Kevin Vickers set to be acclaimed as New Brunswick Liberal leader as only opponent bows out

Former House of Commons sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers looks set to be acclaimed the new leader of the New Brunswick Liberal Party.

RenéEphestion, the only other candidate seeking to enter the race, declared in a Facebook post on Monday that he was out of the race.

“I wish Mr. Vickers good luck!” Ephestion said in the post.

Vickers, a Miramichi native, announced his candidacy March 15.

He and Ephestion were the only candidates to file paperwork before the party’s March 29 deadline.

Vickers and Ephestion could not be reached for comment Tuesday morning, and Liberal Party officials refused to discuss the prospects of a race featuring only one candidate.

Liberal MLA Jean-Claude d’Amours, a member of the leadership race steering committee, said the group would meet in the coming days to discuss “the next steps” and what to recommend to the party’s board.

“I don’t think things will change,” he added. “We are in a leadership convention mode.”

D’Amour refused to discuss how many candidates are in the race, calling it “a confidential process” even as he acknowledged that “everyone can see” Ephestion’s Facebook post.

René Ephestion, a citizen of France who moved to Canada in 2015, was scheduled to take his citizenship test on April 4. (René Ephestion Facebook page )

The Liberals won the popular vote in the last election by a wide margin over the PCs, but the Tories ended up with one more seat and took power after the Gallant government lost a confidence vote in the legislature.

Political scientist J.P. Lewis of the University of New Brunswick Saint John said because it wouldn’t take much of a shift for the Liberals to win back power, he was surprised no former cabinet ministers or other high-profile party members were willing to seek the leadership.

“It’s not like the next leader of the Liberal Party is that far away from being premier,” he said.

Easy victory could hurt

Lewis said Vickers’s easy path to victory could end up hurting him when he faces Progressive Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs in the next provincial election.

A leadership race would have allowed Vickers to learn the ropes of campaigning.

“You could have got in a lot of hours doing media work, leadership debates, meeting potential supporters, things like that,” Lewis said.

That’s especially urgent because with a PC minority government, an election could happen at any time.

“It’s not like we know for sure he’d have three and a half years of being an opposition leader to hone some of those retail political skills,” Lewis said.

Vickers addressed that the day he announced, telling reporters that his nine years as sergeant-at-arms had given him a lot of insight.

“I’ve always enjoyed being around the political process, especially in the chamber in the House of Commons during question period. It really was enlightening as to where the parties stood on the various different issues.”

He also said that dealing with an all-party committee of MPs on security issues on the hill taught him about “working things out and finding a way forward together.”

The party had scheduled a June 22 leadership vote.

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