New Brunswick

Liberal leader's bid for first seat is not a sure thing in Miramichi

It could be a tight race in Miramichi on Monday between Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers, seeking his first seat in the New Brunswick legislature, and Michelle Conroy of the People's Alliance, who has represented the riding for two years.

Michelle Conroy of PA fits populist mould Miramichi voters might like, says political scientist

Since being elected in 2018, Michelle Conroy has worked with grassroots groups to tackle problems in her community. Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers returned home to Miramichi after a successful career with the RCMP. (Jacques Poitras/Maria Burgos/CBC)

It could be a tight race in Miramichi on Monday between Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers, seeking his first seat in the New Brunswick legislature, and Michelle Conroy of the People's Alliance, who has represented the riding for two years.

"She's personable, approachable with the kind of personality that is empathetic," Geoff Martin, who teaches political science at Mount Allison University, said of Conroy.

Martin grew up in Miramichi and believes Conroy's hands-on approach combined with the fact that she knows the people in her community and is comfortable talking to everyone are qualities that are "highly valued" by voters.

Political scientist Geoff Martin, who was raised in Miramichi, said Conroy's close connections and ease with people in the riding will be difficult for Vickers to compete with. (CBC)

Conroy also fits the mould of a populist politician that goes over well with people in Miramichi, where 10,038 people are eligible to vote in the provincial election on Monday.

Martin wonders whether voters may have a different perception of Vickers.

'I'm all about community'

Over the past two years, Conroy said, she has worked to help make improvements in the riding.

She has done everything from helping to keep the community clean by picking up garbage in ditches, to organizing students to shovel sidewalks and driveways for seniors during snow storms. 

"I'm all about community." Conroy said.

Conroy is working with Harvest House Atlantic to set up an addiction recovery and long-term rehabilitation centre in Miramichi. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Vickers has spent much of his adult life outside New Brunswick.

He returned to Miramichi after a successful career that started with the RCMP. He garnered national attention when, as the sergeant-at-arms at the House of Commons, he shot a gunman that had stormed Parliament Hill. He then served  as the Canadian ambassador to Ireland. 

Martin said that despite those accomplishments, Vickers is not entrenched in the community, which makes this race more difficult for him to win.

Vickers, who has never held political office, has promised to keep hospitals and emergency rooms open in rural communities. (Maria Burgos/CBC)

"There's a sense of him being not as charismatic, perhaps a little bit aloof — not as much having the common touch."

It's that dichotomy between Conroy and Vickers that have political pundits watching this riding closely. 

"It certainly is an interesting race, and I think it's a race where the larger provincial issues come into play," said Martin.

Election issues in Miramichi 

The riding of Miramichi was created in 2013. It falls within the Miramichi city limits and includes the former communities of Newcastle and Chatham. 

It is an area that needs an economic boost.

The riding of Miamichi includes the former communities of Chatham and Newcastle. (Elections New Brunswick)

"Jobs. We need jobs in the Miramichi," said Wayne Bushey, president of the Miramichi Chamber of Commerce. "And affordable housing."

The refurbishment of Centennial Bridge is another key issue in the riding. The bridge is the primary link between northern and southern New Brunswick on the eastern side of the province. Delays and the cancellation of key contracts mean there is no longer a completion date for the project that was started in 2015.

The community has also seen a sharp increase in the number of people struggling with drug addictions. The use of crystal methamphetamine is on the rise.

"We have such a huge drug problem here in this riding," said NDP candidate Eileen Clancy Teslenko. 

PC candidate, Charles Barry, also sees this as a major issue in the riding.

"Get the poison off the streets, because it's affecting our youth. It's destroying lives. It's destroying families."

Political scientist Geoff Martin said it's possible PC candidate Charles Barry will take some votes away from Michelle Conroy if people believe the PCs will form a majority government. (Charles Barry/FaceBook)

Vickers and Conroy have different ideas about what will solve the problem, and their approaches offer some insight into their differing styles of politics.

Vickers said he would put together a provincial strategy that's based on prevention, detection and -recovery.

His is a long-term approach, similar to a national strategy he wrote during his career, to combat the sexual exploitation of children on the internet.

Vickers said Canada is now seen as a leader by police forces around the world as a result of that national strategy.

"So it's with that background and that knowledge that I would tackle this issue of crystal methamphetamine." 

Conroy takes a much more hands-on approach to the rise in drug use, and said her eyes were opened to the problem when she was helping displaced residents after two apartment buildings had to be vacated.

"I got to meet a lot of people and see the drug culture on a different level," she said.

That experience led her to start working with Harvest House Atlantic to set up an addiction recovery and long-term rehabilitation program in Miramichi.

Conroy said the project is well underway and details are being finalized so the recovery centre can open.

No guarantees

Geoff Martin says Conroy's practical, grassroots style of politics will make this a tough race for Vickers to win.

"There's no guarantee he can win the seat," he says. "This is not a safe seat for him."

There's no doubt that Michelle Conroy and the PC party candidate, Charles Barry, are to some degree going after the same voting pool there.- Geoff Martin

Martin said what might work in Vickers's favour is vote splitting.

"There's no doubt that Michelle Conroy and the PC party candidate, Charles Barry, are to some degree going after the same voting pool there."

The other candidates on the ballot for Miramichi are Joshua Shaddick with the Green Party and Independent candidate Tristan Sutherland.

Martin thinks voters who supported the People's Alliance in 2018, may vote for the PCs this time if there is a perception the party could win the election.

When asked to predict a winner, Martin said, "I have no idea, to be honest.

"I think it would be pure speculation. I'm reluctant to say, because I'm almost sure I'm going to be wrong." 

About the Author

Maeve McFadden

CBC New Brunswick

Maeve McFadden is a producer with Information Morning Moncton. maeve.mcfadden@cbc.ca

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