Longtime MLA Denis Landry elected interim Liberal leader
Denis Landry was first elected in 1995 and served as a justice minister in the Brian Gallant government
The only member of the legislature who served alongside former premier Frank McKenna is the new interim leader of the New Brunswick Liberal Party.
Denis Landry, first elected as the MLA for Centre-Péninsule in 1995, when McKenna won his third and last majority, will lead the party until Liberal members choose a new leader on June 22.
He replaces former premier Brian Gallant, who officially resigned as leader Tuesday.
Landry said his priority will be to boost the morale of party members still smarting over the failure to win a majority in last September's election.
"There are people who felt a bit left aside for whatever reason, and that's what I'm going to do — go talk to people on the ground and see what we can do to put party members in a good mood," he said.
The former logger, known around the legislature for his plainspoken manner, said he was looking forward to the challenge.
"I've never been afraid of work. I enjoy hard work."
Although he'll hold the leadership for only a short time, Landry would not rule out trying to engineer the defeat of the Progressive Conservative minority government this spring.
"That's something we'll have to figure out. We'll go through the session … and from there we'll see what happens. It's hard for me to predict what's going to happen. The budget could be so good or so bad. We'll have to decide as a caucus what we're going to do."
He said his biggest concerns about the March 19 budget are potential cuts. He pointed to more than $200 million in cancelled infrastructure spending in the PC capital budget delivered in December.
"Is there a need to do that? As far as I'm concerned, no," he said, noting the Liberal government ran a $67 million surplus in 2017-18.
"The finances of the province were not doing that bad."
The Liberals have 20 seats in the legislature compared with 22 for the PCs. Speaker Daniel Guitard was elected as a Liberal but does not vote except to break a tie. The Green Party and the People's Alliance hold three seats each.
Landry said while he agrees most often with the Greens, "I'm not scared of working with the Alliance or even collaborating with the Tories" to make the legislature function.
Landry was chosen by party MLAs in a closed-door vote Tuesday morning. He said the caucus decided not to reveal who else sought the interim leadership or how many votes each candidate won.
Landry was defeated in the 2003 provincial election but was re-elected in 2006 and has been an MLA ever since. He was a minister in the governments of Shawn Graham and Brian Gallant and now represents the riding of Bathurst East-Nepisiguit-Saint-Isidore.
He said he would draw on the examples of all the party leaders and premiers he has encountered in his long career in figuring out how to lead the Liberals.
"There are things that I've liked that have been done, some things that I don't like that have been done," he said. "I'm going to try to stay in the middle track of that."