New Brunswick Liberal Leader Susan Holt says she hopes to run in a Bathurst-area byelection.
Bathurst East-Nepisiguit-Saint Isidore is currently represented by Dennis Landry, the longest-serving sitting Liberal MLA, who will be acclaimed as the mayor of the new municipality of Haute-Terres.
The Bathurst-area riding was one of three potential byelection options for Holt, who took over the leadership in August. Roger Melanson, who served as interim leader of the party before Holt took over, resigned his Dieppe seat last month and former Speaker Daniel Guitard said he may resign his seat as well, pending his mayoral run in Belle-Baie.
Holt said she opted for the Bathurst seat after spending a lot of time in the area during her leadership campaign.
“It’s a bit of a microcosm of New Brunswick,” she said.
“You have the Pabineau First Nation, francophones and anglophones and newcomers and everyone is really unified and collaborative…. It’s a really great mix of all these different parts of New Brunswick all mixed up in one riding.”
Bathurst East-Nepisiguit-Saint Isidore is a large, rural, predominantly francophone riding. Holt is a bilingual anglophone who lives in Fredericton, about three hours away. The challenge of representing the riding is top of mind as she prepares to run.
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“I’m deeply concerned with being a great representative for the people of Bathurst East-Nepisiguit-Saint Isidore,” she said.
“That means I’m going to be here a lot and going to be working really hard and getting to know them and their needs and their priorities and their issues in every corner of this large riding. It’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of time spent here to do these wonderful people justice.”
The Liberals have been without a permanent leader in the legislature since Brian Gallant resigned in the fall of 2018, after being unable to secure another mandate, with Blaine Higgs forming a minority government with the support of the People’s Alliance.
The last permanent leader was Kevin Vickers, who never won a seat in the assembly. He resigned on election night in 2020 after being unable to win his own seat in Miramichi as Higgs secured a comfortable majority government.
Having a leader inside the legislature is an important step for the party as it looks to put together a better result in the next scheduled election in 2024, says JP Lewis, a professor of political science at the University of New Brunswick.
“While we know leaders can make an impression and work on their brand and get communications out outside of the legislative setting, I think it’s important to be there to be seen as the leader in the legislature and be seen as the leader of the caucus,” he said.
“I think after years of not a clear alternative to Blaine Higgs it is a major deal for the Liberals to have a leader and have that new leader in a seat to get in the front and centre of voters’ minds.”
Higgs must call a byelection for a vacant seat within six months, but due to a loophole in the law, there are no restrictions on when the voting date is set. The premier has previously said he wouldn’t delay calling byelections for the seats, but admitted they would likely have to take place in the new year.
The Liberal contest in Bathurst East-Nepisiguit-Saint Isidore will be an open nomination, meaning another candidate could decide to challenge Holt for the party’s nomination.