Last weekend was not only bad for Mel Norton, former Saint John mayor and Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick (PCNB) leadership contender, it was also bad for the PCNB party, who elected the wrong leader at the wrong time.
Blaine Higgs, a former MLA with a long financial background, won the election on Saturday, October 22, winning with 1563 votes on the 3rd and final ballot after a day of disorganization and delay.
Elections are won, in this day and age of party politics, by two means; having a platform that is optimistic and hopeful, and by having a presentable leader at the helm of a party wanting to gain a majority government.
While Higgs certainly has the former, he is certainly not the latter.
Higgs is 62, and while his experience certainly puts him in the forefront of financial and governmental know-how for the coming NB provincial election in 2018, his opponent is the young Brian Gallant, 34, currently the premier of NB and the leader of the Liberal Party in New Brunswick.
Unless Higgs can pull off a Reagan vs Mondale 1984 episode (when Reagan, 73 at the time, joked, “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience”), the youthfulness of Gallant will most likely give him an advantage with anyone under 40 in the electorate.
Generally speaking, Higgs’ experience is with numbers. As someone with a background in finance many people of the electorate may, rightly or wrongly, view Higgs as being more concerned with sharpening his pencil than with the toils and foibles of your average Joe.
This is where someone like Mel Norton would’ve been the more amiable choice for PCNB leader.
Mel is younger, and is a much more presentable leader. He is a man with great leadership skills and already a large political base to operate from in Saint John, where he was a successful and much respected mayor from 2012 to 2016.
His campaign skills are likewise credible: when he ran for mayor of Saint John back in 2012, his chief slogan was “Tell Mel.” He went around different parts of the city actually listening to people’s concerns and discussing those concerns with them.
This gave him a landslide victory of almost 76% and those campaigning skills would have been a major asset to the upcoming NB provincial election.
I’m afraid that, having elected a man who may appear to be unpresentable to the general public outside the PCNB caucus, that New Brunswick will have another four toilsome years of Gallant and his liberal government.