A Fredericton-born tech entrepreneur who has spent much of her life in Ontario has been acclaimed leader of the New Brunswick NDP.
The party announced Jennifer McKenzie, a former chair of Ottawa’s public school board and one-time vice-president of tech manufacturer Instantel Inc., as its new leader Thursday.
McKenzie launched her candidacy for the leadership in April; no other candidates came forward before nominations closed on Tuesday.
She replaces Dominic Cardy, who resigned New Years Day after blaming party infighting and who now works for the Progressive Conservatives.
The party has no seats in the provincial legislature, with an election coming next fall.
McKenzie, who turns 55 next week, is an engineer who worked in Ontario before returning to the province.
She said in an interview she enjoyed working at small firms and helping them grow.x
“I got very used to being the only woman in the room … and learning how to be successful in that environment,” McKenzie said.
She said it doesn’t feel like an uphill battle for the NDP, saying the base has been “flocking back” to the party since Cardy left.
“We’re going back to our roots and who we are, based on the founding principles that Tommy Douglas brought to the party, but we’re taking those into the future.”
Maddy Hogan, a student at the University of New Brunswick and an NDP card-carrying member, said when Cardy was leading, it left a disconnect for youth.
“It felt like a lot of the time, we were working in opposition with our own leader and our own executive,” Hogan said. “But I feel like now with a leader who’s more willing and open to listen and co-operate with the youth, things are going to be a lot different and I’m really looking forward to it.”
The NDP failed to win a seat under Cardy, but won 13 per cent of the popular vote — its best showing in the province to date.
McKenzie said she has her eye on several potential seats but hasn’t yet decided where she will run.
She finished third when she ran for the New Democrats in New Brunswick’s Fundy-Royal riding in the 2015 federal election, and also made a failed bid as an NDP candidate in Ontario’s 2014 provincial election while she was living in Ottawa.
Michel Bouchard, New Brunswick NDP Party president, said he’s “really glad” to have McKenzie on the team.
“I think with the new team with Jennifer, the people will realize that we are a party, and people are going to have a choice next election, and hopefully, then they will come on board,” Bouchard said.
McKenzie, who has three adult children, lives in a house purchased in St. Martin, N.B., a decade ago.
She likened her time governing the Ottawa school board to “an organization of similar size to New Brunswick’s Ministry of Education.”
“My time away I gained experience and knowledge and ability; I never lost my connection to New Brunswick,” she said.
“My heart has always been here and my family has always been here and this is my province.”
—With files from Adrienne South, Global News