Drama developing in races for federal seats

After the controversy in the federal riding of Cape Breton-Canso over the MP’s decision to leave public life, and even more so, the government’s consideration of a new airport in the Inverness area, the riding of Central Nova also made headlines last week.

On August 20, former Central Nova Conservative candidate Mayor Roger MacKay announced he will not offer in the federal election on October 21, citing “personal reasons” in a Facebook post. While officials with the Town of Westville did confirm MacKay is on a leave of absence from the mayoral position, there were no other reasons provided for his unexpected departure from the federal scene.

Two days later, the Conservatives announced that country singer/songwriter and Pictou County native George Canyon will carry their banner in this fall’s vote.

Winner of multiple Canadian Country Music Association, East Coast Music, and Juno Awards – along with volunteer honours from Diabetes Canada as a type-1 diabetic – Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said he is excited to be adding someone of Canyon’s “experience and talent” to his team.

Although Canyon lives in Alberta (he’s now in his sixth season singing the national anthem during Calgary Flames home games), Scheer noted that Central Nova is Canyon’s “home riding,” with a press release from the Conservative Party of Canada pointing out that Canyon’s “passion for Nova Scotia has never waned throughout his career.”

A Nova Scotia Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, Canyon has also been made an Honorary Colonel for 14 Wing Greenwood Air Force Base in Nova Scotia in 2008 and was appointed the first ever Colonel Commandant of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets.

To bring home the theme of unity, despite this last minute shift in candidates, Central Nova Conservative Riding Association President Ryan Sharpe said “we’re all completely behind George,” adding “I know our grassroots volunteers and supporters fully support his campaign.”

For his part, Canyon said he’s beyond excited, declaring that “over the next nine weeks, I’m going to wear the soles out of my boots as I work hard to show people here the type of representative and advocate I will be for them.”

With Canyon in place, the Conservative Party has a full slate of candidates in Nova Scotia and 331 overall across Canada.

While it is admirable the Conservatives were able to find a candidate so quickly and at the eleventh hour, the fact that MacKay’s sudden decision to step aside is unknown after beating out two other candidates for the nomination last spring, and that his replacement does not live in the riding, do require more explanation.

This comes after Cape Breton-Canso MP Rodger Cuzner announced his decision to retire from politics after almost 20 years as Member of Parliament. Cuzner acknowledged at the time the decision to leave him out of cabinet last year helped make his decision.

As if the Liberals could afford more upheaval in the wake of Cuzner’s departure, news broke in the spring that the federal government was considering funding the construction of a new airport in Strathlorne.

This was greeted with sharp criticism from around the riding, particularly from supporters of the Allan J. MacEachen Port Hawkesbury Airport, as well as municipal, provincial and federal representatives, the local business community, and even some Liberals.

The Conservatives in Cape Breton-Canso then made some news of their own when after Alfie MacLeod was finalized as their nominee, it was announced that he will not be returning to provincial politics regardless if he loses in this October’s election.

This decision was spurred by orders from Progressive Conservative leader Tim Houston that any PC MLA announcing a federal run must step down as MLA, regardless whether provincial rules allow them to not only remain as MLA, but continue to collect a salary and have their expenses reimbursed.

This move by Houston deserves applause since it is inexcusable to allow MLAs to continue collecting a pay cheque while taking a crack at federal politics, then allow them to return seamlessly to provincial politics if they lose. If sitting representatives want to run federally or provincially, they should have to first surrender their seat.

This is not forgetting the fact the Liberals, who’ve held Cape Breton-Canso since 2000 and won handily in 2015, have yet to nominate a candidate in what many still consider a safe seat for the governing party.

Fighting an election against an experienced, well known candidate like MacLeod, and fighting off the stink from the airport project will be tough obstacles for whoever gets the Liberal nomination.

Given these recent events, it appears the elections in both ridings in the Strait area could be very competitive and highly visible, which are welcomed departures from the recent, uneventful past when both were safe seats and their outcomes expected well in advance.

If this continues, Central Nova and Cape Breton-Canso might provide even more drama on election night.