Blaine Higgs, Mike Allen ponder Tory leadership bids
Progressive Conservative MLAs Ted Flemming and Jake Stewart are still considering possible leadership runs
Two high-profile Tories say they are inching closer to jumping into the race to lead the Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick.
Former finance minister Blaine Higgs and former federal MP Mike Allen both say they are leaning in favour of becoming candidates in the leadership contest, which will culminate with a vote in October.
- Brian Macdonald launches Progressive Conservative leadership bid
- Monica Barley won't enter PC leadership race
- Ex-Conservative MP Mike Allen considers provincial leadership run
"I've been encouraged by the level of support I've received," Higgs, the MLA for Quispamsis, told CBC News.
Fredericton West-Hanwell PC MLA Brian Macdonald is the only candidate to officially launch a campaign.
But Higgs is already talking about "when," not "if," he will do the same.
"When I do that, I will be having an official press release and we'll have an event in the riding of Quispam," he said. "It'll be a very formal affair, formal in the sense of a very official affair."
Higgs showed his hand at a recent PC party fundraiser in Moncton, where several potential candidates spoke to party members.
Many Tories came away from the event convinced he is in the race.
The second-term MLA, who developed a reputation for candid talk about the political pressures on governments to spend more money, says he wants to continue sounding out party members before making things official.
"You need to understand the province and be in a position that when you hit the ground, you hit the ground running in a knowledgeable way," he said. "It's more than just saying `Here I am, I'm running.'"
"The time to fish or cut bait is coming pretty soon," he told CBC News.
Another well-known potential candidate, who is keeping mum on his plans, is Saint John Mayor Mel Norton, who is not running for a new term in municipal elections in May.
Norton was spotted in Moncton recently, meeting with former PC cabinet minister Claude Williams.
Norton told CBC News earlier this week it was a private meeting and wouldn't say what they discussed.
Norton's executive assistant at City Hall, Chris Dever, was with him, but Norton said Dever was there on his own time.
"Mayor Norton's main focus is finishing out his term as Mayor," Dever said Wednesday when CBC asked for an interview with the mayor. "If a time comes that he has something to announce re: PC leadership he will be sure to let you know."
Stewart, Flemming still considering
PC MLA Jake Stewart turned down an interview request but said he's still thinking about running for leader.
"I'm giving myself until May to determine if I'm in or out," he said via a Twitter message.
PC MLA Ted Flemming also said he wasn't ready to comment.
In January he said he was talking to party members about whether he should run.
Higgs was re-elected to a second term as MLA for Quispamsis in the 2014 election.
Allen, the former MP for Tobique-Mactaquac did not re-offer in last year's federal election, which saw Liberal candidates sweep all 10 of New Brunswick's federal ridings.
He said he doesn't see that repudiation of the Harper government as a strike against his leadership chances.
As a backbencher, "I was never in the inner circle," he said.
Allen said "a lot of people grew tired of the style" of the Harper government, which he said saw decision-making centralized at the top.
Allen says he's committed to making sure that wouldn't happen in any government he ran.
Dual school bus issue part of race
Both Higgs and Allen say they don't like the practice of dual school bus systems for the province's English and French schools, a language controversy that has bedevilled the PCs in the last year.
While the party officially supports the existing dual system, several MLAs have questioned it.
"Personally, I don't know why we segregate our kids," Higgs said, and he criticized the Liberals for "an absence of direction" on the issue by sending it to the New Brunswick Court of Appeal for a constitutional ruling.
But he said if he leads the PCs to power, "we'll abide by the court decision."
Allen says the dual busing "lacks common sense" because kids who take separate buses to separate schools often play on the same hockey teams and share buses to tournaments.
"We have to reflect some of those common sense principles," he said.
Allen says if he announces for the leadership in April, he will elaborate on how he'd approach the issue.
"I'm going to be very clear about what I think we should be looking at, some principles, and I'm going to make sure that I stand on those principles," he said. "I'm going to make it very clear to people that if you vote for Mike Allen, this is what you're going to get."