It’s decision day for New Brunswick Liberals as the final votes are cast and counted for the party’s new leader.
Members have been voting remotely all week, but several hundred Liberals are expected to gather at an in-person convention in Fredericton, where the four candidates will speak and the results will be announced.
Members can also vote at the convention. Balloting will end at 2 pm and the party will announce first-round results around 2:15 pm
Former cabinet minister Donald Arseneault, current MLA Robert Gauvin, former MP TJ Harvey and former adviser to the Brian Gallant government Susan Holt are on the ballot.
The winner will lead the party into the next election against the governing Progressive Conservatives now led by Premier Blaine Higgs.
It’s a decisive moment for the Liberals, who have failed to win a majority of seats for two consecutive elections.
And the race may produce some surprises.
The Liberals are using a preferential ballot system, which means members voting over the past week have ranked their first, second, third and fourth choices for leader.
If no one wins a majority on the first count, the last-place candidate is dropped, and the second choices on their ballots are redistributed to the other candidates.
If that second tally still doesn’t produce a winner with more than 50 percent support, the candidate in third place is dropped and their second-choice votes are assigned to the remaining two candidates.
The system has existed since the 2012 Liberal leadership race, but this is the first time it is expected to be a factor in the outcome.
It has prompted the four campaigns to hustle to be the second or even third choice of many party members.
This week, volunteers have been contacting their candidates’ supporters to remind them to vote. But they’ve also been contacting people who said their candidate was their second choice.
“Their vote is also very important,” said Liberal MLA Keith Chiasson, a Harvey supporter.
The Tracadie MLA said the system has led to some confusion among some members.
“Obviously, we’ve been courting them from the beginning to encourage one candidate, and now all of a sudden they’re faced with the fact they’ve got to rank them from one to four, so we’ve had some explaining to do.”
Adding to the complexity, the Liberals are also using weighted voting, which is designed to give all 49 ridings in the province an equal say, regardless of the number of party members registered there.
Each ride is worth 100 points, so 4,900 points are up for grabs. The winner needs 2,451.
It means ridings with fewer Liberal members are more lucrative for candidates on a per-voter basis.
For example, there are only 75 party members signed up to vote in Riverview, so a candidate who wins the support of 60 of them would get 80 points.
But 60 Liberal votes in Caraquet would yield only 13 points, because the party has 446 party members there. In that riding, a candidate would need 357 votes to get 80 points.
Chiasson said the merit of the system is that the candidates are forced to seek support across the province, not just in party strongholds where there are large numbers of Liberals.
“Instead of focusing on one region of the province and getting as many Liberals in that region to vote, I think it encourages them to tour the province and engage with as many Liberals as they can,” he said.
“It’s a good preparation for the next step, which is the general election. If you’ve toured the province, if you engage with Liberals from up north, down south, east and west, it’s kind of like a foundation for the next process or the next step, which is the general election.”
The next provincial election is scheduled for October. 21, 2024.