Cecil Clarke becomes 3rd candidate to enter PC leadership race

Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Cecil Clarke announced his candidacy for the leadership of the provincial PC Party on Saturday in North Sydney.

Clarke joins PC MLAs Tim Houston and John Lohr as candidates

Cecil Clarke made the announcement on Saturday afternoon at the North Sydney Firefighters Club and was joined by MLAs, party members and supporters. (CBC)

Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Cecil Clarke has announced his candidacy for the leadership of the Nova Scotia PC Party and becomes the third candidate to enter the race.

Clarke made the announcement Saturday at the North Sydney Firefighters Club and was joined by MLAs, party members and supporters.

"Nova Scotians are looking for a new government and a new team to lead us through the difficulties and distress and finally put our province on the path to prosperity," he said. "Nova Scotians understand the challenges we face are great and that those challenges require immediate action."

Cross-province tour

Clarke said as part of his decision to enter the race, he went on a cross-province tour to hear what Nova Scotians wanted for their future.

He said people told him it was time to restore public confidence in the health-care system, have high-speed internet and cellphone service in every community and an education system that is focused on education, not bureaucratic squabbles.

Clarke said the province already has the ingredients it needs to be successful, such as universities, natural resources and an expanding port system.

"The only missing ingredient is a government that can lift its people so we all can thrive," he said.

Emotional week

The announcement caps an emotional week for Clarke. On Thursday, he announced he's gay after someone threatened to out him.

In past political campaigns, Clarke said he acted in a solo fashion. For this leadership position, he said he wasn't willing "to push that aside" and go forward alone. Clarke's partner was present at today's announcement.

"I am very proud of who I am and who I'm with in life," said Clarke.

PC MLA Alfie MacLeod praised Cecil Clarke's experience in provincial politics as making him well suited for the PC leadership job. (CBC)

Alfie MacLeod, the PC MLA for Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg, said Clarke will unite PC Party members and rival politicians. MacLeod cited Clarke's background in provincial politics that included being in ruling minority governments and his ability to work with other parties.

MacLeod disputed the notion that Clarke is a so-called career politician.

"No, he's a man who wants to give back to his community," said MacLeod.

How the leader's job opened up

The leader's job is up for grabs after former leader Jamie Baillie announced his intention last November to step down once a new leader was picked. However, his departure was sped up when he was forced out in January over allegations of inappropriate behaviour.

So far, Tim Houston and John Lohr have announced they will run for the PC Party's top job.

On Tuesday, the Cumberland North PC Association is holding an event in Amherst where there will be an announcement involving MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin.

The Facebook event description notes the association believes "she is the right choice for the Progressive Conservative Party as we move forward into the next election."

Clarke's political background

Clarke has been the mayor of CBRM since 2012. He is just over a year into his second term, having been re-elected in October 2016.

Before running municipally, Clarke sat in the provincial legislature for 10 years, beginning in 2001, under the Progressive Conservative governments of former premiers John Hamm and Rodney MacDonald.

He served as minister of economic development, minister of energy, attorney general and minister of justice.

Clarke not stepping down as mayor

Clarke's potential candidacy has prompted some groups to urge that he step down from the mayor's chair if he seeks the PC's top job.

Clarke said he will continue to serve as mayor while he participates in the leadership race and will continue to fulfill his obligations under the Municipal Government Act.

"I respect the law and always follow it," he said.