Progressive Conservative leadership race heats up

A recent turn of events in the contest to be the next leader of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party has made things very interesting.

Inverness MLA Allan MacMaster announced during a meet and greet on the Port Hawkesbury waterfront on June 10 that he’s backing Pictou East MLA Tim Houston.

MacMaster told The Reporter that he has known Houston for “a number of years” and they sat together on the Public Accounts Committee.

“He’s often looked to by our party, whether it’s on budget day as our finance critic or after pubic accounts meeting, to respond to the media,” MacMaster explained. “He’s a good communicator. He’s brought a lot of people to the party, and people around the province are impressed with him.”

MacMaster said Houston has proven himself to be an advocate for diverse groups all across Nova Scotia, be it people in the film industry who dealt with the elimination of the film tax credit, to people struggling with Lyme disease.

“He’s got ideas and he’s able to bring people together, and that’s what we need in the next leader of our party,” MacMaster said. “For those in the next election who want change, they can have confidence that Tim can bring that sort of change while providing sustainability for the province.”

MacMaster said he’d rather not comment on why he chose Houston over the other candidates, but he did say the PCs have a very good field.

Four other candidates are in the running, and they include PC MLAs John Lohr (Kings North) and Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin (Cumberland North), Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market executive director Julie Chaisson, and Cape Breton Regional Mayor Cecil Clarke, who has strong support from the riding of Cape Breton-Richmond.

Houston is now backed by a total of seven PC MLAs. With MacMaster, Kim Masland, Pat Dunn, Tim Halman, Larry Harrison, Brad Johns, and Barb Adams have also decided to stand behind Houston.

What is interesting in this endorsement is that MacMaster looked past the only Cape Bretoner running for the job, CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke.

The political custom – whether it is Liberal, PC or NDP – is that MLAs tend to support leadership hopefuls from their neck of the woods, as a sign of regional solidarity and because of the possible benefits for the area if that candidate becomes leader.

Whether that signals a lack of regional division within the Tory Party, or a lack of regional political cohesion within Cape Breton is debatable.

The old political norms, traditional voting patterns and taken for granted political beliefs have almost completely disappeared. People do not vote the same way their parents or grandparents did.

The new reality in politics is that voters move fluidly among parties and candidates, stopping to give their support when it suits their interests, then withdrawing that support just as quickly when it doesn’t.

It is conceivable that the Inverness MLA is just expressing this unpredictable new normal, or that he is simply voting for the candidate he thinks would make the better leader.

Considering that MacMaster toyed with the idea of a leadership run himself, it is questionable whether he believes Houston would made the best leader. Since politics is the art of the possible and MacMaster has abandoned his own run, practicality is sometimes the only option.

Regardless of his motives, the Inverness MLA has raised some eyebrows with his endorsement, and created some drama in a leadership race that, until this point, was quite uneventful.

Perhaps this and other storylines will converge to create an interesting convention on October 27.