Jamie Baillie’s announcement last week that he will be stepping down as Progressive Conservative Leader has had a greater impact on me than I perhaps first anticipated.
Jamie and I have been friends for more than 20 years. We worked together in John Hamm’s Premier’s Office from 2002 through 2004. I was president of the PC Party of Nova Scotia when he became leader in 2010. I was proud to stand with him and 49 other PC candidates in this year’s provincial election.
Even though six days have now passed since Jamie made his announcement, I am still sad about the news. Of course, I respect his decision and wish Jamie and his family well, but many of us will always wonder what might have been had he become Premier? Many of us will ask ourselves, could we have done things differently in support of Jamie’s efforts?
Over the weekend, I reflected a bit more on Jamie’s time as leader. Much has been written and said about his accomplishments in terms of increasing support for the PC Party from record low levels to our best result in more than a decade, leading the charge on issues such as mental health and recruiting candidates that resulted in a record number of female PC MLAs. Jamie himself has spoken movingly about increasing voter participation and engagement and the role our elected officials must play to listen more to the citizens they are entrusted to serve.
Jamie would be the first to admit that he’s far from perfect, but there are a number of important leadership lessons that we should consider as we look forward to who and what will come next for Progressive Conservatives.
Lesson #1 –Be Open, Ask Questions
As John Hamm’s chief of staff, Jamie helped quarterback our province’s first balanced budget in 40 years and put the foundation in place for seven straight balanced budgets and the largest reductions in the province’s debt-to-GDP ratio in a generation. But Jamie never let his unprecedented and unparalleled commitment to fiscal responsibility act as a barrier to new ideas coming forward. He always recognized the role that government could and should play as a backstop to market forces. He was unafraid to ask questions and challenge assumptions – both of himself and others. That’s how we ended up with a modern Nova Scotia Community College system and public school construction decisions (at that time) based on merit and evidence – the result of which is seen everyday at Citadel High School.
The best way to get the best solutions is to listen, ask questions, be open to new ideas and do your homework. Jamie showed us there’s no contradiction in the Progressive Conservative vision, mission and values and embracing new directions for Nova Scotians.
Lesson #2 – Reach Out
The larger the role in public life, the more isolating it’s likely to become. Jamie always worked hard to avoid this outcome, both as a Premier’s Chief of Staff and Leader of the PC Party of Nova Scotia. I remember the regular roundtables of Nova Scotians he would convene in the Premier’s Office to get their perspectives. As PC Leader, Jamie was always connecting with people outside of traditional party circles to ensure they knew that they were welcome in a modern, changing PC Party. Whether it was members of the film industry, educators, students, health care professionals, victims of sexual assault, environmentalists, new Canadians or members of the LGBTQ community, Jamie worked hard to keep the lines of communication open.
Lesson #3 – Respect – Both for Volunteers and MLAs
As someone who has been involved in numerous volunteer roles of the PC Party of Nova Scotia over the last 25 years, I have met people associated with the party who, from time to time, didn’t like it when party members asked questions, criticized decisions or made suggestions for improvement. They found these volunteers to be a nuisance. In other cases, duly elected MLAs were not given the respect they had earned through the democratic mandate they received from their constituents.
That was not the Jamie I saw, either in the Premier’s Office or as PC Leader. Jamie instilled in me as a staff person in John Hamm’s office that our ability to work for a Premier depended on MLAs continuing to hold the confidence of voters. Jamie always made himself available to the party members and volunteers, not just when he was looking for something. Sometimes I would ask Jamie about the wisdom of some idea the party was pursuing and he would patiently explain which MLA brought this forward and the strong rationale behind it.
Balancing the many different demands in public life can be tough. But whether he agreed with an idea or not, Jamie always respected the individual who championed it. Jamie and I disagreed on many occasions – as good friends do. But we never let those disagreements take away from the respect we had for each other.
Lesson #4 – Be Visible
In my first year as volunteer PC Party President, I personally visited almost every constituency in Nova Scotia. I was fortunate that I had the time as I wasn’t a parent then and I loved every minute of my travels, but it was time consuming. Then Jamie Baillie became PC Leader in 2010 and I discovered what hard work in getting across the province was really all about.
Jamie was everywhere as PC Leader – big city, growing suburb, small town or rural community. From Celtic Colours in Cape Breton to the Cedar Fest in Halifax, Menorah lightings to Ramadan, the Apple Blossom Festival to the Halifax Pride Parade, Jamie made sure that our party showed up and was counted.
These are some of the leadership lessons that I learned from Jamie. I am grateful to have had the chance to learn from him and look forward to seeing where his next chapter will take him. I know he will continue to find a way to give back.