Former Aboriginal Affairs minister looking to jump into federal politics

·3 min read
Jake Stewart announced Thursday he's running for the federal Conservative Party nomination for Miramichi-Grand Lake. (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)
Jake Stewart announced Thursday he's running for the federal Conservative Party nomination for Miramichi-Grand Lake. (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)

Progressive Conservative MLA Jake Stewart says he wants to make the leap to federal politics.

Stewart, a former Aboriginal Affairs minister in the Higgs government and a four-term MLA representing Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin, announced Thursday he's running for the federal Conservative Party nomination for Miramichi-Grand Lake.

"As a provincial MLA, I've got 11 years of experience, I've got the support and encouragement from my constituents, and I've seen myself personally how left out we've become at the federal level," he said in an interview.

"I've got the experience, the public is behind me, my constituents are happy about it, my family's good with it -- it's the right thing to do."

Stewart left out of cabinet in 2018

Stewart was first elected in 2010 and has won re-election three times since then.

He became Aboriginal Affairs minister when Premier Blaine Higgs took power in 2018 but was left out of the cabinet when Higgs shuffled his team after last fall's provincial election.

Stewart had called for a public inquiry into systemic racism after two police shootings of Indigenous people, a position that put him at odds with Higgs.

After losing his cabinet position, he criticized the premier's decision to make Aboriginal Affairs one of several cabinet responsibilities held by a single minister, rather than a stand-alone position.

"I don't like it," Stewart said at the time. "I think the relationship is so important that I don't think that was a good idea."

He would not commit at the time to serving out a full four-year term as MLA.

"My mind isn't really there," he said. "Right now I'm going to focus on my riding. So you never know."

But Stewart said Thursday that his exclusion from cabinet played no role in the decision to run federally. He said he always planned to leave provincial politics after this term and has long dreamt of becoming a federal MP.

"It's always disappointing when you're not in cabinet," he said. "Every MLA wants to be in cabinet. Sure, at the time it hurt and I moved on from it.

"I'm actually not at odds with any of my colleagues and the premier. … It's not related to not being in cabinet."

Departure would narrow PC majority

Federal party members in Miramichi-Grand Lake will officially nominate their candidate May 15.

Should he win the nomination, Stewart would not be required to quit his provincial seat until a federal election is called and he formally submits nomination documents to Elections Canada.

Stewart's departure from the legislature would reduce the PC government to a narrower majority of 26 seats, including the speaker, in the 49-seat legislature.

It would also require a by-election to be called within six months.

Liberal MP Pat Finnigan won Miramichi-Grand Lake in the 2015 federal election and was re-elected there in 2019 by a smaller margin.