New Brunswick

Kevin Vickers set to be acclaimed as New Brunswick Liberal leader as only opponent bows out

Former House of Commons sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers looks set to be acclaimed the new leader of the New Brunswick Liberal Party.

René Ephestion was the only other candidate to file paperwork before the party's March 29 deadline

Kevin Vickers announced March 15 in Miramichi that he is running for the New Brunswick Liberal leadership. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Former House of Commons sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers looks set to be acclaimed the new leader of the New Brunswick Liberal Party.

René Ephestion, the only other candidate seeking to enter the race, declared in a Facebook post on Monday that he was out of the race.

"I wish Mr. Vickers good luck!" Ephestion said in the post.

Vickers, a Miramichi native, announced his candidacy March 15.

He and Ephestion were the only candidates to file paperwork before the party's March 29 deadline.

What's next?

"Kevin is aware that René has withdrawn from the race and is thankful for the well wishes expressed online," Vickers' campaign spokesperson Drew Cameron said in an email.

"Although discussions with [the New Brunswick Liberal Association] regarding next steps will inevitably take place in the coming days, Kevin will continue to focus on connecting with grassroots Liberals across the province."

Cameron would not make Vickers available for an interview Tuesday.

Nathan Davis, a spokesperson for Ephestion's campaign, said Ephestion made the decision Monday morning after "someone counselled him that he might consider withdrawing from the race."

He added, "it ultimately was his decision to voluntarily withdraw from the race."

Davis would not say whether Ephestion had been disqualified by a party "green light" committee established to vet potential candidates.

Meanwhile, Liberal Party officials refused to discuss the prospects of a race featuring only one candidate.

Liberal MLA Jean-Claude d'Amours, a member of the leadership race steering committee, said the group would meet in the coming days to discuss "the next steps" and what to recommend to the party's board.

"I don't think things will change," he added. "We are in a leadership convention mode."

The party had scheduled a June 22 leadership vote.

D'Amours refused to discuss how many candidates are in the race, calling it "a confidential process" even as he acknowledged that "everyone can see" Ephestion's Facebook post.

René Ephestion, a citizen of France who moved to Canada in 2015, passed his citizenship test on April 4 and is scheduled to become a Canadian citizen at a ceremony April 17. (René Ephestion Facebook page )

The Liberals won the popular vote in the last election by a wide margin over the PCs, but the Tories ended up with one more seat and took power after the Gallant government lost a confidence vote in the legislature.

Political scientist J.P. Lewis of the University of New Brunswick Saint John said that because it wouldn't take much of a shift for the Liberals to win back power, he was surprised no former cabinet ministers or other high-profile party members were willing to seek the leadership.

"It's not like the next leader of the Liberal Party is that far away from being premier," he said.

Easy victory could hurt

Lewis said Vickers's easy path to victory could end up hurting him when he faces Progressive Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs in the next provincial election.

A leadership race would have allowed Vickers to learn the ropes of campaigning.

"You could have got in a lot of hours doing media work, leadership debates, meeting potential supporters, things like that," Lewis said.

That's especially urgent because with a PC minority government, an election could happen at any time.

"It's not like we know for sure he'd have three and a half years of being an opposition leader to hone some of those retail political skills," Lewis said.

Vickers addressed that the day he announced, telling reporters that his nine years as sergeant-at-arms had given him a lot of insight.

"I've always enjoyed being around the political process, especially in the chamber in the House of Commons during question period. It really was enlightening as to where the parties stood on the various different issues."

He also said that dealing with an all-party committee of MPs on security issues on the hill taught him about "working things out and finding a way forward together."

Citizenship not a factor

Ephestion had been facing potential disqualification from the race because he is not a Canadian citizen, which is required for leadership candidates.

Davis said Ephestion passed a citizenship test "with a perfect score" on April 4 and will become a citizen at a ceremony April 17.

He said Ephestion's citizenship wasn't a factor in his decision to withdraw.


Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.


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