Leadership the major focus of last weekend’s convention – join up to make your voice heard!

Halifax Citadel-Sable Island PC member Sandra McCulloch (left) delivers a message to Cumberland North MLA and PC leadership candidate Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin (right).

Seven days have now passed since the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Progressive Conservative Party of Nova Scotia started at the Westin Nova Scotian Hotel.

Pictou East MLA and PC leadership candidate Tim Houston (left) sharing a laugh with Halifax Citadel-Sable Island PC members Alan Hayman (centre) and Sam Clark (right)

Because this was the first provincial gathering since the resignation of former PC Leader Jamie Baillie and the first such provincial meeting to include the five declared PC leadership candidates, there was a lot of interest in the weekend.

You can watch the opening ceremonies from last Friday here. They include remarks from PC Party President Tara Miller, former Premier John Hamm and the five leadership candidates – Tim Houston (www.timhouston.ca), Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin (www.elizabethforleader.ca), John Lohr (www.johnlohr.ca), Julie Chaisson (www.juliechaisson.ca) and Cecil Clarke (www.cecilclarke.ca).

Listening to important questions from local PC members with Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor and PC leadership candidate Cecil Clarke (right).

On Sunday, Leadership Selection Committee co-chairs Tara Erskine and MLA Chris d’Entremont announced the details of the process by which the party will choose its next leader.

Anybody who holds a PC Party membership by September 11, 2018, will be able to vote for the next PC Leader. You can get your membership right now, by going online at www.pcparty.ns.ca. The cost is only $10 per person.

Each one of the province’s 51 constituencies will have the same amount of influence. No one constituency, no matter how many members it has, will have a larger voice. Votes will be allocated on a percentage basis in each constituency.

A wonderful discussion with retired diplomat and local PC member Richard Wedge and Kings North MLA and PC leadership candidate John Lohr.

You will be able to vote either by mail in advance or at a leadership convention in Halifax on October 27 (specific location to be announced).

The Halifax Citadel-Sable Island PC Association hosted a different kind of hospitality suite. I’ll have more to say on that in my next blog post.

Paige Black (left) was a key member of my 2017 campaign team. This year, she was a lead organizer for the Halifax Citadel-Sable Island PC hospitality suite.

Hospitality suites are a staple of political conventions. One way we were able to be different than other suites is that we used our suite to offer Halifax Citadel-Sable Island PC Party members, whether they planned to attend the provincial annual meeting or not, an opportunity to meet with four out of the five leadership candidates.

I would like to thank John Lohr, Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, Cecil Clarke and Tim Houston for taking time from their busy convention schedules to meet individually with small groups of our members.
And I am looking forward to scheduling a similar session for Julie Chaisson.

Excited that Halifax Seaport Market executive director and Chester-St. Margaret’s PC candidate of record Julie Chaisson (right) became the fifth candidate to enter the race.

I hope you will join me, along with many others, to elect the next leader of the PC Party of Nova Scotia; someone who could very well become Nova Scotia’s next Premier.

Thoughts from an undecided PC leadership voter

Four weeks have passed since I decided not to run for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Nova Scotia.

To the hundreds of people who have emailed, texted, messaged, called, tweeted or stopped to chat about my decision, thank you for your support, encouragement and kindness.

Since deciding not to run, I have participated in the process undertaken by the party’s provincial executive to reach decisions:

  • The timing of the leadership vote;
  • The method of selecting a leader; and
  • The rules governing the leadership selection process.

No longer being a potential candidate allowed me to engage in the discussion and decisions around these issues without it being perceived as acting on behalf of any leadership candidate. As I previously noted, we are fortunate to have Tara Erskine and MLA Chris d’Entremont co-charing the party’s leadership selection committee.

Now I’m turning my mind back to the kind of leader the PC Party needs and the kind of Premier the province needs.

Tomorrow, the 2018 Annual General Meeting of the PC Party of Nova Scotia will begin (http://pcparty.ns.ca/agm-2018/), giving a record number of Progressive Conservatives a chance to meet with declared and prospective candidates. The Halifax Citadel-Sable Island PC Association is hosting some individual meet and greets for our members with several of the candidates who accepted our invitation.

With at least five declared or prospective candidates to choose from, the PC Party’s leadership race could be the most vigorously contested in almost 30 years – perhaps even in the modern history of the PC Party.

I have spoken with each of the candidates repeatedly – before and after my own leadership decision.   They are all good people. We should be grateful for their desire to run for the leadership and serve in this critical role for our province’s future. I echo a sentiment Pictou West MLA and now interim PC Leader Karla MacFarlane told me before Christmas: “There’s not a person running for the leadership that I couldn’t work with.”

Progressive Conservatives each have their own motivations for choosing a candidate. A number of my supporters have pledged their support for some of the other candidates. Others are, like me and many others, taking time in making the most important decision a party can make – choosing its next leader. It’s a tremendously personal decision and in my opinion there is no right or wrong path.

In a blog post in November (http://robbatherson.ca/2017/11/20/choosing-our-future-the-pc-leadership-race/), I wrote the following:

“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.”

For what it’s worth, here are some of the things I am looking for in our next leader:

A leader whose number one priority as Premier will be ensuring our province becomes one of Canada’s economic and job creation leaders. Our ability to have a more cohesive, caring, progressive society ultimately depends on sustained, increased economic performance. We can’t afford any more years of being among Canada’s worst economic performers. We need a Premier who will champion and deliver policies that will give the private sector confidence to invest here, to hire here, to increase payroll here.

A leader who supports a positive agenda for Halifax – not only in words, but in deeds – and can inspire Halifax voters to have confidence in the kind of government we would deliver. It’s no coincidence that the PC Party is the only party that has failed to form a majority government through the five general elections of the current century. It’s been almost 20 years since we captured significant support in all parts – urban, suburban and rural – of the Halifax Regional Municipality. This must change. No more excuses.

A leader who can build a strong, united team and change our party’s culture for the better. In a previous blog post (http://robbatherson.ca/2017/12/12/building-a-better-more-inclusive-pc-party/), I highlighted the kind of changes we need to see happen to make party membership more meaningful, not only for new members but for longtime members or lapsed members who have felt left out. Successful leaders who get things done often do so by bringing people together, building a team and challenging themselves and others to do better.

A leader whose commitment to equality and human rights is without question. One of our core values as Progressive Conservatives – as outlined in our party’s vision, mission and values statement (http://pcparty.ns.ca/pc-party/our-mission/) – is respect for all, regardless of the colour of their skin, the religion they practice (or not at all) or the person they love. Our next leader must be prepared to stand up for these values and call out discrimination and intolerance when it rears its ugly head, even if it’s among their own supporters.

These are some of the things I’m thinking about in deciding who is best placed to be our next PC leader and Nova Scotia’s next Premier. What are you looking for?

Cornwallis couldn’t stay as is – let’s now find a better way to commemorate Halifax’s history

Today’s decision by Halifax Regional Council to remove the Cornwallis statue is certainly generating a lot of discussion from those supporting it and those against it. I was looking forward to a thoughtful, evidence-based recommendation from the committee struck by council to decide on an appropriate way to reconcile the views of those who felt the statue should be taken down versus those who felt it should remain. The decision by the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs to withdraw from this process left the Mayor and Council in the position where they needed to be decisive.

To leave the Cornwallis statue in place without a process to engage our Indigenous people on a new way to commemorate the history of Halifax that reflects all perspectives would have invited more conflict, more hurt and potentially violence. How would this have helped the path of reconciliation set out by the Mayor and Council in the Statement of Reconciliation adopted unanimously on December 8, 2015?

With the statue now being taken down, I hope the municipality will be able to re-establish a collaborative forum with the Mi’kmaq to identify a better, more respectful way to recognize the role of Cornwallis in establishing Halifax. This should include the right location for the statue and the context in which it is presented.

Not now for me – looking forward to hearing from the candidates

After a great deal of reflection and discussion with my family, I have concluded that this is not the right time for me to seek the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Nova Scotia.

Since November, I have been honoured and humbled by the number of Nova Scotians, inside and outside the PC Party, who encouraged me to pursue the leadership. Your support and your belief in me as the leader who would make Nova Scotia more prosperous, progressive and sustainable will always mean a great deal.  Letting you down has weighed heavily on me.

But to be the kind of father for my six year old son and husband to my wife that I expect of myself means that I must be present in their lives in a way that’s simply not compatible with the time I was planning to dedicate to a leadership campaign and bringing together a new, broad coalition of Nova Scotians to elect a Progressive Conservative majority government in the next election.

Thanks to the strong foundation that Jamie Baillie has built as PC leader, there are at least five other declared and potential leadership candidates – qualified and capable women and men inside and outside of the Progressive Conservative Caucus. Having a healthy number of candidates for the leadership and giving party members and other Nova Scotians a reasonable period of time to scrutinize the candidates and make an informed choice is a sign of strength in our party.

I am looking forward to hearing more from each of these individuals on the direction they intend to provide for the party and the kind of government they plan on leading as Nova Scotia’s next Premier.

At its best, the PC Party of Nova Scotia has achieved great things for Nova Scotians. Progressive Conservatives introduced public education in the 19th century and Medicare in the 20th century. As we approach the third decade of the 21st century, Progressive Conservatives need to provide the leadership and the government whose legacy will be a high-growth economy to make Nova Scotia the destination for people to stay here or move here. Now that I have chosen not to offer myself as that leader, I hope to find a leadership candidate who can build the best team to lead this charge for change.

With the door closing on my seeking the Progressive Conservative leadership, I will be focusing full-time on my business, working with my partners and clients to contribute to economic growth and job creation in Nova Scotia.

I want to say a special thank you to:

  • The “early stage, start up” campaign team – thank you for the energy, wisdom, support and loyalty you brought to getting us close to the starting line;
  • My business partners, colleagues and clients – thank you for your support, patience and understanding; and
  • My family – thank you for your constant love and support.

In the meantime, I will keep our conversation going on politics, public policy and whatever’s topical through my Twitter feed (@rbatherson), Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/RobBatherson/) and blog (www.robbatherson.ca/blog).

Let’s stay in touch.


Building a better, more inclusive PC Party

Embracing & respecting party members

Strengthening the ties between MLAs & the party

As I continue to get out and about to meet with PC Party members and other Nova Scotians to talk to them about the kind of PC leader they are looking for, I often meet up with declared leadership candidate Pictou East MLA Tim Houston and Kings North MLA John Lohr. Meanwhile, supporters of Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Cecil Clarke running for the leadership are signing up on the draftcecil.ca website.

I am also thrilled to hear that Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin is thinking about seeking our party’s leadership. A registered nurse and businessperson, Elizabeth served as our party’s vice president of policy prior to this spring’s election. At a time when health care is the number one issue for many Nova Scotians, she would be the only leadership candidate with front-line experience as a health care professional.

It’s a sign of strength and openness for our party when we take the time to allow a variety of different individuals to either declare they want to run or consider whether they should mount a campaign.

As I have said in the past, giving party members choice is good and should be encouraged.

This leadership race goes deeper than just the kind of leader we want to see.

It’s about the kind of party we want to present to Nova Scotians.

How do we build a political party that not only wins elections, but more importantly:

  • provides a good government that will stay connected with voters;
  • works with other political parties to make positive change happen; and
  • restores voter confidence in our democratic institutions?

There’s a natural ebb and flow in the life of political party.

An ebb and flow that always comes down to the people who involve themselves in a party.

MLAs get elected, then leave of their own accord or are “invited to leave” by the voters.

Candidates run for office. Some stay involved and/or run again. Others don’t and fall away from the party for a variety of reasons.

Volunteer party members assume leadership roles, locally and provincially.

Some stay involved, others decide to reduce their involvement or leave the party altogether.

Frankly, sometimes people stay in one role for too long and end up being a barrier to others growing within the organization (in turn, the party could use the talents of that long-serving office holder in another role).

The professional staffers who work for our leader and MLAs change over time.

Campaign teams change between election cycles, both locally and provincially.

Over two plus decades, I have witnessed:

  • MLAs who have been frustrated by “the party” and/or a leader’s “inner circle” or provincial campaign team;
  • Party members who have felt unappreciated or ignored by MLAs, their staff and/or provincial campaign teams;
  • Candidates who believe they weren’t listened to and essentially discarded after the election; and
  • Constituency associations that struggle to attract new members or even retain the members they have, resulting in burnout and frustration.

These issues aren’t specific to any one leader. But the next leader must look at these issues honestly and consider what changes need to take place as a party, so we don’t fall back as an organization. We need to keep building on the encouraging results of the 2017 election, our party’s best results in more than a decade.

The next PC leader must bring Progressive Conservatives together, not divide them.

The next PC leader must keep the doors open to any Nova Scotian who believes in our vision, mission and values.

The next PC leader must set not only the tone from the top, but also a clear direction on the kind of political party we should aspire to be.

Our PC Party must be one that embraces and respects the party member, as a volunteer who gives of their time, their talent, their ideas and often times their funds.

An organization that provides someone a meaningful opportunity to make our province better is more than likely to keep that member and attract others to the cause.  On the other hand, if we shut people out or turn them away, we will lose the benefit of their experience and contributions.

Our PC Party must be one that ensures elected MLAs have greater involvement in party policy development, organization and governance.

We should amend the party’s constitution to entrench the right of an MLA to co-chair the party’s policy committee, organization committee and constitution committee. MLAs have a vested interest in fundamental party decision-making and should be at the table before decisions are made. As successful candidates, MLAs also have unique insights that our party should tap into constantly.

Our PC Party must include a clear, transparent and member-driven policy development process. We need to have a Nova Scotia PC Party policy statement – developed by and approved by Progressive Conservatives – in place well in advance of the next general election.

Party members would no longer be left wondering whatever happened to decisions made at policy conferences. Most important of all, when someone asks “what does the PC Party stand for?” – we will have something to point to, instead of just the latest news release attacking Stephen McNeil’s Liberals.

Anybody can criticize Stephen McNeil’s Liberals. We need a leader who’s more than a critic. We need a leader who can build and lead a better party and government to replace the Liberals.

Let’s use the Progressive Conservative leadership race as an opportunity to build a better, more inclusive PC Party that will govern Nova Scotia well.   This is a fantastic chance to change things up for the better.

Positive politics – let’s do this!

As I spend my time speaking with PC Party members and others outside of the party about the kind of PC leader they would like to see, I hear it over and over again.

People are tired of politicians who just tear down the other side.

They want to hear positive solutions.

They want to hear support for good ideas, even if it comes from a different political party.

We should start that in this PC leadership race. Needless to say, it shouldn’t be hard to say good things about fellow Progressive Conservatives.

I admire the energy and drive that Pictou East MLA Tim Houston is bringing to his campaign for the PC Party leadership.

I respect the integrity and sincerity Kings North MLA John Lohr exudes as he meets with party members through his deliberations on whether to seek the leadership.

I would welcome Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Cecil Clarke bringing his considerable experience from the provincial and municipal orders of government to the campaign trail.

I hope there are even more candidates who decide to offer themselves for the PC leadership. It was great to speak this past week with at least two other Progressive Conservatives who are thinking about running (I asked them if I could share their names, but in fairness to them, it’s their decision and their news to share).

As I mentioned in last week’s post, having choice and competition is good. It’s good in the marketplace. It’s good in a political party.

Everyone will have their own timetable on deciding whether to run for the PC leadership, based on their own circumstances. I won’t criticize or question the motives of those who have moved quickly in this process. Hopefully, the same courtesy will be extended to individuals whom other Progressive Conservatives feel have something to contribute to the leadership selection process.

Another positive aspect worth celebrating in this leadership race is having Argyle-Barrington MLA Chris d’Entremont and former provincial campaign chair Tara Erskine co-chair the leadership selection process.

Tara and Chris are smart, strong, independent and focused on doing what’s right for our party. Regardless of whether I agree with the recommendation they end up bringing forward on the method and timing of the leadership vote, I will respect it.

Having served as co-chair of the 2006 PC leadership selection process with then-MLA Judy Streatch, I know first-hand that the job Chris and Tara now have is often thankless and subject to criticism and second-guessing. I don’t envy the position they are in, but Progressive Conservatives should be grateful that they agreed to take it on.

Over the last two weeks, people have shared with me lots of positive ideas on how to build a better PC Party. They share my belief that the strong foundation in place now is a foundation for change, not a foundation for the status quo. After five elections under three different leaders in which the PC Party was unable to form a majority government, one of the most important jobs of the next Progressive Conservative leader is to work with our MLAs, other party members and Nova Scotians to develop a positive agenda for our province to become an economic, social and environmental leader. This agenda must be clear, realistic and well communicated to Nova Scotians well before the next election, so that we can earn the support of enough voters to form a majority government.

What are some of the positive changes you want to see from the next Progressive Conservative leader?



A good friend, great memories

Monday morning, I participated in a classroom panel at Saint Mary’s University with former cabinet minister, political commentator and author Graham Steele and Global News journalist Marieke Walsh. The subject was the intersection between politicians, communications and journalism. Graham neatly summed up part of the discussion as distinguishing between lies, spin and BS.

During the session, my phone went off a few times. I noticed that one of the calls was from my old friend Dale Madill. I thought to myself, this kind of session would be perfect for Dale.

I first got to know Dale when I worked as a communications coordinator in the Progressive Conservative Caucus and he was the provincial reporter for the Chronicle Herald in 1996. Three years later, Dale took a buyout package from the Chronicle Herald and started working in the Progressive Conservative Caucus Office as John Hamm’s speechwriter. At that time, not too many people, Dale and I included, thought that working for the third place party leader who had just survived a leadership review and was on the eve of an election presented a long-term job opportunity.

To the surprise of many, John Hamm’s PCs vaulted from third place in the polls to a majority PC government on July 27, 1999. I ended up in New Glasgow on election night, while Dale celebrated in Halifax with our colleague Moira MacLeod and one of John Hamm’s key volunteer communications advisors, Finlay MacDonald (who sadly and suddenly passed away in 2004). A Polaroid picture of Moira, Dale and Finlay from that happy night was posted in his office.

Dale went on to be Premier Hamm’s speechwriter, then communications director from 2000 to 2002. He later moved on to the Departments of Energy and Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, where he ably served governments of all three political persuasions until he retired last year. While we moved in different directions in our respective lives, we stayed in touch periodically.

Sadly, the call from Dale’s home was from his wife Christine with the news that he died peacefully in his sleep overnight.

It’s hard to believe Dale is gone. Although he had been in ill health in recent years, many of us thought Dale would live forever. Born with congenital heart issues, with doctors forecasting not a very long life, Dale often joked that “not having a heart” made him the perfect political journalist. Another joke with Dale was that in the event of a nuclear calamity, the only living beings left would be the cockroaches and Dale!

Dale loved to tell a story. Whether it was a yarn from his misadventures as a Young Liberal in the early 1980s to writing about the challenges of the John Savage and Russell MacLellan governments in the 1990s (when he also got blasted by Tories for not giving John Hamm his due in opposition), Dale’s stories were always interesting and often funny.

One of my favourite Dale stories from his time as a reporter was when he tagged along with one of John Hamm’s first “summer tours” as PC leader. It was 1996. Rumours were rife that John Savage would call a snap election to take advantage of rookie PC and NDP leaders. As part of Hamm’s tour, we visited Oaklawn Zoo in Aylesford, Kings County. Finlay MacDonald tagged along with a camera crew to get some film of John Hamm if need be for the election (that ultimately didn’t come until 1998).

The Chronicle Herald’s Dale Madill wrote an account of the tour, noting the presence of backroom advisor MacDonald and the camera crew, with a reference to MacDonald “licking an ice cream cone” on a hot summer day.

As a young communications person at the time, I paid that no heed. For a seasoned operator like Finlay, he apparently called Dale afterwards to impress upon him in a low-key but clear way that he didn’t appreciate Dale writing about him.

“Dale, this is a give or take business. And you don’t take first.”

Not a threat from Finlay, but a message smoothly delivered nonetheless.  By the way, it didn’t stop Dale, but it did give him a great story to tell!

One of my favourite stories from Dale’s time as communications director was following an early morning briefing of Premier Hamm. I felt that Dale wasn’t sufficiently direct in his advice to the Premier.

“Way to speak truth to power, Dale!” I poked at him after the meeting.

Dale, recognizing, along with others, that perhaps I tended to be a little bit TOO blunt from time to time with the Premier, responded:

“Rob, you can speak truth to power, but you can also p#ss power off at seven o’clock in the morning.”

Dale was smart, funny, curious and persistent (annoyingly so!).

Dale was loyal. He referred to John Hamm as “the boss” – which seemed funny to many, because while John Hamm was definitely the Premier, his leadership style certainly didn’t connote “Boss-like” tendencies.

Dale loved his family; his Mom and Dad; his brothers and sisters, as well as their respective children.

Dale was so proud of his son Matthew, from his time as a boy to growing into an accomplished young man (like father, like son, Matthew is now a Young Liberal too!)

He was grateful for his wife Christine, promoted her volunteer work for many organizations and agonized for her and his former colleagues through the recent labour issues at the Chronicle Herald.

I like to think that Dale is sitting up in heaven now (he would dispute that as a destination, I know), sitting around a bar room table with his former Chronicle Herald boss with whom he later worked in the Hamm government, Jane Purves. Dale is enjoying a coffee with Kahlua and perhaps indulging in one of those God-awful Colt cigarillos he once favoured. Jane has a dry white wine in hand and has lit her own cigarette of choice.  As Dale tells another story, I can see Jane roll her eyes.  There’s laughter, raised voices and a few colourful metaphors.

I’m lucky to have known Dale. I’ll miss you, old friend.

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.

Leadership lessons from Jamie Baillie

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.

Positive ideas – PC MLAs working hard to make good things happen

(From left to right) PC Labour and Advanced Education critic Eddie Orrell, Saint Mary’s University student Dave Hoskin and Rob Batherson at a Young Conservatives event in October 2017 at the Grawood at Dalhousie University.

Last week, the fall sitting of the Nova Scotia legislature wrapped up.

Although most of the focus was on the re-tabled 2017-2018 budget and the ongoing problems in health care delivery, there were a number of issues that Progressive Conservative MLAs championed in the legislature that you may not have heard about.

With PC Leader Jamie Baillie leading a team of 17 MLAs, this was the largest Progressive Conservative Official Opposition since the early 1970s. Opposition parties are sometimes accused of being unduly negative. Having worked for opposition MPs and MLAs – including Peter MacKay, John Hamm and the late Terry Donahoe – in the 1990s, I know this can be a tough balance to strike. Yet in our parliamentary system, opposition parties play a vital role in holding governments to account.

Having so many MLAs clearly allowed the party to promote some good ideas to help Nova Scotians. It’s too bad Stephen McNeil’s Liberal government rarely took the PCs up on these ideas.

Here are some of my favourite pieces of legislation sponsored by Progressive Conservative MLAs this fall (in order of when they were tabled in the legislature):

Bill 4 – the Dignity for Victims of Sexual Violence Act (PC Justice critic and Pictou West MLA Karla MacFarlane). This bill would enshrine the right of a victim of sexual violence to legal representation and provide financial support for victims who want, but cannot afford, legal representation.

Bill 5 (PC Justice critic and Pictou West MLA Karla MacFarlane) would amend the Provincial Court Act to require mandatory training for provincial court judges on sexual assault law, ongoing continuing education on the same subject matter and written decisions in sexual assault trials.

Bill 6 – the Sexual Violence Action Plan Act (PC Labour and Advanced Education critic and Northside-Westmount MLA Eddie Orrell). This bill would require all universities, the Nova Scotia Community College and private colleges to put in place policies to address sexual violence against their students.

Bill 23 (PC Environment critic and Queens-Shelburne MLA Kim Masland) would amend the Environmental Goals and Sustainability Prosperity Act – the landmark environmental law passed by the last PC government in 2007 with all party support – to commit Nova Scotia to setting new goals to meet the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Bill 25 – the Camp Hill Veterans’ Memorial Building Walk-in Clinic Act (PC Leader Jamie Baillie). This bill would require the Minister of Health and Wellness to consult with veterans on the creation of a walk-in facility for veterans at the Camp Hill Veterans’ Memorial Building at the QEII Health Sciences Centre. It would also set a timeline for construction and provide for the necessary funding.

Bill 31 – the School Supplies Tax Credit Act (PC Education critic and Dartmouth East MLA Tim Halman). A longstanding commitment of the PC Party dating back to the 2013 election platform, Bill 31 would allow parents and teachers to claim 50% of the cost of school supplies from their income tax, up to a maximum of $200.

Bill 43 – the Healthier Schools Act (PC Leader Jamie Baillie). This bill would expand mental health supports for students and training for educators in our public school system.

Bill 44 – the Mental Health Court Expansion Act (Kings North MLA John Lohr). This bill would expand mental health courts to every region of the province.

Bill 45 – the Safer Homes Act (PC Deputy Leader and Pictou Centre MLA Pat Dunn). This bill would require housing authorities to maintain minimum standards and take prompt action to correct deficiencies. It would also require housing authorities to inform Housing Nova Scotia of its maintenance work and Housing Nova Scotia to report on this annually.

Bill 47 – the Seniors’ Bill of Rights (PC Leader Jamie Baillie). This bill would guarantee the rights of seniors in a residential care facility, a nursing home or a home for aged or disabled persons.

Bill 59 (PC Health and Wellness critic and Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin) would ensure that at least two members of the Nova Scotia Health Authority board of directors have expertise in the delivery of health care. Many physicians and other health care professionals in Halifax Citadel-Sable Island told me how frustrated they were with having no one with current health care experience on the health authority’s otherwise capable and competent board.

Congratulations are in order to Pictou East MLA Tim Houston for sponsoring Bill 38, the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Act. The Liberal government allowed it to be put to a vote in the legislature, where Bill 38 was approved unanimously. October 15 will now be forever known in Nova Scotia as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day.

If only the Liberals didn’t stop there.   We could achieve so much more as a province if political leaders and parties could find more ways to work together.


Want to know more about the 62 bills the Liberals, PCs & NDP introduced this fall?

The full list is at http://nslegislature.ca/index.php/proceedings/status-of-bills/C98/sort/number

You can sort through them and read the ones you want.