Conversations this week with the five contenders for the leadership of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party revealed far more similarities than differences.
With most of the votes now cast and the heat of battle behind them, the lines between the candidates seemed to blur into common memories of the journey they’ve taken together and separately.
One joked that one day he was in Garden of Eden and the next found him in Paradise. The first is a community in Guysborough County, the second a village in Annapolis County. Another said the long campaign took candidates to places and people they would have missed in a shorter race — “that’s a huge plus.”
Nine months of long days, late nights, fast food and endless hours on the road were eclipsed by what one called “a gift” of hearing the hopes and hard realities of people in almost every dot on the provincial map.
“It’s not often that a citizen gets to travel the entire province and dream of what could be.”
Call it hokey if you want, but along the way and to varying degrees, these candidates got religion. Their odyssey kindled or rekindled their political activism — an affirmation that the government can make things better for people, even if that means just getting out of their way.
As arduous as the campaign was, none betrayed a hint of regret. By design or happenstance, the long campaign gave each of the candidates deeper insight into the problems and possibilities of Nova Scotia.
“The situation in health care is profoundly affecting Nova Scotians,” Kings North MLA John Lohr said, adding that the Liberal government hasn’t found a way to address those concerns and that alone is reason enough for change.
“People feel that somewhere along the way, local communities have lost their voices. For Nova Scotia to be successful, our communities have to be successful. We all matter. Who better than the local communities to decide what’s best for them,” said businesswoman Julie Chaisson, the only candidate who doesn’t currently hold elected office.
“This province needs big, game-changing ideas. I want Nova Scotia to have the strongest growing economy in Canada,” Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin (PC-Cumberland North) said, and to get there the province needs a different kind of government; one that doesn’t get distracted by “the game of politics” but rather keeps its eye on the goal.
“This leadership race has created and forced a real policy debate and there is more to come,” said Cape Breton Regional Mayor Cecil Clarke. “This has been healthy, even when it’s been uncomfortable. We are, as a party, talking about and living in the reality of Nova Scotia today.”
“The (leadership) campaign has captured folks’ imagination,” Pictou East MLA Tim Houston said. “It sent a message about what’s possible . . . that things can be different, things can be better in Nova Scotia.”
The candidates and their teams of volunteers did all they could, and now it’s up to the party membership to pick a leader. That membership exploded from around 3,500 to more than 11,600 during the leadership race.
Four of five candidates will be disappointed. The pain of losing after you’ve put your heart and soul into something will cascade through four organizations made up entirely of volunteers, who gave whatever time they could to the political process. That is a vital contribution that even the most cynical political observer should recognize and respect.
On one final point, the five candidates were again in total agreement.
The party belongs to its members and when more than 8,000 of them have been heard, and the votes are counted, whatever choice they make is “the right choice.” One of five will be leader. The other four will stand with that leader.
“The party is bigger than any one person. The role of leader is to bring out the best of the party, and that doesn’t mean just the (legislative) caucus, but to value what every member brings.”
“It’s been an incredible privilege and I will miss it when it’s over.”
“I’m looking forward to moving on to next chapter, but I’m a little sorry to see this one end.”
“The coin has been tossed and it’s going to land. Maybe I’ll win. If I don’t I’m ready to support whoever does.”
They all said pretty much the same thing, just with different words.