SYDNEY, N.S. — Win or lose, Cecil Clarke says he has no regrets about throwing his hat into the ring for the leadership of Nova Scotia’s Progressive Conservative Party.
Clarke, who is in the middle of his second term as mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, is one of five candidates vying to become leader of the provincial Tories, who will vote on the matter at their leadership convention in Halifax in less than two weeks.
“It’s all very exciting and I don’t regret for a moment doing this,” said the 50-year-old, who spent part of Sunday afternoon at a New Waterford town hall meeting that was held to address public concerns about the direction of provincial health care.
Clarke sat in the Nova Scotia legislature for more than a decade (2001-11) as the MLA for the since-renamed riding of Cape Breton North. He also had stints as a cabinet minister and house Speaker during his time in provincial politics.
“Regardless of the outcome, I am very happy and satisfied with my decision to get into this race — I think it’s very important to have five people from different parts of the province putting new ideas together and I think both the party and the province will be better for it,” he said.
Clarke, who resigned his MLA seat prior to his election as CBRM mayor in 2012, announced his candidacy for the PC leadership in February, just days after he publicly acknowledged that he is gay. Since then, he has spent his time juggling his duties as mayor with his provincewide leadership campaign.
“It’s been very busy, but it’s gone extremely well — we’ve been criss-crossing the province, burning up the phone lines and doing everything possible we can do with both traditional campaigning and now the new era of social media and online campaigning,” said Clarke, who added his municipal experience has given his campaign an entirely different perspective.
“At this point, it is just about taking any extra minutes you have to reach out to people — people are also reaching out and that’s great because in a campaign you spend so much time trying to reach other people, so when those people are trying reach you it’s a good sign that they really are being thoughtful about the decision they have to make.”
The more than 10,000 registered party members will make that decision on Saturday, Oct. 27 at the Halifax Exhibition Centre.
The five candidates are Clarke, Pictou East MLA Tim Houston, Kings North MLA John Lohr, Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin and Julie Chaisson, who is the executive director of the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market.
"Regardless of the outcome, I am very happy and satisfied with my decision to get into this race"
- Cecil Clarke
The interim party leader is Pictou West MLA Karla MacFarlane, who took over after former leader Jaimie Baillie resigned in January following allegations of inappropriate behaviour.
Here in the CBRM, Clarke’s decision to seek the leadership while serving as mayor has been a lively topic of conversation for the past eight months. And, one of the most asked questions is what will Clarke do if he is elected PC leader.
Will he resign as mayor? If so, when? Will a sitting PC member resign to allow Clarke to run in a byelection? Or, will he wait for the 2021 provincial election?
“I just hope to be the person leading after the decision, but I’ll respect whatever the decision is — I’ve grown up in the party and I will always be supportive of it,” said Clarke.
“On the basis of winning, I will have to make all kinds of tough decisions, but whatever I do I will make responsible decisions.”
When asked to be more definitive, Clarke reiterated earlier comments that he has committed to 51 (the number of provincial seats in the Nova Scotia legislature) constituency and policy forums.
“That’s a lot of travel and meetings — you do the math,” he suggested, with a twinkle in his eye.
And with that, Clarke hopped into his vehicle and drove off to enjoy a family dinner, a rare occurrence for a sitting mayor who is seeking the leadership of a provincial political party.