Many N.B. Liberals hope Vickers readying leadership bid as he retires as envoy
FREDERICTON -- Former House of Commons sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers says he is retiring next month as Canada's ambassador to Ireland, and many New Brunswick Liberals say they're hoping Vickers is preparing for a bid to become the province's next Liberal leader.
Vickers, hailed as a hero for helping to end the 2014 attack on Parliament Hill, said in a bilingual Facebook post Friday he'll retire as envoy effective March 2 and return to his home in Trout Brook, Miramichi, N.B.
"To all my friends and to the people of Ireland I wanted to say a special thank you. You received me with open arms and the warmest of welcomes. I shall not ever forget your kindness, affection and grace," he wrote.
Vickers has been touted as a possible candidate for the leadership of the New Brunswick Liberal party to replace former premier Brian Gallant.
In December, Vickers indicated an interest in the job but at the time said he was a "long ways from making a decision."
Vickers did not immediately respond to requests for an interview Friday, but a number of Liberal sources in the province say they're confident Vickers will enter the race.
Lisa Harris, the Liberal MLA for the riding of Miramichi Bay-Neguac, said she's excited by the possibility.
"I hope that in early March he'll make another announcement that he'll go forward with the leadership bid for the Liberal party," she said, adding she believes he can unite the party and province.
"He's premier material."
The New Brunswick Liberals will choose a new leader on June 22 in Saint John.
Donald Wright, a political scientist at the University of New Brunswick, said if Vickers enters the race, he will have to be clear what he stands for.
"Kevin Vickers is going to have to say something -- where he stands on some of the issues like the carbon price, like bilingualism, like duality. He's got a steep learning curve and you can only ride your name so long," Wright said.
"We have no idea where he stands on some of these issues. He's a complete outsider to New Brunswick politics."
Keiller Zed, executive director of the New Brunswick Liberal Association, said Friday that a committee of the party is still working on all the details of the race, including the registration package for candidates.
Rene Ephestion, who leads the New Brunswick Liberal Multicultural Inclusion Commission, has expressed an interest in running, while a number of others including Saint John-Rothesay MP Wayne Long have bowed out.
Vickers, born and raised in Newcastle, N.B., has held the ambassador post since January 2015.
"Ireland is the home of my ancestors. Serving Canada as ambassador has been a special privilege. I have worked hard often working seven days a week for months at a time but not without results," he said on Facebook.
He said multi-lateral trade between Canada and Ireland grew 31 per cent last year alone, and there has been seven new direct flights announced between Canada and Ireland since his arrival.
Vickers has a long career of public service, including 29 years in the RCMP. He also served as aide-de-camp for the lieutenant-governor of New Brunswick. He served as sergeant-at-arms for the House of Commons between 2006 and 2015.
On Oct. 22, 2014, Vickers shot and helped take down a man armed with a .30-30 rifle. Michael Zihaf Bibeau had barged into Centre Block on Parliament Hill after killing honour guard reservist Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial.
The Liberal party won just 21 seats in last fall's provincial election -- one fewer than the Tories. The Liberals relinquished their hold on power in November after losing a confidence vote in the legislature.
Still, Wright said the party retains a position of strength.
"Remember they won the popular vote, however their vote is very inefficient. It's concentrated in the north. They've got to build inroads into the south of the province," he said.
Tory Premier Blaine Higgs' minority government is relying on support from a third party - the right-leaning People's Alliance, led by Kris Austin.
But that arrangement is set to expire in less than 18 months. That means an election could be less than two years away.