Justin Trudeau and his Liberal team are using New Brunswick’s Sept. 22 election to test-drive their organization and potential policies for the federal campaign expected in the fall of 2015.
Both Mr. Trudeau and the 32-year-old provincial candidate for premier, Brian Gallant, are young, fluently bilingual and untested leaders, who are riding high in the public opinion polls and facing Conservative veterans seeking their second majority governments.
“There are so few election campaigns in this country, you don’t get a chance to try things out,” said a senior Trudeau strategist.
So tightly woven are the federal and provincial Liberal campaigns that some familiar faces are popping up in New Brunswick.
Former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin has offered to help Mr. Gallant set up a cost-cutting program review if the Liberals form the government. In the 1990s, Mr. Martin, then Finance Minister, used a program review to identify millions of dollars of savings, helping the government balance its budgets.
Mr. Martin’s former top aide, David Herle, is polling for the provincial Liberals as he did for the provincial Liberals in Nova Scotia and Ontario, both of which won majority governments. He is also a key adviser in the federal campaign.
Frank McKenna, the well-connected former Liberal premier of New Brunswick, is raising money for Mr. Gallant; Dominic LeBlanc, the veteran New Brunswick MP and close Trudeau confidant, is the co-chairman of Mr. Gallant’s campaign. Mr. Gallant’s riding is in Mr. LeBlanc’s federal riding and they are long-time political allies.
“Our campaign is going to focus massively on job creation, on things like infrastructure … infrastructure being an immediate way to provide economic stimulus,” said Mr. LeBlanc, noting that New Brunswick’s infrastructure is in poor shape.
Mr. Trudeau, who campaigned in New Brunswick with Mr. Gallant last weekend, is also promoting infrastructure as way to re-invigorate the nation’s economy.
As well, New Brunswick has the second oldest population in Canada – in 2011, it had the second highest percentage of people 65 and over, just slightly behind Nova Scotia – and the Trudeau Liberals will be looking at how the Grit vote holds up with seniors. Both Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Gallant are polling well among seniors, but “we’ll see what happens because I think the Tories will target the senior vote,” the Liberal strategist said.
The federal Liberals will examine, too, how effectively their provincial team runs its ground game and gets out the vote on election day, as well as what works when the first-time leader faces negative attacks. Progressive Conservatives in New Brunswick have adopted the same language that has been used against Mr. Trudeau to characterize Mr. Gallant – describing him as a leader who is “not worth the risk.”
David Alward, the Progressive Conservative leader who defeated the Liberals in 2010 to become premier, is focusing his campaign on creating jobs through natural-resource development, such as the development of shale gas.
Mr. Gallant and his team say there needs to be a moratorium on shale gas development to further study whether it is safe for New Brunswickers and the environment.
Jason Stephen, president of the New Brunswick Progressive Conservative Party and the co-chair of the campaign, says the Alward government took two years to come up with a policy that ensures shale gas development respects the environment.
“Quite honestly, it’s an opportunity that has to be seized now,” said Mr. Stephen. “I don’t think New Brunswick can chance this [waiting for more studies on the issue]. And it’s why I believe Mr. Gallant is not a leader and is not worth the risk because we are a crossroads now in New Brunswick.”
In their February budget, the PCs forecast a $391-million deficit in 2014-2015, but by 2017-2018, they are expecting a surplus of $119-million.
Mr. Stephen described the Liberals’ issues as “more flash” than substance. He compared his leader, Mr. Alward, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, saying that both leaders “are not flashy but get the job done.”
“At the end of the day, it’s who people trust to move the economy forward and how they think that they can do it,” he said.