Promising “change is coming,” Tim Houston swept to victory at the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative party convention on Saturday.
Houston rode his perceived front-runner status to the party’s top job after primary challenger Cecil Clarke conceded following the first ballot.
“It’s a great feeling,” Houston said moments after Clarke and fellow candidates John Lohr and Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin all threw their support behind him.
“I’m excited for the future of the party and I’m excited for the future of the province. This party can do good things for Nova Scotians.”
A short time later, a triumphant Houston, accompanied by his wife, Carol and young adult children Paget and Zachary, took the stage in front of more than 500 party members at the Halifax Exhibition Centre. He immediately called for his fellow candidates, including Julie Chaisson, to join him. Then, he welcomed the entire Tory caucus.
“This is the PC party,” said Houston, a 48-year-old accountant who has claimed the Pictou East riding in each of the last two provincial elections.
“We will do more great things. We will go and sell this message to Nova Scotians that we are ready and that we want to earn their trust and do good things for the next 20 years. We are a party of solutionists, we are problem solvers and we are going to go and do it. We need everyone of you, we’re sending a message to Nova Scotians, we’re coming to see you, we’re coming to listen to you, we’re coming to learn from you and we want you to know one thing -- change is coming.”
In the one-member, one-vote system adopted by the party, each of the 11,600 card-carrying Tories in the province were eligible to vote in person or by mail-in ballot However, all 51 provincial constituencies were weighted equally, each worth 100 points in the final tally. With a total of 5,100 points up for grabs, the winning candidate had to amass 2,551 points.
Houston scored 2,496.75 points, just 54 shy of the first-ballot victory. Clarke, the mayor of Cape Breton Regional Municipality and a former PC provincial cabinet minister, placed more than 1,000 points back with 1,385.71.
“I said last (Friday) night unity of the party was paramount, and I had to put my actions where my words are,” Clarke said of conceding. “I’m a unifier, I believe in my party. My party is bigger than me and I have to be big enough to acknowledge that and to support my colleague in his moving forward in the leadership. Our focus now has to be the next election. “
In the points count after the first and only ballot, Lohr polled 692.45 points, Smith-McCrossin picked up 384.96 and Chaisson trailed with 140.13. Chaisson was automatically dropped off a potential second ballot and the other candidates were given a half hour to decide if they wanted to stay in the race.
“It was a long campaign and people were enthusiastic about their supporters,” Houston said. “For him (Clarke) to do that, it was a great thing for the party and I am grateful he did it.”
Houston said later that divisions borne from the 10-month leadership campaign won’t hamper the party going forward.
“The race is over. We are caucus colleagues, we are members of the PC party together and we’ll just get to work,” Houston said.
Patricia Auchnie, the PC candidate for Eastern Shore in the 2017 election, said Clarke’s gesture will go a long way toward party unity.
“That is bringing the party together. That was a lot of respect and it was a beautiful thing to see,” Auchnie said.
After the blue balloons had cascaded to the convention floor, Houston spoke about knocking off Premier Stephen McNeil and the Liberal government.
“Our most immediate hurdle is Stephen McNeil and forming a government but we need to look past that because this is a wonderful province,” Houston said. “This is a great province with lots of opportunity. We need a leader and a party to help unlock the potential. That is our goal and together we will do that.
“We won’t stop at our first majority, we won’t stop at our second majority, we won’t stop at our third majority, we won’t stop until Nova Scotia is the leader and the best province in Atlantic Canada.
“Let’s go and do it together.”
As the vote counting was concluding, the party paid tribute to Karla MacFarlane, the interim party leader who took over from Jamie Baillie after his forced resignation in January in the wake of an investigation into inappropriate behaviour.
“We owe Karla so much,” party president Tara Miller said. “She has worked tirelessly, stepping up in challenging times.”
MacFarlane, the MLA for Pictou West, was described as humble and kind and touted for her battle against the federal carbon tax and standing up for equality.
“She sent the message there is no place for hate or intolerance in Nova Scotia,” Miller said. “She always puts the interests of the PC party above her own interests.”
MacFarlane said she was proud to have led the party.
“The last 10 months has been an adventure,” MacFarlane said.
MacFarlane said the PCs continuously over the past 10 months pressed the Liberal government to answer for bungling the personal information breach and hammered them on the health-care and doctor crisis.
“We revealed that they have no plan, they have no answers,” MacFarlane said.
“The Liberal government is arrogant and they are becoming very, very tired,” she said, creating the perfect conditions for the Tory party to ascend to power.
Keynote speaker Andrew Scheer, the federal Conservative leader, told the audience it’s an exciting time for the provincial party.
“You are here to find out who will become the next premier of Nova Scotia,” Scheer said.
Scheer said McNeil sat near him on his flight to Halifax on Friday evening and he was asked to say something nice about the premier at the convention.
“I will,” Scheer told the convention. “Stephen McNeil was a pretty good leader of the opposition and everybody in this room is going to work hard to make sure that he gets that job again.”