Action needed to unify Tories in wake of leadership race
Tim Houston, the shiny new leader of Nova Scotia Conservatives said all the right things about party unity and members coming together to defeat the Liberal provincial government, but more than a few Tories who backed other leadership contenders say his actions in the coming weeks will speak louder than any words.
When the votes were counted Saturday, Houston was tantalizingly close, but didn’t post the number needed for a rst-ballot win. As it turned out, he was close enough.
In one of a the few dramatic moments at the Tory leadership convention, Cecil Clarke, the Cape Breton Regional Municipality ( CBRM) mayor, who finished second on the first ballot, walked across the Halifax Exhibition Centre, threw his support behind Houston, and it was over.
The other candidates – Julie Chaisson, Elizabeth SmithMccrossin and John Lohr – followed and no second ballot was required.
Clarke was the only candidate with any hope of catching Houston after the rst ballot, but was more than 1,000 points back, so it was the slimmest of hopes.
He said the interests of the party were best served by coming together at that point, rather than pushing the race to another ballot.
Houston, who represents Pictou East in the legislature, ran a formidable campaign, brought thousands of new members into the party, and made sure those members voted.
He was the perceived front runner from the campaign’s outset more than nine months ago and that made him the target of criticism from rival camps.
The criticism intensified when Houston’s campaign blundered into a series of rules infractions, and some of his supporters were said to be overly aggressive or openly hostile to supporters of other candidates.
In Cape Breton, Tory MLAS Eddie Orrell and Alfie Macleod, who supported Clarke, came under vociferous attack on social media from pro-houston-antiClarke elements in CBRM, who threatened to mount challenges against Orrell and Macleod from within the party.
It’s up to Houston now to calm those waters and heal other wounds inflicted during the leadership contest.
While he recognizes that imperative, Houston tends to gloss over the hurt felt in other camps, insisting there is more that unites the party than divides it and, with the campaign over, he seems to believe the party will mend almost organically.
Others are certain it won’t and are looking to Houston for action to bridge the divisions.
His rst chance will come soon enough, when he decides how to allocate critic responsibilities, committee assignments and a number of other key roles in the 17-member Tory caucus in the legislature.
ose decisions require a ne balance.
Half of the caucus supported Houston’s leadership bid and some of those MLAS will expect to land in their job of choice as a reward.
But those assignments also provide Houston with the chance to take tangible action to unify the party.
Whatever roles he chooses for John Lohr (Pc-kings North) and Elizabeth Smith-mccrossin (PCCumberland North), as well as for MLAS who supported Clarke, will be interpreted by party members.
Prominent roles for his leadership rivals will let members know there is no inner and other team of Tories.
But, if Houston is perceived to favour his backers to the exclusion of his rivals, party members will take note and draw a di erent conclusion.
e leadership was decided by a system that allocated 100 points to each of the province’s 51 provincial ridings, and points were distributed to candidates in proportion to the votes they received in each riding.
Houston garnered 2,496 points on the rst ballot, just 55 shy of the 2,551 needed to win outright. Tories cast 8,943 valid ballots to pick a new leader, and the party planned to release the vote breakdown as early as this week.
Smart and energetic, Houston has been an e ective critic of the government and will gain pro le as Leader of the Opposition when the House reconvenes in late winter or spring of 2019.
His broad message to Nova Scotians is that the province holds great promise but is being held back by ine ective government.