance women's equality, protect the environment and cut the deficit.

Gallant became 'too jaded'

In his closing speech before the confidence vote on Nov. 2 and again at a news conference later that day, Gallant apologized for not doing a better job as premier.

He said the election result was a wake-up call and he would try to be more collaborative "no matter which position I'll be occupying."

Gallant speaks at the end of the throne speech debate earlier this month. Gallant's Liberal government was then defeated. (James West/Canadian Press)

He acknowledged that he won the leadership promising "a new approach" but became "too jaded and fell into some of the old adversarial ways of this place."

Gallant blamed the news media for covering more adversarial topics.

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

"But it's not an excuse. We all have to be mature about the roles we've been asked to play here."

Gallant's resignation means the party will have to plan a leadership campaign quickly. And with a minority PC government in power — an election could happen at any time.

Kris Austin bids farewell

On the eve of Gallant's expected resignation, People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin wished him well, but wasn't surprised by his decision.

"I figured this would be the outcome. Based on years of tradition, when a party loses an election, it's common for the leader to resign," Austin said in a statement.

Kris Austin, the leader of the People's Alliance Party, said he wasn't surprised Gallant wants to resign as Liberal leader. (CBC)

"I want to thank him for his years of service to the province as its premier and I wish him well in his future."

With files from Jacques Poitras