Charest, Poilievre fight for N.B. support in leadership race

·3 min read
Conservative leadership candidate Jean Charest at a campaign stop in Fredericton on Monday.  (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)
Conservative leadership candidate Jean Charest at a campaign stop in Fredericton on Monday. (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)

The self-described underdog in the federal Conservative leadership race is making his first campaign foray in New Brunswick this week, trying to catch up to frontrunner Pierre Poilievre.

Jean Charest had stops in Saint John, Fredericton and Bathurst over the last two days and will move on to Neguac and Moncton Tuesday and Wednesday, with a side trip to Prince Edward Island in between.

He's banking on his links to New Brunswick Progressive Conservatives who remember him as one half of the two-MP federal PC caucus from 1993 to 1997 along with then-Saint John MP Elsie Wayne.

"New Brunswick in particular, it's a part of the country I know very well, and people know me very well, and that's significant," he said.

Jacques Poitras/CBC
Jacques Poitras/CBC

But Charest's crowds, including a group of about 30 Tories at a meet-and-greet in Fredericton on Monday morning, are far smaller than the ones Poilievre has been drawing.

Miramichi-Grand Lake MP Jake Stewart, a Poilievre supporter, says the Ottawa-area MP drew a total of 800 people at three New Brunswick events in a single day in March, despite freezing rain and poor driving conditions.

"He's so popular he seems to resonate with everybody," Stewart says, dismissing Charest's argument that he's the only leader who can win a general election.

"I think there's a belief out there, an old ingrained-in belief that, you know, we need a certain thing and I just don't think that holds true anymore," Stewart says.

"Pierre's policies are very sound and the people that like them, love them. And I've found in New Brunswick that his support is through the roof."

Charest and Poilievre are scooping up most of the endorsements from New Brunswick Tories, though Tobique-Mactaquac MP Richard Bragdon is backing Ontario MP Leslyn Lewis.

Jacques Poitras/CBC
Jacques Poitras/CBC

Nine candidates are running for the party leadership.

Besides being a former federal PC cabinet minister and party leader, Charest was also the Liberal premier of Quebec from 2003 to 2012.

Among the provincial PCs who attended his Fredericton event on Monday were former premier David Alward and Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dominic Cardy.

"After talking to him today, I signed up to support him," Cardy said after the event.

Premier Blaine Higgs met with Charest on Sunday and also put in an appearance at a Poilievre event in March. His spokesperson said he had not endorsed any candidate, though Higgs's chief of staff Louis Léger is a key Charest organizer.

Jake Stewart/Twitter
Jake Stewart/Twitter

All the campaigns are racing to sign up members before the cut-off date of June 3.

Stewart says it's likely Poilievre will be back in New Brunswick at least once before the deadline.

On Monday, Charest repeated his criticism of Poilievre for supporting the trucker blockade of Ottawa early this year, saying a prime minister can't choose which laws he's going to support.

But he acknowledged in an interview with CBC News that he's the underdog at this point in the race.

He said he's "perfectly comfortable" in that position because the frontrunner in the last two Conservative leadership races ended up losing because of the party's preferential voting system.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting