New Brunswick

3 Liberal party members bow out of leadership race

With a date set for the New Brunswick Liberals to choose a new leader, three high-profile party members have officially taken themselves out of the race.

Liberals will elect their new leader June 22 after former premier Brian Gallant announced he would leave

Brian Kenny, Susan Holt and Wayne Long say they will not be running for the Liberal leadership. (CBC)

With a date set for the New Brunswick Liberals to choose a new leader, three high-profile party members have officially taken themselves out of the race.

Bathurst MLA Brian Kenny, defeated candidate Susan Holt and Saint John-Rothesay MP Wayne Long all say they will not be candidates when party members vote for a new leader on June 22.

"I'm out," Long declared.

Meanwhile, Holt said Monday that "life at this point in time" makes it impossible for her to run.

"All the pieces don't fit together."

Kenny, the MLA for Bathurst West-Beresford, said that at age 50, he was leery of committing to what could be another 12 years in politics.

"I've made my decision that I'm not going to be going ahead."

A new leader for the New Brunswick Liberal Party will be chosen seven months after former premier Brian Gallant announced he was stepping aside. (CBC)

The Liberal Party's board of directors voted on the weekend to set June 22 as the date for the vote. A convention will be held at the Saint John Trade and Convention Centre, though members will be able to vote across the province

Former premier Brian Gallant announced after his government was defeated in a confidence vote last fall that he would resign as leader.

At first, Gallant said he would stay on until a new leader was chosen. But in late December, he said he would quit earlier and let the party's MLAs choose an interim leader in February.

Only one candidate has said for sure he will run: René Ephestion, the executive director of Moncton's Nazareth House and a member of the party executive.

Ephestion says he's running to encourage "a deep debate within my political family" about how Liberals should take on populist politicians whom he says are "playing with fire" on issues such as bilingualism.

Kevin Vickers, a retired RCMP officer and former sergeant-at-arms of the House of Commons who became famous after helping stop a terrorist attack on Parliament in 2014, is considering running.

René Ephestion, the executive director of Moncton’s Nazareth House, said he will run for Liberal leadership. (Radio-Canada)

Vickers declined an interview request Monday by email.

The leadership vote will happen quickly compared to past races in which both the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives chose new leaders two years or more after election defeats.

University of New Brunswick political scientist J.P. Lewis says the fast turnaround this time is due to "the tenuous nature of a minority government" led by PC Premier Blaine Higgs.

A quick replacement

While the People's Alliance has promised to vote with the PCs on budgets and confidence issues until the spring of 2020, Lewis said the Liberals likely want a leader in place quickly just in case things change.

He also said the short race will benefit higher-profile candidates.

"Logic would suggest that shorter time frames are better for people with a track record within the party or people with a bigger name," he said.

Former Moncton Liberal MP Brian Murphy said Vickers's potential candidacy is gathering steam.

"He's got a lot of support behind him across the province: north, south, east and west, and linguistically. It looks very good for him."

But Lewis said no one should assume Vickers can cruise to victory until they've seen how he handles the requirements of the campaign.

"We'll have to wait to see his first press conference," Lewis said. "We've seen this before, where you'll have a name, and then as soon as they start to open their mouths on political ideas, some of the shine comes off."

Advice from 'old boys' 

Ephestion, a recent immigrant from France, said he wants to see the Liberals tackle issues such as poverty and the transition to a green economy.

He said in an interview that some "old boys" in the party have tried to discourage him from running.

"I'm an atypical candidate," he said. "They've never seen that before. I am young, I am black, I am francophone, I am an immigrant, and I bring new ideas and new vision. Maybe it's too much for them. But these kinds of comments energize me."

Holt, who ran and lost in Fredericton South in last fall's election, said the demands of family life were an obstacle to running.

But part of her decision was based on the Liberal party's inability to tell her what salary she'd earn as a party leader without a seat in the legislature, she said.

"The way it was suggested to me is that the new leader decides," she said.

Holt said she remains a Liberal supporter and will be looking to support a candidate who shares her views on making politics more open and transparent.

"If I can find a candidate who shares those views … I'm totally prepared to get behind them and support them," she said.

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