New Brunswick

Fewer than 10,000 seize chance to choose New Brunswick's next Liberal leader

The race to choose a new leader of the New Brunswick Liberal Party has attracted only half the number of registered voters as the party’s last contest a decade ago.

More than twice as many registered for last leadership vote 10 years ago

In 2012, the last time the N.B. Liberal Party held a leadership vote, 19,000 people signed up to vote. A decade later it looks like it'll be half that number. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

The race to choose a new leader for New Brunswick's Liberal Party has attracted only half the number of registered voters as the party's last contest a decade ago.

Around 9,400 people have signed up to cast ballots, according to a party document Thursday obtained by CBC News.

That compares to about 19,000 who signed up to vote in the 2012 race when Brian Gallant was elected leader.

"For sure, we've seen a trend where it's increasingly more difficult to engage people in mainstream politics, and I think we've suffered from that in this province," said leadership candidate and former MP T.J. Harvey

Leadership candidate T.J. Harvey says it's become more difficult to get people involved in 'mainstream politics.'

But he said the Liberal numbers compared favourably to the 5,490 people who voted in the first round of the 2016 Progressive Conservative leadership race that chose Blaine Higgs.

"For me as a candidate, it's all a matter of perspective," Harvey said, saying 9,400 registrations for a leadership vote taking place in August speaks well of the party's future.

Candidate Susan Holt said the 2012 leadership race "feels like a lifetime ago."

"Honestly, a lot has happened in New Brunswick politics in the last 10 years," she said, including breakthroughs by the Green Party and the People's Alliance that have cut into traditional voting patterns.

Turn out low elsewhere

The deadline for people to sign up as Liberals and register to vote was June 15. 

The low number was tallied at around the same time the party lost two byelections to the Progressive Conservatives, including Miramichi Bay-Neguac, a seat the Liberals won in the last election. 

Holt pointed out that turnout in both those byelections was also low, at about 42 to 43 per cent. 

"I think that's people telling us, and I've heard it, that politics as usual isn't working anymore. They're checked out. They're not interested, because we've been dealing with so many problems on a global scale." 

“I think that’s people telling us, and I’ve heard it, that politics as usual isn’t working anymore,' candidate Susan Holt says of the number who want to take part in Liberal leadership contest. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Holt said that's why the Liberal Party needs to change and offer voters something different.

Harvey attributed the low number compared to 2012 to the COVID-19 pandemic and people's desire to focus on their families, particularly children who were affected by public health measures.

"I think people are disconnected on a lot of fronts … and I think people feel this political cycle has been spinning pretty fast lately," with two federal elections, two provincial elections and municipal elections in the last four years in New Brunswick.

Candidate Robert Gauvin made similar points. 

"It's not unique to our party, but of course we still have to work and try to get people re-engaged." 

Varying enthusiasm

The party said the number of registered voters may fluctuate because some people who signed up are still having their paperwork checked.

The number of registrations on the document from Thursday, 9,390, works out to an average of 192 voters per riding.

But the actual numbers vary widely in each constituency. Caraquet, a Liberal stronghold, has the most members registered with 446, while Riverview and Gagetown-Petitcodiac are tied with the fewest member, at 75 each.

However, under the Liberal voting system each riding carries equal weight in the leadership race.

The system awards 100 points per riding based on the percentage of the vote each candidate gets in the riding.

In 2019 the Liberals chose Kevin Vickers as leader to replace Brian Gallant, but he was acclaimed so there was no race involving people signing up to vote. 

Leadership candidate Donald Arseneault turned down an interview request, and party president Brian Murphy did not respond to a request for comment. 


Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. He grew up in Moncton and covered Parliament in Ottawa for the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. He has reported on every New Brunswick election since 1995 and won awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association, the National Newspaper Awards and Amnesty International. He is also the author of five non-fiction books about New Brunswick politics and history.