Brian Gallant has always had a plan.
But now, at 36, the future of New Brunswick’s youngest ex-premier is a question mark.
“Throughout my whole life, I’ve known what I want to do,” Gallant said in an interview with The Canadian Press following Friday’s surprise announcement that he would be stepping down as leader of the provincial Liberal party earlier than expected.
“Now I really don’t know. It’s just a blank canvas.”
The lawmaker was unequivocal that his time in provincial politics is coming to an end — he will not reoffer in the next election. But he didn’t entirely rule out a run for federal office.
“There’s really no plan for me to run in any level of government … but I do want to continue to contribute to the province and to the country,” said Gallant, the MLA for Shediac Bay-Dieppe.
“I will certainly look for opportunities to be able to do that, whether it’s through my work or volunteer time.”
With 10 “phenomenal” Liberal MPs in the province, he said there doesn’t currently appear to be a need for a new federal Liberal candidate ahead of October’s election.
“I look forward to supporting them in any way that I can, and to support the federal Liberals on what I think will be a successful election campaign,” Gallant said, adding that he’ll do the same for the provincial Liberals when an election is called — which could be sooner than later.
The province’s legislature is currently held together by an informal 18-month agreement between the Progressive Conservatives and the right-leaning People’s Alliance, which agreed to prop up the Tory minority government after September’s election.
The deal has seen the Tories — who won 22 seats following the Sept. 24 provincial election — earn an extra three seats for a 25-seat majority in the 49-seat house.
“We’re in a different situation than we’ve been in here in New Brunswick for a hundred years,” Gallant said. “Political parties — especially the two so-called traditional parties, the Liberal Party and the Conservatives — are used to these four year cycles.”
But he said the pattern of taking a year or more to rebuild and hold a leadership convention won’t work under a minority government.
With the possibility of a snap election looming with every confidence vote, Gallant said the Liberal party will have to move quickly to find its next leader.
Liberal caucus chair Jean-Claude D’Amours said he’s working with party colleagues on the next steps for choosing an interim leader by mid-February — the winter caucus meeting — as well as making suggestions for leadership convention dates.
Gallant did not put forward any names for the party’s potential next leader, saying he didn’t want to influence the outcome.
Meanwhile, the outgoing Liberal leader expressed concern with right-wing populist political movements taking hold in the western world.
“It’s worrisome to see the division being created,” he said. “There are populist movements in countries in the western world that have gained momentum.”
Although Gallant said the movements often start off with legitimate concerns — such as increasing income inequality — they can be exploited by politicians “without necessarily respect for the facts and very much focused on preying on peoples concerns.”
He said New Brunswick’s election is a sign that Canada is not immune to such populist movements.
However, Gallant said he doesn’t believe the trend will repeat itself during the federal election.
“I do think that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal government have done a good job trying to address a lot of the concerns that are at the heart of these movements,” he said.
Meanwhile, Gallant said though he intends to stay on as MLA for the riding he was born in for now, he may eventually return to practising law or working in business.
“When I step back and put it in perspective, I had the opportunity to be the premier of our province, to make decisions that have a real impact and can make a difference,” he said adding that although stepping down as leader was a “sombre” moment for him, ”I really have been incredibly lucky.”