Kelly Lamrock may have essentially saved the New Brunswick Liberal Party. While his leadership campaign, which I supported, ended before the October convention, the themes of his campaign -- that the Liberal Party had to be clear about what it stood for, that it had to put forward substantive ideas and policies, and that the Liberal Party needed to re-connect to its progressive "liberal" roots -- resonated widely.
In 2010, the party lost sight of what it stood for. The Liberal Party held progressive positions on poverty-reduction alongside neo-conservative positions such as flattening taxes. Party members and the general public felt disconnected from a government that seemed to belie what a "liberal" party should stand for.
The consequences of the Liberal Party going into 2014 with the same confusion it did in 2010 could result in an even more disastrous result. In particular with a provincial NDP -- emboldened by the federal NDP's successes -- seeking aggressively to supplant the Liberals.
Lamrock, in his leadership campaign, emphasized the need for the party to stand for clear progressive values, to appeal to the principles of both idealism and pragmatism, to be a principled alternative to the Tories and the New Democrats.
How can Liberals win in 2014?
The Liberal Party can beat the Progressive Conservatives on jobs, entrepreneurship, and economic management. With New Brunswick's unemployment hovering around double-digits and youth leaving the province to find work, the Tories have abdicated job creation with a budget openly admitting that jobs would be lost through its measures.
The Liberal Party can hold off the NDP by "out-progressive-ing" them on certain issues. For example, by having a comprehensive poverty-reduction plan, by placing a high priority on environmental conservation, and by recognizing that environmental costs must be accounted for in any new economic endeavour through a strict moratorium on fracking.
The Liberal Party at its best is a party that understands social justice, environmental sustainability, entrepreneurship and job creation. This combination can uniquely place the party to offer a positive contrast to both the New Democrats and the Progressive Conservatives.
Conservative policies frequently show a lack of understanding of social justice or sustainability, with the Alward government having abandoned poverty-reduction and pushed forward recklessly on fracking. Meanwhile, the New Brunswick NDP lacks an understanding of entrepreneurship or economic development, with their plan to abolish Business New Brunswick being overly simplistic and falling short of a comprehensive job creation strategy.
Kelly Lamrock understood the unique strengths of the Liberal Party when it was clear about its principles and values. During his leadership campaign, Lamrock came out strongly against Alward's reneging of poverty-reduction and emphasized the importance of jobs and economic development. Lamrock's platform included the introduction of a jobs bill in the Legislature immediately upon becoming leader, and the reform of Business New Brunswick to become an effective agency of economic development that provided support, loans, and mentorship to new entrepreneurs.
In receiving Kelly Lamrock's endorsement, Mike Murphy emphasized that the ideas put forward by Lamrock would have a home in his campaign. Murphy reflected the need for the Liberal Party to put forward substantive ideas and policies; the party needed to be clear about what it stood for and connect with progressive voters.
Mike Murphy is now the best candidate to lead the Liberal Party into 2014. His campaign has emphasized the importance of progressive policies on environmental conservation and poverty reduction alongside an emphasis on job creation.
Murphy's platform includes a strict moratorium on fracking, citing concerns about air and water quality, as well concerns about the safety of the technology. Murphy has proposed an Environmental Bill of Rights and an Environmental Ombudsman to enhance environmental protection. Furthermore, Murphy spoke out early about groundwater problems near the potash mines in Penobsquis.
Murphy has also recognized the importance of sustainable urban development -- the importance of downtowns and walkable neighbourhoods -- with his call to keep Moncton High downtown and with a public housing plan that calls for mixed-income developments in walkable neighbourhoods.
Soon after Kelly Lamrock's endorsement, Murphy released a poverty-reduction plan that called on maintaining targets -- even with derailment by the Alward government -- and to accomplish in two years what was meant to be done in six if a Liberal government is elected in 2014.
Murphy's campaign is one emphasizing policies and ideas. Even if one does not agree with all the positions put forward -- I myself do not consider Senate reform a priority while Murphy does -- a candidate putting forward ideas creates the starting point for discussion, for consultation with party members and the general public.
Murphy has the skill-set and experience to be ready to walk into the premier's office on day 1. He understands the need for substantive ideas and policies to tackle the complex problems facing New Brunswickers, and for the Liberal Party to connect with its progressive roots. A Murphy-led Liberal Party would be well placed to hold off an NDP challenge and to defeat the Alward Conservatives in 2014.