While most Liberals are currently tied up with the federal, Ontario, and Quebec Liberal leadership races, the race that has actually been going on officially is coming to a close today in Moncton, with three Liberals - all of them currently unelected - vying for the top spot to become New Brunswick's next Leader of the Official Opposition.
Nick Duivenvoorden, Brian Gallant, and Mike Murphy are the three candidates, though only Gallant and Murphy seemed to have attracted significant support from party big-wigs, with seven of thirteen currently-sitting Liberal MNAs supporting Gallant, compared to three for Murphy and one for Duivenvoorden. Gallant also has the support of Dominic LeBlanc (only sitting federal Liberal MP, important given that the federal party is connected with the provincial party), and former Saint John MP Paul Zed. Murphy has the support of Brian Murphy, former Moncton MP (I'm not sure if they're related or not).
Its safe to say that while there is support behind Murphy, most of New Brunswick's Liberal establishment seems to be behind Gallant. But this isn't a delegated convention, folks - as this clever Tory MLA figured out. Indeed, this will be a One-Member-One-Vote preferential ballot. It'll be interesting to see how many of the expected 18,000 people signed up actually decide to vote. My guess - about 10,000, on a good day, will do so. But I don't know how much news this has generated, so I could be severely off target either way.
But the next NB Liberal Leader will have their work cut out for them. They're not down in the polls right now, but nor are they up - the last poll had them at 32%, compared to 38% for the governing PCs and 24% for the NDP. None of these candidates have a seat, either, which will require one of the incumbent MLAs to resign - possibly Shawn Graham, the former Premier and current MLA for Kent, a fairly safe riding for the Liberals. Still, a surging NDP can upstage a stagnant Liberal Party. Or a good PC candidate can make a fight out of a by-election. Its a risk either way.
But I'm sure every one of these three candidates has what it takes to run that risk and turn it into great rewards for the Liberals in New Brunswick. I liked Shawn Graham's government for the most part, but it definitely fell flat near the end, especially on the NB Power deal.. Voters said to the Liberals that they needed a change, and went with flaky David Alward, who has yet to keep any of his promises. Its up to the next Liberal Leader to offer New Brunswickers a new kind of strong leadership in the face of David Alward's fumbling government and Dominic Cardy's irrelevant party.