Tories look ahead to a come­back

Cape Breton Post - - COMMENT -

Po­lit­i­cal par­ties al­ways try to sound up­beat com­ing out of con­ven­tion but Nova Sco­tia’s Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives sounded like they meant it in Hal­i­fax last week­end. As party pres­i­dent Rob Bather­son pointed out, this an­nual gen­eral meet­ing felt a lot dif­fer­ent from 1994, the con­ven­tion that fol­lowed the as­cen­sion of a Lib­eral ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment un­der John Sav­age.

At that time the Tories were beaten, hu­mil­i­ated, even disgraced. Few could have hoped that they’d form an­other ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment be­fore the decade was out, but that’s what hap­pened.

There are par­al­lels. The Sav­age Lib­er­als car­ried ex­pec­ta­tions of so­cial pro­gres­sivism but within months their agenda has been hi­jacked by near panic over the hor­ren­dous state of the prov­ince’s fi­nances. The medicine was un­pop­u­lar. The fis­cal sit­u­a­tion is not as dire for the new NDP gov­ern­ment but the task of a pro­gres­sive party sell­ing fis­cal re­straint is no less daunt­ing.

The PCs know it will be a long four years for the gov­ern­ment. The NDP’s stum­bles out of the gate, reneg­ing on ma­jor elec­tion prom­ises and em­bar­rass­ing it­self with sto­ries of ex­ces­sive ex­pense spending, can only ac­cel­er­ate the fad­ing of the bloom. It doesn’t help the PC cause that in sec­ond place on the list of ex­pense abuses flagged last week by the au­di­tor gen­eral is a sit­ting Tory, Yar­mouth’s Richard Hurl­burt ($7,995 for that gen­er­a­tor plus $3,078 for the pur­chase and in­stal­la­tion of a 40-inch LCD tele­vi­sion).

Af­ter los­ing the gov­ern­ment to the NDP and Of­fi­cial Op­po­si­tion sta­tus to the Lib­er­als last June, the third-place Tories found some com­fort in the Oc­to­ber by­elec­tions. They lost Antigonish as ex­pected but man­aged to hold In­ver­ness against a de­ter­mined Lib­eral chal­lenge. The Lib­er­als re­main one up on them in the leg­is­la­ture but Lib­eral Leader Stephen McNeil hasn’t set the prov­ince on fire, and come Oc­to­ber the Tories will have a new (or at least newly con­firmed) leader of their own.

Therein lies the party’s tough­est ques­tion as it plots re­cov­ery. Does it go back to its ru­ral roots as Cape Bre­ton West MLA Al­fie MacLeod ad­vises and try to win shore up its base or does it set its sights on ur­ban rid­ings? This ur­ban-ru­ral ten­sion was there in the last lead­er­ship race, won by the fu­ture fid­dling premier, Mabou’s Rod­ney MacDon­ald, and it prom­ises to be a dom­i­nant dy­namic again.

Though no one has an­nounced for the job, it’s widely spec­u­lated that the list is likely to in­clude cur­rent in­terim Leader Karen Casey; Credit Union At­lantic pres­i­dent Jamie Bail­lie, a for­mer chief of staff to the premier when John Hamm held that post; for­mer cab­i­net min­is­ter Chris d’En­tremont, one of nine sur­viv­ing Tory MLAs; and re­tired in­sur­ance ex­ec­u­tive Bill Black, who lost the lead­er­ship race to MacDon­ald in 2006.

Among the best rea­sons for Tory op­ti­mism is that for­mi­da­ble candidates will likely vie to lead them out of the base­ment. This is not a job that no­body wants.

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