New Brunswick

New Brunswick Liberals set to choose new party leader

It’s decision day for New Brunswick Liberals as the final votes are cast and counted for the party’s new leader.

Members using weighted, ranked balloting to choose leadership winner

In 2012, the last time the New Brunswick 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)

It's decision day for New Brunswick Liberals as the final votes are cast and counted for the party's new leader.

Members have been voting remotely all week, but several hundred Liberals are expected to gather at an in-person convention in Fredericton, where the four candidates will speak and the results will be announced.

Members can also vote at the convention. Balloting will end at 2 p.m. and the party will announce first-round results around 2:15 p.m. 

Former cabinet minister Donald Arseneault, current MLA Robert Gauvin, former MP T.J. Harvey and former adviser to the Brian Gallant government Susan Holt are on the ballot.

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

Leadership candidate Donald Arseneault used to be the MLA for Campbellton—Dalhousie. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

It's a decisive moment for the Liberals, who have failed to win a majority of seats for two consecutive elections.

And the race may produce some surprises.

The Liberals are using a preferential ballot system, which means members voting over the past week have ranked their first, second, third and fourth choices for leader.

If no one wins a majority on the first count, the last-place candidate is dropped, and the second choices on their ballots are redistributed to the other candidates.

MLA Keith Chiasson, who is supporting T.J. Harvey, says members' second choices for leader are also important. (Jacques Poitras/CBC News)

If that second tally still doesn't produce a winner with more than 50 per cent support, the candidate in third place is dropped and their second-choice votes are assigned to the remaining two candidates.

The system has existed since the 2012 Liberal leadership race, but this is the first time it is expected to be a factor in the outcome. 

It has prompted the four campaigns to hustle to be the second or even third choice of many party members.

This week, volunteers have been contacting their candidates' supporters to remind them to vote. But they've also been contacting people who said their candidate was their second choice. 

MLA Robert Gauvin, a former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister, is one of four candidates for the Liberal leadership. (Héloïse Bargain/Radio-Canada)

"Their vote is also very important," said Liberal MLA Keith Chiasson, a Harvey supporter.

The Tracadie MLA said the system has led to some confusion among some members.

"Obviously, we've been courting them from the beginning to encourage one candidate, and now all of a sudden they're faced with the fact they've got to rank them from one to four, so we've had some explaining to do."

Adding to the complexity, the Liberals are also using weighted voting, which is designed to give all 49 ridings in the province an equal say, regardless of the number of party members registered there.

Each riding is worth 100 points, so 4,900 points are up for grabs. The winner needs 2,451.

T.J. Harvey, the MP for Tobique—Mactaquac from 2015 to 2019, is running for leader of the provinial party. (Submitted)

It means ridings with fewer Liberal members are more lucrative for candidates on a per-voter basis.

For example, there are only 75 party members signed up to vote in Riverview, so a candidate that wins the support of 60 of them would get 80 points.

But 60 Liberal votes in Caraquet would yield only 13 points, because the party has 446 party members there. In that riding, a candidate would need 357 votes to get 80 points.

Chiasson said the merit of the system is that the candidates are forced to seek support across the province, not just in party strongholds where there are large numbers of Liberals.

Susan Holt, who was an adviser to former premier Brian Gallant, now wants to be leader herself. (Jacques Poitras/ CBC)

"Instead of focusing on one region of the province and getting as many Liberals in that region to vote, I think it encourages them to tour the province and engage with as many Liberals as they can," he said.

"It's a good preparation for the next step, which is the general election. If you've toured the province, if you engage with Liberals from up north, down south, east and west, it's kind of like a foundation for the next process or the next step, which is the general election."

The next provincial election is scheduled for Oct. 21, 2024.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.

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