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Tory Leader Blaine Higgs: Offering gravitas, experience in bid for N.B. premier

Last Updated Sep 20, 2018 at 12:20 pm EDT

Progressive Conservative Leader Blain Higgs participates in the CBC provincial election Leaders' debate, in Riverview, N.B., on Wednesday, September 12, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marc Grandmaison

Blaine Higgs grew up in the border town of Forest City, N.B., but there really wasn’t much of a border.

When customs officers, including his father, left for the day at 5 p.m., Higgs would cross the bridge spanning the St. Croix River on foot into Forest City, Maine, where his best friend lived.

“There weren’t gates back then,” says Higgs. “We could just walk across the border.”

The 64-year-old politician, who now projects an air of gravitas befitting his experience as a retired oil executive and former finance minister, conjures up a more mischievous version of himself as a teenager.

“I had a curfew but I never clarified what time zone it was,” he says. “My mom would say, ‘You be home by midnight,’ and I’d get home at one o’clock and say I was on U.S. time.”

Higgs chuckles and adds: “It was only appropriate to use the time of the country I was in.”

In the final days of an election campaign he hopes will make him New Brunswick’s premier, the Progressive Conservative leader offered a glimpse into his childhood and summed up how his decades of experience make him the best man for the province’s top job.

He promises New Brunswickers results if he’s elected on Monday.

“I don’t need training wheels,” Higgs says. “I know what’s required and where roadblocks were in the past and where we can really make improvements.”

Higgs went to a small elementary school where he shuffled between his mother’s and his aunt’s classrooms before attending Canterbury High School about an hour northeast of his hometown.

It’s there that Higgs met his future wife, Marcia.

“When I saw her I said, ‘I’m going to marry that girl,'” says Higgs, whose neatly trimmed hair has faded from black to grey over the years.

The two would go on to university, him studying engineering and her education, before the high school sweethearts settled down in Saint John and had four children: Lindsey, Laura, Sarah and Rachel.

Higgs was hired by Irving Oil a week after graduating from the University of New Brunswick, and he remained with the energy refining, exporting and marketing company for three decades.

“My initial plan was to be there three years, and 33 years later I retired,” he says.

He started in the engineering department before moving into operations and eventually becoming director of logistics and distribution, overseeing oil transportation across eastern Canada and New England.

“I negotiated hard with companies on behalf of Irving,” Higgs says. “Now I want to negotiate hard with companies, whether it be Irving or any company, on behalf of the province.”

The former finance minister says he’ll balance the budget in two years and cut waste to improve services.

“We need better results for the money being spent,” Higgs says, adding that the “invention of solutions on a bus made during a campaign” to buy votes only sets the province back.

The Tory leader says he reads more for learning than pleasure.

Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” is among the more memorable titles on his bedside table in recent months.

“I found it very intriguing when you look at the conditions that affect where you end up,” he says, adding that it prompted him to look at best practices in the province.

Higgs also recently watched “The Commuter,” an action thriller film with Liam Neeson.

“We don’t usually have time to watch movies, but the other night we got home around 10 p.m. and we didn’t have to leave until 9 a.m. the next morning, so we watched ‘The Commuter,'” he says. “My wife started out watching it with me but she said it was too tense.”

The couple celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary this summer and now have three grandchildren.