The Chronicle Herald (Metro)
Independent candidates look to stand their ground
Smith-mccrossin, Paon accept challenge to keep their seats
“Happy Independents' Day!”
That, Alana Paon said with a laugh, would be her first bit of welcoming advice to Elizabeth Smith-mccrossin now that the Cumberland North incumbent is looking to retain her legislative seat, but as an independent candidate for the 41st provincial election.
“It's important to have one another's backs, especially in what's considered a blood sport much of the time,” said Paon, the independent incumbent running in Richmond. “It's difficult to know who your friends are, or who you can trust, and that can be extremely stressful.”
Upon learning of Paon's darkhumoured message, Smith-mcCrossin responded with an equally hearty laugh. “Alana and I are good friends,” she said, but adding she didn't want to reveal much more about their conversations.
Paon, 50, and Smith-mccrossin, 52, each hope their constituents will stand with them as they campaign to keep their legislative seats in their respective ridings of Richmond and Cumberland North ahead of the Aug. 17 vote.
The two incumbents share at least one commonality: Both initially ran, and won, under the Progressive Conservative banner in 2017. Both also wound up being ejected from the party caucus by its leader, Tim Houston, albeit for different reasons.
EXPELLED OVER BLOCKADE
Smith-mccrossin had been expelled nearly a month ago because of her work for, and support of, a blockade of the Nova Scotia-new Brunswick border, where protesters were angered over Liberal Leader Iain Rankin's flip-flop on cross-border travel between the provinces while he served as premier.
Although Smith-mccrossin defended her stance and believed communication between her and Houston appeared solid, that seemed to change just before her surprise turfing. “The experience that I had, it shows that maybe there's a need for a change in the culture of politics, where in my opinion, MLAS should be able to represent their constituents that elected them, and not be punished for doing so,” she said.
“We need to shift the culture of politics back to where politicians truly represent the people that elected them.”
OUSTED OVER DISPUTE
In 2019, Paon was ousted from the party after a long-standing dispute over her St. Peter's constituency office, along with what Houston said at the time were a number of complaints from residents that Paon wasn't available enough to constituents.
“I take very seriously my responsibility to bring forward the issues which my constituents ask me to bring forward,” Paon told the Cape Breton Post in a recent interview. “I made one promise when I went to people's doorsteps in 2017: I would be their voice in the legislature. But when that voice is being taken away, I cannot properly sleep at night. But I have to look in the mirror and tell myself that I have tried my best ... but it is very difficult to do your best when someone is trying to silence you.”
Paon said initially she wasn't sure she would run again until she consulted family members and her fiancée. On Saturday, soon after Rankin announced the election call, Paon posted a Facebook video message: “Many people have been asking me if I am going to be running in this next election. And I've given it a lot of thought ... it's a big decision to make ... and I just want to let you all know that I am. ... We're in election mode.”
Political watchers say the challenge now will be how these independent candidates will fare during their campaigns, and whether voters will stick by them once the polls close on Aug. 17.
Candidates from a political party tend to “run on a past record,” said
Lori Turnbull, director of the school of public administration and an associate professor of political science at Dalhousie University in Halifax. “How do you create a record for an independent candidate? That's hard.”
Turnbull points to a candidate's public profile as an alternative. In Smith-mccrossin's case, “she's got a higher profile than most independent candidates," Turnbull said. "Voters have a good sense of who she is and what she brings to the riding. She's the incumbent, which makes a huge difference.
“But she's also going to be running against (political) party machines, which means that she doesn't have the kind of support as an independent that other candidates will have. You're saying, ‘This is what I stand for, individually. And I'm going to be an individual.' As a voter, I would be asking how you are going to have an impact, when you don't have official alliances with someone else?”
As for Paon, Turnbull said her departure from the PC caucus “is probably not going to be top of mind for people the way Smith-mccrossin's was. But when Paon won that riding (Cape Breton-richmond) in 2017, that was huge, because Michel Samson had owned that riding since 1998.”
But looking at Paon's current competition — including the NDP'S pick as candidate Bryson Syliboy — “I'm really interested to see what happens there. It's going to be very hard for (Paon).”
Independent candidates may also face some financial challenges in terms of self-promotion, said Cape Breton University political science professor Tom Urbaniak. “An independent is almost inevitably going to run a low-budget, very frugal campaign,” he said.
Urbaniak feels both independents will have their work cut out for them in terms of campaigning as well as securing voters.
“A victory from Elizabeth SmithMccrossin or Alana Paon is going to be a longshot. And they know it,” he said. “But even if they don't win, they will play a role in drawing votes away from other candidates.”