Ex-Tory seeking N.B. Liberal nod after ‘very’ conservative takeover of Higgs’s party

John Herron, a former Progressive Conservative member of Parliament is now considering running on the Liberal ticket to take on an activist and Christian TV host who galvanized supporters by focusing on New Brunswick's policy on gender identity in schools. Herron, shown in this undated handout photo, said he was urged to seek the Liberal ticket for Hampton-Fundy-St. Martins by a "broad and unlikely" coalition including the "biggest chunk" of Progressive Conservative riding associations. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

A former two-term Progressive Conservative member of Parliament is seeking the New Brunswick Liberal party nomination to take on a Christian television host who he says is pushing the province’s Tories to the fringes of right-wing politics.

John Herron said he was urged to seek the Liberal ticket for Hampton-Fundy-St. Martins by a “broad and unlikely” coalition, including the “biggest chunk” of New Brunswick Progressive Conservative riding associations.

If nominated for the Liberal party, he would go up against Progressive Conservative candidate Faytene Grasseschi, whose Christian views he said have caused “considerable angst” among Tories.

Grasseschi, he said, reflects the “very” conservative takeover of the Progressive Conservative party of Premier Blaine Higgs.

“I think among my Tory friends in Hampton-Fundy-St. Martins, there is a concern that there has been an excessive shift to the right — to a party that’s far more conservative, that’s based more on ideology than ideas,” Herron said.

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“And it is quite conceivable that if the coalition of support that I think is building in Hampton-Fundy-St. Martins, around our candidacy, our coalition, that the conservative nominee may end up essentially being positioned as a mere fringe candidate.”

Grasseschi, who did not agree to an interview, was acclaimed in December as the Tory candidate in the riding, galvanizing supporters by focusing her campaign on the Higgs government’s changes to province’s policy on gender identity in schools. That policy requires students under 16 to get parental consent before their teachers can use their preferred names and pronouns. LGBTQ advocates have called the policy discriminatory, while Higgs and his supporters say it protects the rights of parents.

The gender identity rule sparked a revolt in Higgs’s caucus and the resignation of several ministers, but the policy is what drew Grasseschi to run for the party. Grasseschi’s Christian television show airs on nine networks and she is the author of several books, including “Marked,” in which she discusses that gay marriage could lead to humans marrying dogs. Several videos posted on YouTube show her using her faith to heal people, speaking in tongues and purportedly bringing a person back to life.

Despite Herron’s conservative past, he isn’t a stranger to the Liberals. He was elected twice in the New Brunswick riding of Fundy—Royal as a Progressive Conservative member of Parliament, in 1997 and 2000, but sat as an Independent in 2003 following the party’s merger with the Canadian Alliance to form the Conservative Party of Canada. He ran as a federal Liberal in the riding in 2004 and lost.

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Herron, president of the New Brunswick Business Council, said he feels “compelled” to re-enter politics after two decades, adding that his campaign will focus on increasing growth, paying down debt, and reinvesting in businesses.

The next step for Herron is the nomination process, which he said would likely be in May.

And it’s not just former Tories who are concerned with the direction conservatism is taking in the province, and elsewhere on the continent. Dorothy Shephard, who resigned in June as social development minister in Higgs’s cabinet over the changes to Policy 713, said conservatism in North America is being “hijacked” and pushed toward the “far right.”

“I’m worried about far-right politics, period. I think that those of us who care — and there are so many — really need to make sure that our voices don’t leave the party, and that we continue to own our party,” she said in a recent interview.

Shephard suggested that it was a good thing that someone like Herron — with a Progressive Conservative pedigree — is seeking the nomination, even though he is running with the Liberals. “So never do I like to hear of losing someone to another colour, but at the same time I can respect the fact that someone could be trying to influence a path back to the centre.”

Higgs last week dismissed the idea that the Progressive Conservative party was taking a rightward shift. The changes to the policy on gender identity in schools is about protecting the rights of parents, he said.

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“I guess we maybe all have different interpretations of what ‘to the right’ means,” he said. “I mean, if having parents involved in raising their kids and making sure that’s an accepted practice, is to the right, and maybe we kind of have to evaluate society.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2024.

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