TORONTO – Though technical glitches suggest his win will be contested in the days to come, Liberal leader Brian Gallant is in the spotlight after he was declared winner in New Brunswick’s provincial election.
At 32 years old, Gallant stood out for his youth and the fact he was the only leader born in the province (Gallant has Acadian-Dutch roots). He’s also the only bachelor.
“During my political career in the last three years I’ve had two girlfriends,” he said. “Unfortunately it didn’t work out but they were two wonderful people. Certainly I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bit focused on my career right now.”
Gallant is set to become the youngest premier in Canada—but his experience dates back to fifth grade.
READ MORE: New Brunswick election results 2014
“I still remember saying, you know what? You have all the qualities of being a future premier here in New Brunswick,” remembers Principal Luc Michaud, who taught him during his school years in Shediac, N.B. “He said, ‘You really think so?’ I said, I’m going to predict that one of these days you’re going to be premier in New Brunswick.”
Gallant said he was lucky to have the support of people like Michaud, as well as hockey and tennis coaches, and his family. But, he said, he happened upon politics by accident.
“I actually became vice president of my Grade 5 class simply because nobody wanted the job,” he said.
“I loved it. I mean your job—just like what I’m supposed to be doing now—is you listen to people, you try and figure out solutions to problems, you try to lead people, you try to come up with innovative ideas to do things better.”
“So I enjoyed it, I stayed involved and I’d probably say the third part was around 18, 19 years old, I finally decided you know what? I think politics is the vehicle I want to use to be able to make a difference.”
Gallant graduated high school and studied law at l’Université de Moncton, then pursued a master’s degree at McGill University, where he was heavily involved in student politics.
WATCH: Learn more about Gallant, including how he won a Backstreet Boys impersonation contest
In 2006, when he was just 24 years old, Gallant ran against then-premier Bernard Lord (who was also young– just 33 — when he became premier in 1999). Gallant didn’t unseat Lord, but said he still considers it a wonderful experience.
“Obviously I would’ve liked to have won; second, I wanted to show that young people could make a difference; third I wanted the experience,” he explained. “I thought it would be a great way to learn and a great way to fully understand our system and how it works—and what are the good things? And what are some of the tougher things? So I think I accomplished most of those.”
A lawyer by trade, Gallant practiced corporate, commercial and immigration law in Moncton and Dieppe, according to his website. He won a by-election in Kent to become a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in April 2013, and was sworn in as leader of the official Opposition on April 30.
Gallant has promised to bring more than 1,700 jobs to the province, which has one of the worst employment records in Canada, by way of $900 million spent on infrastructure over six years. He’s also promising tax hikes for the richest one per cent of New Brunswickers and to rescind property tax breaks for businesses.
Gallant supports the proposed Energy East Pipeline and is encouraging more direct investment from energy companies. He’s said he would work to convince Alberta’s oil industry to create jobs in his province.
The Liberal platform also included grants to seniors to renovate their homes, free eye exams for four-year-olds and the creation of 6,000 daycare spaces at a cost of $120 million over five years. Gallant also promised to help offset the cost of infertility treatments and adoption expenses by introducing tax credits.
Gallant had to address some controversy in September when Moncton residents received graphic anti-abortion pamphlets that included an image of his smiling face alongside a bloodied fetus. The post card featured a message reading: “A vote for Brian Gallant and the Liberals is a vote for this.” A spokesperson for the group who distributed the pamphlets reportedly said it targeted Gallant because it was afraid his election as premier would mean taxpayer-funded abortions in the province.
When it comes to education, Gallant promised to focus on improving literacy, reducing bullying and ensuring students are exposed to the trades in a 10-year plan to improve education that would involve input from other political parties, teachers, parents and students.
He also plans to introduce a youth employment fund to try to stop the flow of young people from the East to the West, with six-month placements including training and work experience for unemployed people ages 18-29. He has said the program is modeled after a similar fund in Ontario, and would give young people the skills needed to find full-time jobs in New Brunswick.
Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau issued a statement Tuesday morning congratulating Gallant and praising his focus on jobs and the economy.
“I look forward to working closely with Brian as we build a stronger New Brunswick with investment in infrastructure, education, and trade. I am confident that he will be a strong advocate for middle class growth and economic prosperity in the province,” said Trudeau in the statement.
With files from Laura Brown and The Canadian Press
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