Tonight, 600 Nova Scotia Tories will gather at the Westin Hotel to pay perfunctory tribute to Rodney MacDonald, their thankfully former, now hardly ever mentioned leader.
After that—if not before—conventioneers will get down to the real, if unspoken business at hand: making sure the party doesn’t blow it again like they did in 2006.
That’s when delegates chose the awkward, inexperienced and visionless MacDonald, not because of what he stood for or what he promised to do, but because what passed for the Tories’ brain trust convinced delegates MacDonald’s youthfulness (he was 33), good looks and cheerful bonhomie could help them sway the youth vote, win back metro from the socialist hordes and restore the party of John Hamm and John Buchanan to its rightful majority in the legislative firmament.
I’d say that worked out rather well for them…
The irony, in retrospect, is there were more qualified candidates. Neil LeBlanc, a former finance minister, for one. And Bill Black, a political neophyte but a successful businessman with clear views on policy.
Their names are now being bandied about again as party members prepare for a late October leadership convention. They’re not the only could-be contenders, of course. Karen Casey, the party’s interim leader, may want the job permanently. But so might fellow MLA and former health minister Chris d’Entremont. Or Cape Breton’s Cecil Clarke. Or—Lord forbid—Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly, who admits he still hasn’t shuttered his political ambitions.
The current front runner, at least according to allnovascotia.com’s political reporter Brian Flinn, is Jamie Baillie, 43, the president and chief executive officer of Credit Union Atlantic. Baillie, a former chief of staff to John Hamm, is a longtime backroom organizer. But his Wikipedia biography was deleted in 2006 as “not a notable enough person to warrant a page.” Ouch.
Still, any of them could do better than the hapless MacDonald. But is that really the question? What the party needs at this point—with at least two-and-a-half years to go before even an early next election—is not a leader but a vision.
They need to distinguish themselves from the increasingly conservative NDP, on the one hand, and the suddenly far less laughable Liberals on the other.
Like Michael Ignatieff’s federal Liberals, Nova Scotia’s Tories need to stop scrambling to find the magic leader button back to power and start doing the hard but necessary work of creating policies and programs that will make voters see them as relevant alternatives.
Don’t hold your breath.