NDP leadership candidate Jennifer McKenzie promises back-to-basics approach

Jennifer McKenzie only candidate for NDP leadership when deadline passes

New Brunswick's NDP is being offered a return to its traditional positions by the first candidate in the party's leadership race.

Former federal NDP candidate Jennifer McKenzie announced she'll seek the top job and laid out a series of positions that would slam the door on the Dominic Cardy era.

Cardy resigned on Jan. 1 after moving the party to the centre by embracing fiscal conservatism, distancing himself from public-sector unions and declaring his support for the controversial Energy East pipeline.

​Cardy blamed his departure on hard-left factions in the party and has since joined the Progressive Conservative Party.

McKenzie said Wednesday she opposes both the pipeline and "austerity" — the term used on the left for budget cuts — and declared that "the NDP must welcome the support of trade union movements and other progressive organizations that share our values."

Party members who felt alienated during Cardy's leadership said they welcomed McKenzie's promises to take more conventional NDP positions.

"It is a departure from some of the language we've heard from the leadership of the New Brunswick NDP, and I welcome that return to a sense of social democracy," said Chris Rendell, who planned to run for the party in Hampton in the 2014 election.

Rendell was disqualified by party officials loyal to Cardy, a move that allowed former PC MLA Bev Harrison to run for the NDP in Hampton instead.

McKenzie didn't refer to Cardy's time as leader in her announcement, but she told reporters afterward that many party members have welcomed her back-to-basics approach.

"I think that's why everybody is in the room today," she said.

She promised to make the NDP "a real alternative to the de facto two-party system in New Brunswick.

"If chosen as leader, I intend to present the NDP as that alternative, as a ready-to-govern alternative in every part of the province."

'Never really left'

McKenzie pointed to her experience as a tech entrepreneur and her tenure as chair of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, where she helped oversee a budget close to New Brunswick's annual education budget.

She said during her time as chair, the board launched new programs, produced "soaring" literacy rates and balanced its budget.

McKenzie ran for the Ontario NDP in Ottawa in the 2014 provincial election and was on the ballot for the federal party in Fundy-Royal the following year.

But she said Wednesday she's not a newcomer to the province. She grew up in Fredericton, and "I left to find work, but I never really left. My heart has always been here. I came back here all the time."

She bought a home in St. Martins in 2006, she said.

McKenzie said she hasn't decided what provincial riding she would run in if she wins the leadership, but she said some supporters are recommending she choose a riding where the NDP has done well in the past.

The leadership vote will take place Oct. 27. McKenzie is the only declared candidate so far.