Mike Allen hopes to take federal success to provincial politics

Mike Allen's decision to jump into the Progressive Conservative leadership race this week has put him on the growing list of former federal Conservatives looking to take the helm of a provincial party.

UNB political scientist J.P. Lewis says 4 strong candidates for PC leadership race shows party is still strong

Mike Allen launched his Progressive Conservative leadership bid this week. He's trying to become the latest former Conservative MP to lead a provincial party. (CBC)

Mike Allen's decision to jump into the Progressive Conservative leadership race this week has put him on the growing list of former federal Conservatives looking to take the helm of a provincial party.

Brian Pallister has enjoyed the greatest success after leaving former prime minister Stephen Harper's Conservative caucus.

His Progressive Conservatives knocked the NDP out of government for the first time in nearly 17 years in Manitoba this week.

J.P. Lewis, a political scientist at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, said Allen may be hoping to tap into some of that success.

In order to do that, Lewis said it will be interesting to watch how Allen is able to capitalize on his federal experience without being bogged down in criticism of the Harper government.

"The last referendum on the Harper government in New Brunswick didn't go very well for the Conservatives, they lost all their seats," Lewis said.

"So it will be interesting to see how he positions himself, having been part of that legacy."

Former MP Mike Allen explains how he would be a different leader compared to the federal Conservative caucus that he was a part of 1:14

Former Conservative MPs are also leaders of the opposition in Alberta and Ontario.

Brian Jean left Harper's Conservatives and won the leadership of the Wild Rose Party in Alberta. Patrick Brown also left the federal Tories to take over Ontario Progressive Conservatives.

Allen was first elected in 2006 but he decided to retire from federal politics and did not run in the 2015 election.

While the former Tobique-Mactaquac MP was visible in his successor's campaign, he was not one of the 10 Conservatives to be defeated in the federal election.

Allen said on Information Morning Fredericton on Friday that there are many policies championed by the federal Conservatives that were a success.

"There was a lot of great policy things that we did, expanding trade, helping families, lowering taxes, those are things that I believe in," he said.

"One of the things that I think we suffered, as we pointed out before, is a little bit of a style issue."

Allen pointed to "quite childish" party advertising and the use of omnibus bills as specific examples of decisions made by the federal Conservatives that he disagreed with.

He also pointed out that he didn't always vote with the federal party.

"I'm my own person and I like to think through things and be thoughtful at what I do," he said.

Provincial troubles

The provincial party also has its own issues that the next leader will have to deal with, Allen acknowledged.

Under David Alward, the Tories lost the 2014 election and saw the party's support primarily located in southern ridings.

The federal MP said the former Alward government seemed to alienate certain pockets of support leading up to the last election, which he said hurt it when the campaign rolled around.

"The previous government, David's government, got themselves into some challenges in terms of perceived picking fights with everybody. We had the shale gas file, we had the doctors, whatever it was," he said.

Former MP Mike Allen explains his views on problems with the provincial PCs 1:19

This isn't the first time a federal politician has tried to lead the New Brunswick Tories.

Bernard Valcourt won the Tory leadership in 1995, two years after he lost his federal seat.

Valcourt's leadership didn't last long. The Tories only won six seats in the 1995 provincial election and Valcourt resigned in 1997.

Belief in the provincial party

Despite the party's challenges, UNB's Lewis said it doesn't appear to be frightening candidates away from the Tory leadership.

With Allen joining the race, there are already four candidates running to lead the New Brunswick Tories.

The political scientist said that shows there is some residual strength in the party.

"Obviously with so much interest in the position of party leader, people out there believe the PCs can form the government next time around, in 2018," he said.

"So I think we haven't really had the effect of big-name candidates, former cabinet ministers, scaring people off who were rumoured to be running for the leadership."

The erosion of the long-standing tradition of New Brunswick voters always giving governments a second term could also be factoring into the decision of some high-profile candidates to step forward.

Shawn Graham was the first premier to be ousted after a single term in more than a century. But Alward met the same fate in 2014.

It no longer seems to be the case that experienced politicians take a pass at a leadership bid shortly after an electoral defeat, according to the UNB political scientist.

"I think it speaks to the assumption that then next election will very competitive," Lewis said.

About the Author

Daniel McHardie

Digital senior producer

Daniel McHardie is the digital senior producer for CBC New Brunswick. He joined CBC.ca in 2008. He also co-hosts the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton