Choosing our future – the PC leadership race

Although it’s been less than three weeks since Jamie Baillie announced his resignation as PC leader, the party’s leadership race has already moved into a new phase.

Yesterday, Pictou East MLA Tim Houston became the first candidate to officially declare for the Progressive Conservative leadership. Kings North MLA John Lohr has been diligently getting out around the province, meeting with party members and other Nova Scotians. There is also a great deal of speculation that Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Cecil Clarke is considering a return to provincial politics. It is fantastic to see the level of interest to date in this important role and hopefully party members will have a variety of different candidates to evaluate and choose from.

The race for leader has certainly caused me to reflect on past PC leadership races and the many other hiring processes I have been involved in the private sector and in community organizations. The most important job of an organization – whether it’s a political party, a multi-million dollar organization, a not-for-profit or a small smart up – is selecting its leader.

Choosing the next Progressive Conservative leader is about choosing the future we want to see for our party and for our province.

This is the fifth Nova Scotia PC leadership vote I will be participating in (although I am ONLY 42!).  In every one of those races, there were questions around (in no particular order) the geography of a candidate, whether they are an elected member or not , who can win and who can lead a government. There has never been one obvious route to political success. If anything, we are seeing in recent elections in Canada, the United States and elsewhere a strong desire from voters to make an unconventional choice, to take risks, to shake things up.

From my own perspective, the three most important objectives for our next leader to work on are:

  • Being able to clearly communicate and connect with Nova Scotians on what our party stands for, how we are different than other parties and previous governments and what we will do better as government. Voters want more than just attacking the government and the same old partisanship that all parties have been guilty of;
  • Build on the gains of the last election, working together with experienced and new MLAs, to ensure we have the ideas, people and resources to earn the confidence of enough Nova Scotians in the next general election to form a majority PC government; and
  • Lead a government as Premier that will truly change this province for the better.

For a decade, our Progressive Conservative vision – established by party members – has been Nova Scotia as an economic, social and environmental leader.

Yet our party has failed – through five consecutive elections under three straight leaders – to convince a sufficient number of Nova Scotians to vote Progressive Conservative to make this vision a reality.

How do we connect with voters who have turned away from our party over the years and stay connected with voters who came back to us in this last election?

Politics as our party has practiced for most of the last two decades is not the answer.

As I have spoken with and listened to people inside and outside of our party since Jamie’s announcement, I have been reminded of something I learned from my time as Nova Scotia PC Party President from 2009 to 2012, a period when as a volunteer I visited every constituency in the province:

There’s a lot of talent among PC Party members – some who have felt left out over the years.

There’s a lot of talent among Nova Scotians who aren’t PC Party members, but want to find a voice for change.

We need leadership that’s prepared to reach out, to listen, to act and to tell people why.

Jamie Baillie has brought our party back to be a relevant voice for Nova Scotians in every part of the province.

But it would be a mistake to think that only a change in leadership will automatically result in electoral success. We need a leader who can communicate and connect, define what we stand for (and not just remind people what we are against and what the current government does wrong), be both a team player and team builder and lead a government as Premier.

It has been the honour of a lifetime to hear from so many people from across Nova Scotia who believe I should seek the leadership and have offered to help. I also respect those who have a different point of view.

Having traveled so extensively as PC Party President, mostly when I wasn’t a parent, I am thinking hard about the impact on my young son from making a 51 electoral district commitment required of our next leader, possibly for the next 10+ years.

Regardless of my decision, our party and our province will be well served by having a considered, vigorous debate about the future from a diverse field of leadership candidates. As someone who sweats it out in the private sector, I know first hand the benefits of healthy competition to my business. Our next PC leader, regardless of who that is, will benefit from healthy competition.