Blaine Higgs is staying.
The New Brunswick premier announced Friday he will remain as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and seek another mandate in the next provincial election.
There’s been speculation for months about whether Higgs, who will be 70 years old next March, would retire before the next election.
In February, at the annual state of the province speech, he teased the crowd by exiting the stage to the Clash song Should I Stay or Should I Go?
The question “has become increasingly relevant with the internal dissent that our government has experienced in the last six months,” Higgs said Friday.
He was answering the question with a statement on social media.
“With the encouragement of many colleagues and people from across this province, I am confirming my intention to remain as leader and to reoffer in the next provincial election.”
Higgs cited the province’s economic and population growth during his time as premier and said it was important to “continue to build on this momentum.”
The next election is scheduled for Oct. 21, 2024, though Higgs’s statement didn’t mention that date and did not rule out an earlier campaign.
The former Irving Oil senior manager was first elected as an MLA in 2010.
He became PC party leader in 2016 and led the Tories to a narrow win in the 2018 election, scratching out one more seat than the Liberals to form a minority government with the support of the People’s Alliance.
He won a majority two years later based largely on his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic up until that point.
But his popularity took a hit the following year after a premature loosening of public health restrictions and a subsequent spike in cases.
Policy 713 changes prompted caucus revolt
Earlier this year, his decision to change parts of Policy 713, which was introduced in 2020 to guarantee minimum support for LGBTQ students, was the catalyst for a caucus revolt.
Four ministers and two backbench PC MLAs rebelled by voting for an opposition Liberal motion calling on the child and youth advocate to examine the changes — a call that led to a damning report by the advocate calling the new policy unconstitutional.
Two ministers, Dorothy Shephard and Trevor Holder, resigned in the wake of the revolt, saying his centralizing of power in his office went against PC party values.
Higgs shuffled the two other ministers out of cabinet.
One of them, Jeff Carr, said he would not run in the next election if Higgs stayed on as leader, and Shephard said she didn’t see how she could.
Bid for leadership review failed
The premier said at the time that the turmoil might prompt him to stay on.
“If we can’t get our own house in order so that we have a good process to transition and continue the momentum of what the province is experiencing right now, then I can’t walk away from what we’ve achieved to date,” he said.
Some grassroots PC members also tried to trigger a leadership review vote to remove Higgs, but that fizzled after the party invalidated some of the letters submitted under party rules.
If Higgs wins a majority in the next election, he’d be the first premier to win two straight majorities since Bernard Lord in 1999 and 2003.
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