N.S. Tories ready to rebuild
HALIFAX — Nova Scotia’s Progressive Conservatives emerged reenergized Sunday from their first annual meeting since being sent to the opposition benches, but under no illusions about the challenges ahead.
Ten years of Tory rule came to an end last June when the NDP cruised to an historic majority government, reducing the Conservatives to third-place status.
Eight months later, Tories say they are ready to rebuild and regain lost momentum.
“The PC party is still alive, it’s not dead,” Rob Smith, a district vice-president with the party, said as the meeting wrapped up Sunday.
“It’s always a challenge when you’re out of office, but you also take advantage of these opportunities. You have to build on the accomplishments.”
Interim Conservative Leader Karen Casey said the party’s membership is aware of the difficult task ahead, especially with only nine seats in the 52-seat legislature.
She said part of the party’s strategy between elections will be to regain the support it lost in rural Nova Scotia.
“The rural base that we had has been eroded,” Casey told reporters over the weekend.
Despite the hurdles ahead, the party’s president said Conservatives are more upbeat this time around than in previous electoral defeats, including their 1993 election loss to the Liberals.
“It was a lot different feeling in 1994,” said Rob Batherson, recalling the glum mood of the party’s annual gathering following the election.
He credited this year’s quick turnaround to regional meetings held shortly after the election that allowed members to discuss what went right and what didn’t.
“By the time we got here to this convention, I think most party members are now looking forward, not back.”
Batherson said it will be important for Tories to come together and rally behind the next leader when one is chosen at a convention in late October. A number of Conservatives said over the weekend they were mulling a run at the top job, including Casey and former Tory cabinet minister Chris d’Entremont.
Other possible contenders include Bill Black, who ran unsuccessfully for the party’s top job in 2006, and Jamie Baillie, who was chief of staff when John Hamm was premier. Baillie said he believes Nova Scotians are already dissatisfied with Premier Darrell Dexter’s government, and the Conservatives must be ready to present an alternative when the next election rolls around.
Black said the party has to regain its roots as a Progressive Conservative party and develop clear and consistent policies if it wants to come out on top next time. “The only distinctive feature we have is history and nobody’s going to vote for history,” he said.