Hous­ton para­dox hangs over Tory race

Cape Breton Post - - Editorial - Jim Vibert Jim Vibert con­sulted or worked for five Nova Sco­tia gov­ern­ments. He now keeps a close and crit­i­cal eye on pro­vin­cial and re­gional pow­ers.

The favourite to win the lead­er­ship of Nova Sco­tia’s Con­ser­va­tive party in two weeks is also the can­di­date who most deeply di­vides the party – call it the Hous­ton para­dox.

Pic­tou East MLA Tim Hous­ton may be within hail­ing dis­tance of an un­likely first-bal­lot win over a strong field of four ri­vals, de­spite a se­lec­tion process that should pre­clude any can­di­date from run­ning away with the race. While none of the other four is con­ced­ing a thing and in­sid­ers in each of their camps re­main out­wardly op­ti­mistic that they have a path to vic­tory, the Hous­ton camp has taken on an air of supreme con­fi­dence.

Hous­ton him­self, by the luck of the draw, got the last word at the sixth and fi­nal lead­er­ship can­di­dates’ de­bate in Truro on Wed­nes­day.

He used the op­por­tu­nity to is­sue a bat­tle cry that brought roughly two-thirds of the heav­ily pro-Hous­ton crowd to their feet in tri­umphant agree­ment, while the other third sat in si­lence. “Stephen McNeil, I’m com­ing for you.” Hous­ton’s choice of the sin­gu­lar pro­noun “I” rather than the plu­ral – and in­clu­sive – “we” in his warn­ing to Lib­eral Pre­mier Stephen McNeil pro­vides more in­sight into the race than he in­tended. Sup­port­ers of Cape Bre­ton Re­gional Mayor Ce­cil Clarke, who is be­lieved to be run­ning sec­ond, and those of MLAs John Lohr (Kings North) and El­iz­a­beth Smith-McCrossin (Cum­ber­land North), likely third and fourth re­spec­tively, are an­gry about the Hous­ton cam­paign’s tac­tics.

The long­est shot in the race, Julie Chais­son ran un­suc­cess­fully in Ch­ester St. Mar­garet’s last year and is re­main­ing ju­di­ciously apart from the in­ternecine feuds that have char­ac­ter­ized the cam­paign.

There is a sense among Tories in the other three camps that if Hous­ton wins there will be no place in the party for them, or any­one who didn’t back his lead­er­ship.

Tories sup­port­ing those can­di­dates say the Hous­ton cam­paign has split the party in two – those who are with them, and ev­ery­body else. Party in­sid­ers fear that di­vi­sion will carry for­ward af­ter the Oct. 27 con­ven­tion if Hous­ton wins.

The Clarke, Lohr and Smith-McCrossin camps each in­clude party stal­warts that any new leader should tap and will need if the Con­ser­va­tives hope to un­seat the Lib­er­als in the next pro­vin­cial election, not ex­pected un­til 2021.

And, while he’s the clear front-run­ner, Hous­ton needs to ei­ther win on the first bal­lot or be close enough to grab vic­tory with min­i­mal sec­ond-bal­lot sup­port, be­cause that’s likely all he’s got.

There are a record 11,000-plus reg­is­tered party mem­bers el­i­gi­ble to vote, but not all votes are equal. That’s be­cause each of the prov­ince’s 51 rid­ings is given equal weight re­gard­less of the num­ber of vot­ing mem­bers in any one rid­ing. So, in or­der to win, a can­di­date needs fairly broad sup­port spread across the prov­ince.

The di­vide be­tween Hous­ton’s camp and the oth­ers deep­ened in re­cent weeks, when Clarke, Lohr and Smith-McCrossin crit­i­cized Hous­ton’s team for break­ing the rules on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions, in­clud­ing one that drew a fine from the party.

Hous­ton’s in­tegrity was ques­tioned and when Lohr con­tin­ued in that vein in Truro he drew the vo­cal dis­favour of the crowd. But the tall farmer­busi­ness­man from the Val­ley has the courage of his con­vic­tions and re­turned to the ethics theme in his clos­ing re­marks, court­ing the crowd’s dis­ap­proval a sec­ond time.

“The thing about in­tegrity is that you can’t do it half the time,” Lohr said, adding that the Lib­eral govern­ment is tainted by a lack of in­tegrity, and Tories need to set a higher stan­dard if they hope to win.

Clarke and Smith-McCrossin were more cir­cum­spect. Smith-McCrossin made a ref­er­ence to the rules con­tro­versy when she said a leader has to stand up and take re­spon­si­bil­ity for his mis­takes.

Lohr, Clarke and Smith-McCrossin have each called on Hous­ton to apol­o­gize for break­ing the rules, but that didn’t hap­pen.

Pref­er­en­tial bal­lots were mailed to mem­bers more than a week ago and must be back in the party’s hands by Oct. 22 to count. Mem­bers can also at­tend a con­ven­tion in Hal­i­fax, Oct. 26-27 and vote af­ter each bal­lot.

Who­ever emerges as the next leader will have fences to mend and a party to bring to­gether. Clarke, Lohr or Smith-McCrossin would need to reach out, es­pe­cially to Hous­ton sup­port­ers, but it’s Hous­ton who would have the most work in front of him to re­unite a party that many mem­bers blame him for di­vid­ing.


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