Left to right: Cecil Clarke, Tim Houston, Julie Chaisson, Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, John Lohr. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

More than 200 Progressive Conservatives turned out at Dartmouth’s Alderney Theatre last night to hear from the five people competing to become the next leader of their party and possibly the first Tory Premier since Rodney MacDonald lost to Darrell Dexter of the NDP in 2009. The choice will be made October 27.

In the second of six public appearances live-streamed on Facebook, all five leadership hopefuls answered questions on health, education, and economic development, and noted their party would have to “do politics differently” if they hope to engage Nova Scotians and override voter apathy to form the next government.

“We have to speak to what matters to people and present fresh ideas,” said Tim Houston, an accountant and MLA for Pictou East who drew the most enthusiastic and sustained applause. The “Tim” campaign will either get a boost or take a dip this Sunday when Peter MacKay, the former federal Defence Minister and Member of Parliament for Pictou County for most of his adult life, endorses Houston. Houston also has the support of most of the Tory MLAs, which makes the scrappy Finance critic the unofficial frontrunner in a race prompted by the departure of leader Jamie Baillie, who left under a cloud of allegations involving inappropriate behaviour with a female co-worker.

That said, there’s still plenty of time for a dark horse to come up the middle, so to help sort out the contenders, here is a brief synopsis of what each candidate had to say about health care and whether they support a P3 (public-private-partnership) model the McNeil Liberals are considering to finance two new outpatient centres to help replace the Victoria General Hospital.

Julie Chaisson:  Executive-director of The Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market ran for the PCs in St. Margaret’s-Chester during the 2017 provincial election.

“I’m open to whichever option makes the most financial sense for the people of Nova Scotia,” Chaisson told the crowd. “But first, we need to see the business case and the Premier — what a surprise — won’t tell us what that is.”

Cecil Clarke: mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and former Economic Development Minister in the government of John Hamm.

“We need to identify the business case,” said Clarke. “Nova Scotia won the federal shipbuilding contract through a P3 Partnership, so I wouldn’t rule it out. But if having the public pay for the outpatient centres is an option we can do, let’s do it.”

Clarke believes the previous health care system with its nine district health authorities was “too many” but describes the consolidation into one provincial health authority as  “ridiculous.” He favours the appointment of regional vice-presidents.

Tim Houston, Pictou East MLA.

“We need to see the business plan first before deciding which option to pick,” said Houston about whether the two outpatient centres should be entirely financed by taxpayers or a public-private arrangement. “The government won’t even come to Public Accounts, so we can question what the plan is. Meanwhile, we need to find out why the health system is so jammed. Five per cent of Nova Scotians consume about 70 per cent of the health care budget and it’s because most are suffering with chronic illnesses, such as COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] and diabetes. We need to change the way we treat chronic illness by expanding home-based programs such as INSPIRED, that has reduced admissions to Emergency by 58 per cent. We might then open up some capacity and attract more professionals to work here.”

John Lohr, King’s North MLA.

“The use of P3 has met with mixed success, and I would favour a public approach to the funding of hospitals, as well as more transparency,” said John Lohr, an Annapolis Valley farmer and successful businessman. “On Day 2 as Premier, I would fire the Board of Directors of the NS Health Authority as well as the CEO, because I believe they have been too secretive and put out misinformation. We also need more money to pay for health care and that means more economic growth, including onshore gas development and fracking, which will bring people home from the West.”

Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, Cumberland North MLA.

“I would first have to look closely at the business plan before making a decision,” said Smith-McCrossin a former nurse and a small business owner. “Who would actually own the infrastructure? At the moment, we haven’t seen the plan. As a nurse, the current state of health care makes me angry. What this Liberal government has done is even worse than under John Savage. And if I became Premier, I would insist that at least 50 per cent of the Board members on the Nova Scotia Health Care Authority be health-care professionals. At the moment, there aren’t any.”

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. Premier McNeil is doing a fine job as the most conservative premier in the history of the province. He has a very good chance of being re-elected.
    I paid $10 to join the PC party and have no intention of voting for the super secretive Mr Clarke.
    We need less secrecy at province house and every municipality.

  2. If only we could have a PC party ruining, i mean running, the province. Then everything would be good and different.