New Brunswick Liberal Leader Susan Holt has been elected to the legislature for the first time, winning a riding in the province’s northeast considered safe for her party.
The leader of the province’s official Opposition won one of three by-elections held Monday to fill vacancies in the 49-seat legislature.
Holt won the riding of Bathurst East-Nepisiguit-Saint-Isidore with 2,343 votes, while Serge Brideau of the Green Party got 1,411 votes and interim NDP leader Alex White took 227. The governing Progressive Conservatives opted not to run a candidate against her.
The Liberals also won the other two by-elections, in the ridings of Restigouche-Chaleur and Dieppe.
Heading into the by-elections, the Progressive Conservatives under Premier Blaine Higgs held 29 seats, the Liberals had 13, the Greens held three and there was one Independent.
“I am feeling extremely grateful to the people of Bathurst East-Nepisiguit-Saint-Isidore and to the people of Restigouche-Chaleur and Dieppe who have chosen members of the Liberal team to represent their interests,” she said in an interview.
“I’m extremely grateful.”
The 45-year-old lives in Fredericton with her husband, Jon Holt, and three young daughters, and worked in government in a non-partisan role.
During her campaign for Liberal leader, she promised increased transparency, improved relationships with the Indigenous population and a less confrontational style in the legislature than Higgs. She was elected Liberal leader in August.
Holt on Monday renewed that promise.
Her top priorities as a member of the legislative assembly, she said, are “meaningful, tangible action” on access to primary care, long-term care and access to child-care spaces.
The Opposition has proposed “constructive” solutions to the Higgs government to help people who are having trouble making ends meet with the increasing costs of everything, she said.
With three new Liberal members, she said her party will “be there to ask the questions, to propose the solutions and to provide hope to the people” that their interests are being considered.
“And we’ll work our tails off to make those changes.”
She has said her experience as a business lobbyist and advocate has given her a chance to see the system from different angles. She spent three years before becoming Liberal leader working for PQA and Plato Testing, an IT services company that trains and employs Indigenous people in technology careers.
Holt has been a vocal critic of Higgs’s proposed change to the French immersion program, and has called him “out of touch” with residents, particularly regarding the problems they face accessing health care.
“[People] are not seeing the pressure being relieved in our acute health-care systems,” Holt said.
“We’ve been pushing on that for quite some time. And I’m looking forward to getting into the legislature with two new members of the Liberal team to continue to call upon this government to take action on New Brunswickers’ biggest concerns.”
In February, Higgs danced down the steps of the stage, after his state of the province address, to the song Should I Stay or Should I Go by The Clash, in a reference to whether he should run in next year’s provincial election. At the time, Holt replied, “I think it would be in the best interest of New Brunswickers if he were to step aside.”
J. P. Lewis, a political science professor at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, said Holt has had a fair bit of visibility since she became leader even though she didn’t have a seat in the legislative assembly.
But her winning a seat is symbolically significant, he said.
“It’s also not a question that would be hanging over for the leader ‘You don’t have a seat. What does this mean? How do you lead the party when you don’t have a seat?”’
She will also be in the legislature for important events, he said.
“We know that she’s there for the fall session and the session leading up to the budget and then next year’s budget.”
The next step for her as a member of the legislative assembly and party leader is to prepare for the upcoming provincial elections, he said.
“It kind of narrows focus on certain tasks that are key for the party.”