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With new leader selected, N.B. Liberals look to rebuild party

Click to play video: 'New N.B. Liberal leader looks to rebuild the party' New N.B. Liberal leader looks to rebuild the party
WATCH ABOVE: New Brunswicks' new Liberal leader Susan Holt is looking to rebuild the party's support in the south of the province, which will be crucial if they hope to form government in two years’ time. Silas Brown has more – Aug 7, 2022

As the confetti settles following Susan Holt’s winning leadership bid, the next leader of the New Brunswick Liberals will now look to rebuild the party ahead of the next scheduled election in 2024.

Holt narrowly edged runner-up TJ Harvey with 51.67 per cent of available points on the third and final ballot of the party’s ranked ballot system. She says her attention will now turn inwards as she looks to build the party apparatus to support her vision.

“I’m going to take a minute to focus on the party and to go out and really engage with all of the party volunteers and start the rebuild process with staff,” Holt told reporters following her win.

According to political scientist Jamie Gilles, much of that effort to rebuild will need to focus on gaining support in the southern part of the province.

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“They need to be building a larger coalition that goes beyond the majority Francophone ridings,” Gilles said. “It’s up to Susan Holt and her new leadership team to really start to think about how the Liberals expand that map, particularly in southern N.B., the capital region, upper river valley. They’ve got to find about 10 seats they can flip from the PCs or the Greens to win the next election. That’s a huge task.”

Read more: Susan Holt wins N.B. Liberal leadership, calling victory a ‘breath of fresh air’

In the 2020 election, the Liberals won 17 seats, mostly concentrated in the primarily Francophone areas in the north and southeast of the province. The party was shut out entirely of the Fredericton and Saint John areas, losing seats in both regions as Blaine Higgs’ Progressive Conservatives turned a precarious minority into a stable majority government.

Gilles says that party members clearly understand that the Liberals’ inability to win seats in the primarily Anglophone south in the last two elections is a trend that needs to be reversed should they wish to form government anytime soon, with the two Anglophone candidates competing on the final ballot.

Holt lives in Fredericton, while Harvey is the former MP for Tobique-Mactaquac and lives in Carleton County.

“I think there’s a lot of people in that party who sought a new way forward to get past that base support they have from Moncton to Campbellton,” Gilles said.

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Asked how she’ll look to build support outside of the party’s current base, Holt says she hopes to bring New Brunswickers into the policy process and find out what it is that matters most to them.

“I think it’s by connecting with people on the issues that matter to them and really giving them access to participate, giving them a meaningful role. For far too long, we’ve developed platforms in backrooms,” she said.

“We need to get out and have a really engaging conversation about what does our environmental policy look like, what health-care solutions are we promoting, what about electoral reform? Where do the people of N.B. stand on that question and do they want to come and be part of that conversation and really contribute to that vision we put forward to New Brunswickers.”

Throughout the party’s leadership race, Holt pitched herself as a fresh face who promised to do politics differently. But she’s no stranger to the political backrooms she wants to bring policy conversations out of. Holt served as a senior advisor to former premier Brian Gallant and ran for the party in 2018.

Read more: How the N.B. Liberals are slowly moving away from restrictive abortion rules

She also brings years of experience in the business world, having been the CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce and the New Brunswick Business Council.

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Gilles says that experience could give Holt a leg up as she takes her seat at the head of the party, already well versed in where power lies in the province and how it’s wielded.

That could help Holt compete effectively with current premier Blaine Higgs, who has built a political brand as a fiscally responsible and business-friendly leader.

“She’s combining a progressive message with a background as a business insider in the province,” Gilles said.

“Susan Holt knows everybody, as the chamber of commerce and business council CEO, I think that’s a tremendous advantage, and so she comes with this institutional memory and understanding of how the province really works.”

Holt is the second party leader in a row to take over the job without a seat in the legislature. Former leader Kevin Vickers never made it to the floor of the assembly, losing his own seat in the 2020 election.

Holt says she would like to have a seat before the next scheduled election in 2024 but would like to focus on building the party’s foundations for now, though two Liberal MLAs have already offered to step aside to allow her to run in a by-election.

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