Pictou County's history of Tory leadership
Tim Houston latest in series of Progressive Conservative leaders from Pictou County
Pictou County resident Brenda Wilson got goosebumps as she saw Pictou East MLA Tim Houston’s opponents in the leadership race cross the floor after the first round of voting to throw their support behind him.
At the convention where the PC Party chose its next leader, she estimates there were about 1,000 people from Pictou County, leaving some there to question whether there was anyone left in Pictou County that day.
“It was a great day to be from Pictou County,” she said.
But when it comes to Pictou County and the PC Party, there have been a lot of great days. Pictou County’s impact on the history of Nova Scotia Conservatism is a significant one: when Houston was voted in as leader Oct. 27, he became the ninth person in history (out of 31) with strong ties to Pictou County who has been elected the party leader in this province — more than any other individual county. If former leader Jamie Baillie — who, although he was not from Pictou County, has familial ties to the area — is included, that number climbs to 10.
“I didn’t know the number was nine, but I knew (the number) was significant,” said former Central Nova MP Peter MacKay in a telephone interview from his law office in Toronto. He had endorsed Houston during the campaign.
“Traditionally, our county has had a strong education system, has been home to many industries, and that seems to bring out people who are communityminded, which can lend itself to politics, I suppose.”
He theorized that leadership, in this context, goes back to the “origins of this province,” when people had to survive “by their wits and tenacity.”
“That has a way of producing a sense of leadership and perseverance,” he said. “It’s bred into the bone of Pictou County. Leadership isn’t for the faint of heart, and I think that speaks well for Pictou County.”
For his part, Houston said it’s an honour to be following in the footsteps of past party leaders from Pictou County.
“It’ a pretty illustrious group for sure,” he said. “It’s a privilege.”
In a way, he said, it was humbling to take the stage as party leader for the first time.
“There’s a lot of weight on the shoulders, but the goal is always to do good for the community and good for the people of Nova Scotia.”
While he believes there is a certain degree of a legacy in how people vote, particularly passed down through families, he’s seen a shift where people are no longer as tied to a party as they were in the past. He believes it’s the values of the provincial Tories — such as hard work and accountability — that have kept people in Pictou County engaged.
“It just kind of represents the people of Pictou County in many ways,” he says.
Wilson, who works at Pictou Centre MLA Pat Dunn’s constituency office, has great faith that Houston will carry on the tradition of past party leaders well.
“He’s a fellow who handles himself incredibly well,” she said.
On the federal stage
While Pictou County has been seen some change in guard in recent years, it has long been considered a safe place for conservatives to run not only provincially but also federally.
Cathy Boswell can remember talking with her husband about Brian Mulroney’s conundrum.
It was 1983. Boswell was then living in Ottawa and Mulroney, newly-elected as federal Progressive Conservative leader, was without a seat.
“Alan said to me, ‘The safest Conservative seat in Canada is Central Nova and I bet Elmer (MacKay) will offer his seat to Brian Mulroney.’”
Sure enough, that night, it became official: MacKay gave up his seat, Mulroney won a byelection easily and, in 1984, would win the federal election in a landslide.
“I’ll never forget that,” said Boswell, who now lives in Pictou Landing and has helped run political campaigns for the Progressive Conservatives over the years, the latest being Fred Delorey’s unsuccessful attempt in 2015 to win the seat against current Central Nova Liberal MP Sean Fraser. See more from the leadership convention on Page 3.
Tim Houston, right, is the latest in a long line of Progressive Conservative party leaders who call Pictou County home. The most recent include former premiers Donald Cameron, left, and John Hamm, as well as interim leader Karla MacFarlane.