New Brunswick

Susan Holt elected New Brunswick Liberal leader

Members of the New Brunswick Liberal Party elected a new leader Saturday. Susan Holt won with 51.67 per cent of the vote. She is the first woman to be elected to the position.

Holt is 1st woman to win the N.B. Liberal leadership

Susan Holt is the first woman to win the leadership of the New Brunswick Liberal Party. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

In a historic victory Saturday, Susan Holt has been chosen as the new leader of the New Brunswick Liberal Party.

She is the first woman to win the party's leadership in the province. 

She won on the third ballot with 51.67 per cent of the vote. Former Liberal MP T.J. Harvey was the runner-up.

Holt will lead the party into the next election against the governing Progressive Conservatives now led by Premier Blaine Higgs.

The former business leader and one-time adviser to former premier Brian Gallant pitched herself as someone who would bring a fresh approach to politics, a theme she repeated in her victory speech.

"The people of New Brunswick have told us they are tired of politics as usual. They are tired of the conflict and the fighting. They are tired of partisanship," she said.

"They want to see something different. We can be the party that leads a change for a new politics in New Brunswick that is transparent, authentic, empathetic and collaborative." 

In part, Holt's victory was based on being the second or third choice of two of the other candidates.

The party used preferential balloting, meaning members voting over the past week ranked their first, second, third and fourth choices for leader. In order for a winner to be decided, a candidate needed 50 per cent of the vote.

Holt is embraced by former deputy premier Aldéa Landry after winning the leadership. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Former cabinet minister Donald Arseneault and current MLA Robert Gauvin were the others on the ballot.

During the first round of balloting, Harvey had 33.9 per cent, Holt had 32.12 per cent, Gauvin had 19.76 per cent and Arseneault had 14.22 per cent of the points awarded in the party's weighted voting system.

Arseneault was dropped off the ballot and the votes were redistributed.

Harvey polled 39.58 per cent in the second vote while Holt had 36.76 per cent and Gauvin had 23.67 per cent. Gauvin fell off the ballot.

Holt said she had "a lot of conversations" with people who chose Gauvin or Arseneault first, but who were also interested in her as a potential leader.

Harvey non-commital

Harvey said despite his defeat, he was optimistic about Liberal prospects, though he wouldn't commit to being a candidate in the next election.

"Certainly it's not the outcome that we had hoped for," he said. "At the end of the day, we're all still a family and I think it's been really healthy for the party."

Harvey said his support over the first two rounds was around where his team thought it would be, but with two candidates eliminated at that point "it's really difficult to estimate where you think third-ballot support could go." 

University of Moncton political scientist Roger Ouellette said Holt's victory was a watershed moment for the Liberals.

Saint John MLA Shirley Dysart briefly led the party as interim leader in 1985 but Saturday's result is the first time party members have elected a woman to the role.

"Maybe we'll see after the next general election that we'll have another first with a female as premier," Ouellette said.