(crossposted to CanadaEast)
The New Brunswick Tories have been a lackluster opposition and if they don't do something bold and dramatic soon, they could hand the Liberals a blank cheque for the 2010 election. Now they are proposing to do something very bold, which could save them. However, if it fails, they could be giving the Grits a blank cheque tied to an even bigger bank account.
There was a lengthy report in yesterday's Telegraph-Journal that outlines the Tory plan to hand Bernard Richard an ideal run up to the leadership of their party. It would be quite ironic because Richard served as a Liberal MLA from 1991 to 2003 and many would argue was the most effective critic of the Lord government for their first four and a half years in office. He led a six day filibuster against the 2003 Lord budget in December 2002. Electing Bernard Richard would require Tory members to, in effect, repudiate the Bernard Lord record as it would be impossible for Richard to embrace it.
However, if Tories could swallow their pride and if Richard were to run and win the leadership, he would throw the Liberals completely off of their game. He was Shawn Graham's mentor for his first year as leader and the Premier still considers him a close friend, at least on the record. It would be a tremendous embarrassment and rejection of the Liberal government for Richard to choose the Tories and become the leader of the opposition to a Liberal caucus he helped lead only 4 years ago, including 24 of the current caucus members. There would be some obvious problems, as I mentioned above, Richard was one of the most partisan Liberals in the legislature and never had a good thing to say about the Tories, however that would be all cancelled out if he became leader. The fact that he was rejecting his Liberal heritage, and Shawn Graham personally, would be a far greater plus for his new party than it would be a negative.
The potential for a huge blow is even worse, however. The Tories have already become the laughingstock of the chattering classes with their choice of Jeannot Volpé as interim leader, ineffective opposition to easily opposable Liberal policies and waiting two years to choose a leader when the party risks semi-permanent oblivion by not having one.
Now, couple all of that with what happens if Richard declines: the next leader would be the butt of endless Liberal jokes as being the second choice, after a heavily anti-Tory retired Liberal. The party that won the popular vote in 2006 and started out with a caucus full of veterans (the vast majority of which had severed at least two-terms and were returning for a third) and 20 former cabinet ministers, had to not only look outside of its caucus for a leader, but to its greatest critic. And then that critic laughed them off. Can you imagine? Indeed, in today's Telegraph, Richard's successor and former chief aide, now Finance Minister Victor Boudreau, plays these lines.
If Richard is genuinely willing to consider this then the Tories are probably wise to approach him. But to speak to the papers and give them quotes about all of the wonderful red carpets they would be prepared to laid out for Richard makes them look like damn fools if he does anything other than say yes.
BY THE WAY: Spinks and I seem to be operating in reverse order. Yesterday he posted a bit about Bernard Richard while I talked about the federal Tory nomination in Fredericton. Today, we're doing the reverse. You can find Spinks' piece about the Fredericton Tories here.
UPDATE: Less than 48 hours after this was first reported, the play is over. Bernard Richard will not seek the leadership of the Tories and they look even more foolish than ever.