New Brunswick·Profile

Tight race, big base: A look at Oromocto-Lincoln-Fredericton

Retired army colonel, realtor, software developer, police officer and graphic designer in the running to represent riding held for five terms by PC MLA Jody Carr.

Riding encompasses rural communities, a First Nation, a thriving capital city and a military base

The tourism office at the entrance to the town of Oromocto. Base Gagetown is one of the largest employers in the province, with about 7,500 military and civilian workers who make up a large proportion of the electorate in Oromocto-Lincoln-Fredericton. (Julia Wright / CBC)

What do a military base, a Maliseet First Nation, the provincial capital and unincorporated rural communities have in common?

They're all part of the fabric of Oromocto-Lincoln-Fredericton, a riding that encompasses gorgeous views of the St. John and Oromocto Rivers, a sprawling PMQ patch for military housing, residential suburbs and the rolling fields and forests around the Fredericton International Airport.

Solidiers participating in training exercises at Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown in 2015. It’s the largest military facility in eastern Canada. (CBC)

Many of the approximately 11,434 voters in the riding have ties to the 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown.

The base, which is located in the town of Oromocto, is the largest military facility in eastern Canada with about 7,500 military and civilian workers.

The riding also includes about 300 members of the Oromocto First Nation, located on the eastern limits of town and the small community of Lincoln, which has a population of more than 2,500. The riding also consists of a significant portion of the city of Fredericton.

Tory MLA Jody Carr announced in January he was leaving politics to pursue a degree in law. Now, he and his brother, New Maryland-Sunbury West MLA Jeff Carr, are backing the candidacy of Mary Wilson, a realtor and former district manager of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. (CBC)

Running for the two leading parties: Realtor Mary Wilson for the Progressive Conservatives and John Fife, a retired army colonel for the Liberals.

The People's Alliance is fielding Craig Rector, a retired RCMP officer and heavy equipment operator. Meanwhile, the Green Party is fielding retired software developer Tom McLean.

A fifth candidate — freelance graphic designer Justin Young, running for the New Democrats — could not be reached for comment.

No matter who voters elect on Sept. 24, it's going to be a change. In January, outgoing PC MLA Jody Carr, announced his plan to leave politics and pursue a career in law. He entered politics back in 1999 at the age of 23. 

Now, he and his brother, New Maryland-Sunbury West MLA Jeff Carr, are helping to steer the campaign of Tory candidate Mary E. Wilson.

Wilson grew up in Oromocto in a military family, and has worked as a realtor and district manager with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business — a role in which she had "more than 12,000 meetings one-on-one with locally-owned, independent small business owners."

Tory candidate Mary E. Wilson grew up in a military family in Oromocto. (Julia Wright / CBC)

She received the Tory nomination in May in the stead of former MP and MLA Keith Ashfield, who died unexpectedly in April, one month after announcing his intention to run in the riding.

Wilson said she greatly admired Ashfield — and shares his commitment to working on behalf of small businesses.

"I know what small business owners need to survive, to start a business, to hire employees, maintain employees," Wilson said.

"What they don't need is government sticking their face in their business."

Wilson received the Tory nomination after the unexpected passing of former MP and MLA Keith Ashfield, who had announced plans to run in the riding. ((Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press))

Wilson said PC Leader Blaine Higgs' commitment to start reducing the non-residential provincial property tax rate will benefit military families, "who get posted in and posted out, and … if they don't sell their home before they go, all of a sudden their property tax doubles."

"They just can't absorb it."

She hopes voters will "look at the issues that both [leading] parties are putting on the table."

"Are we concerned about the debt that we have in this province — I believe over $14 billion, with $700 million a year in interest alone? This party has made it clear we are not going to have any new taxes in this province.

"We have enough revenue to run this province, it's just not being allocated properly."

Former senior commander

Despite entrenched PC support in the riding, Wilson will face tough competition from Liberal candidate John Fife.

Fife, 54, is well-known in Oromocto as a 27-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces who commanded New Brunswick's only Regular Force Infantry Battalion (2nd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment.) As an infantry officer, he served in the United Kingdom, Afghanistan, Cyprus, Bosnia, West Africa, including Sierra Leone.

Liberal candidate John Fife, who said his 27-year career as a senior commander and strategic planner in the Canadian Armed Forces has equipped him to run in provincial politics. (Julia Wright / CBC)

Following his retirement from the military in 2015, he was recruited by the province of New Brunswick to develop a provincial strategy on emergency preparedness and resiliency.

Planning, Fife said, is "the skill set that I bring to the table."

"[In the military] I was developing plans that would be implemented over 10, 20, 25 years — and long-term planning is what is absolutely essential if we want to move our province forward."

Fife said military families, face unique hurdles in the community.

"One of the big challenges for military families posted to Base Gagetown is finding a family doctor," he said. "Often they're only here for three years, and during that three year timeframe it can take three or four years to get a doctor.'"

Other challenges — like spousal employment and childcare — also affect civilian families and families on Oromocto First Nation.

The view of the St. John River, from the sacred grounds of the Oromocto First Nation - where Liberal candidate John Fife said the issues facing families are the same as those people are facing in Fredericton, and on base. (Julia Wright / CBC)

"The issues aren't really that different," he said. "I respect that some people won't support me and I have no issues with that," he said. "If I'm successful, I'll represent all 11,000 people in this riding to the best of my capabilities."

His decision to run he said, is a continuation of the first phase of his career that focused on "service to my country."

"To me, this is a different type of service — ​service to New Brunswick, and service to the riding of Oromocto-Lincoln-Fredericton."

Plan for climate change response

Green Party candidate Tom McLean is the first to admit that funding and resources have been an issue for his campaign — but he hopes voters can look beyond that.

"My biggest passion is that we need to take action on climate change," said McLean, who joined the party five years ago after a career in software development.

Green Party candidate for Oromocto-Lincoln-Fredericton Tom McLean, said he hopes voters will look past his campaign's lack of resources, and vote instead for the party's stance on climate change action. (Submitted)

"In the context of climate change action, it is scary how big the crisis is. And it's more scary how little action we've taken up until now."

A greener economy, McLean said, would harness an untapped potential for job creation in the province. 

While he hasn't been able to mount as extensive a campaign as his opponents McLean wanted to make sure that everyone across New Brunswick had a chance to vote Green. 

"I would support and champion as much as we can the regulation of carbon emissions and the promotion of a green economy," he said.

Ending language duality

Craig Rector grew up in Oromocto and worked for 25 years with the Regina Police Service before retiring from policing in 2009. He and his family moved back home to Geary in 2012.  

Rector decided to run for the People's Alliance Party, he said, at the suggestion of a friend — and because he appreciated Leader Kris Austin's "common-sense approach to finances."

"You can't be spending more money than you're bringing in — you have to manage your money appropriately," Rector said.

"The People's Alliance is dealing with those kinds of issues, saying we have to get financially responsible — healthcare and other issues are all based on dollars."

The People's Alliance is fielding Craig Rector, a retired police officer and heavy equipment operator, who said he was drawn to the party's 'common-sense' approach to finances. (Submitted)

Rector was also drawn to the party's pledge to eliminate language duality in government services.

While he is "100 per cent in belief of bilingualism," he said, "when you start looking at all the other issues that have clouded it — people not being able to get employment, ambulances not being staffed, that starts impacting people's safety. There has to be a more commonsense approach to it."

The outcome on Sept. 24, he said, will come down to "whether the people in our constituency are willing to continue with the same style of voting … versus embracing the opportunity for a change."

Subscribe to our election newsletter

Get the latest election updates delivered right to your inbox with The 506er. Subscribe here.

About the Author

Julia Wright is a lifelong Saint Johner and the host of Information Morning Saint John. She has been with the CBC since 2016.