Bail­lie: Com­fort­able in ‘po­lit­i­cal nerd’ skin

‘I’m not the most ex­cit­ing per­son, but I do en­joy the com­pany of dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple’

Cape Breton Post - - Cape Bre­ton / Prov­ince -

One of the most prom­i­nent items in Jamie Bail­lie’s of­fice, along with the John F. Kennedy por­trait and the Sir John A. Mac­don­ald ac­tion fig­ure, is a signed base­ball from Bill (Space­man) Lee.

Lee was Bail­lie’s favourite base­ball player grow­ing up and the straight-laced ac­coun­tant met the ec­cen­tric left-han­der in the early 1980s, af­ter spot­ting a poster at Dal­housie Univer­sity: “Come to a talk by Bill Lee The Space­man.’’

Bail­lie was the only per­son who showed up.

“Now, as a politi­cian who has gone into a few rooms where there was fewer peo­ple than ex­pected, I can imag­ine how he was feel­ing,’’ laughed Bail­lie, Nova Sco­tia’s Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive leader.

In­stead of get­ting a speech, Bail­lie ended up drink­ing beer with Lee at Dal­housie’s Gra­wood student bar while the pair watched a World Se­ries game to­gether on tele­vi­sion.

“He was just a great char­ac­ter,’’ Bail­lie said of Lee, who as a mem­ber of the Bos­ton Red Sox said he sprin­kled his pan­cakes with mar­i­juana. “This is a great mem­ory for me.’’

Bail­lie en­joys a good story and a good laugh, stand­ing in con­trast to his wider pub­lic per­sona as the but­toned-down, cere­bral leader of Nova Sco­tia’s Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives.

But the 51-year-old na­tive of Truro seems self-aware and com­fort­able in his own skin as he leads his party into the May 30 pro­vin­cial elec­tion, his sec­ond as leader.

“I’m not off the wall, I em­brace that,’’ Bail­lie said in an in­ter­view with The Cana­dian Press.

“I’m not the most ex­cit­ing per­son, but I do en­joy the com­pany of dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple — peo­ple that have dif­fer­ent life ex­pe­ri­ences than me. I find that re­ally in­ter­est­ing.’’

En­ter­ing his sev­enth year as leader, the mar­ried fa­ther of two teenaged daugh­ters is a self­ad­mit­ted “po­lit­i­cal nerd,’’ with a long pedi­gree in Nova Sco­tia pol­i­tics.

While at Dal­housie he was pres­i­dent of the Young Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives, and of­ten sparred on a cam­pus ra­dio panel with for­mer pre­mier Dar­rell Dex­ter, who led the Young New Democrats.

But his ca­reer re­ally kicked off in earnest af­ter be­ing in­tro­duced to John Hamm, who even­tu­ally be­came pre­mier. He served three years, be­gin­ning in 2002, as Hamm’s chief of staff.

Bail­lie said while he has his po­lit­i­cal he­roes, it’s Hamm he con­sid­ers as his true men­tor.

“You do not need to be a back­slap­ping, baby-kiss­ing su­per ex­tro­vert to be a good pre­mier, that’s one thing I def­i­nitely learned from him,’’ Bail­lie said. “I saw in him some­one who had a nice gen­tle­manly ex­te­rior, but a core of steel on the in­side.’’

While mak­ing it clear he is “a Tory,’’ Bail­lie also spoke of his in­ter­est in JFK, and about be­liev­ing in the late Demo­cratic Party pres­i­dent’s oft-quoted mantra: “To those whom much is given, much is ex­pected.’’

A char­tered ac­coun­tant who re­turned to pol­i­tics in 2010 af­ter a stint as CEO of Credit Union At­lantic, Bail­lie said he knows he’s been lucky to have had good jobs, and to have come from a good fam­ily.

“I do feel you should do some­thing good with that for oth­ers, so I buy into that Kennedy phi­los­o­phy,’’ he said. “Plus he was just a re­ally cool guy. That ob­vi­ously has some ap­peal as well.’’

Long­time po­lit­i­cal as­so­ciate and friend Chris Ly­don said it’s part of Bail­lie’s makeup that he isn’t an ide­o­logue.

Ly­don, now vice-pres­i­dent, Nova Sco­tia, for m5 Pub­lic Af­fairs, said Bail­lie’s man­age­ment ap­proach hasn’t changed much since his time in Hamm’s of­fice, and largely re­lies on col­lab­o­ra­tion. “While you never felt he didn’t have a steady hand or was un­able to be de­ci­sive, he cer­tainly seemed to weigh peo­ple’s opin­ions with­out com­ing in par­tic­u­larly bi­ased or with over-for­mu­lated pol­icy ideas,’’ said Ly­don.

How­ever, Ly­don con­ceded the Bail­lie he knows has been some­what con­strained by the re­quire­ments of be­ing the leader of the Op­po­si­tion, and al­ways ap­pear­ing to be neg­a­tive.

In­deed, Bail­lie has never seemed to gain sig­nif­i­cant trac­tion in polls lead­ing up to the elec­tion and the party un­der his lead­er­ship has lan­guished well be­hind the Lib­er­als in sec­ond place.

But as the May 30 elec­tion kicked off Sun­day, he pitched him­self as a sunny al­ter­na­tive to four years of Lib­eral aus­ter­ity.

Get­ting the vot­ing pub­lic to warm to him is crit­i­cal for Bail­lie, who may not get a third op­por­tu­nity to seek power if the party’s per­for­mance doesn’t meet ex­pec­ta­tions.

He said he’s well aware of the po­lit­i­cal reality, but doesn’t dwell on it.

“Ul­ti­mately po­lit­i­cal par­ties want their lead­ers to win for them,’’ said Bail­lie. “I would like to win for my party, but also for all Nova Sco­tians, and I do be­lieve that we are go­ing to win.’’

CP PHOTO

Nova Sco­tia Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive Leader Jamie Bail­lie makes a cam­paign stop in Hal­i­fax this week.

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