Nova Scotia

N.S. MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin kicked out of Tory caucus after border blockade

The Cumberland North MLA is no longer a member of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative caucus, and Leader Tim Houston says she is also barred from running for the party in future elections.

Cumberland North MLA was the face of the Trans-Canada Highway blockade

A woman with blonde hair wears a black blazer with a white shirt and sunglasses. She is standing outside in front of a building.
Nova Scotia MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin was kicked out of the Progressive Conservative caucus on Thursday. (Robert Short/CBC)

Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, the member of the legislature at the centre of the New Brunswick-Nova Scotia border blockade, has been kicked out of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative caucus.

Tory Leader Tim Houston made the announcement Thursday, less than 24 hours after offering lukewarm support for his caucus colleague. The decision followed a caucus meeting where Smith-McCrossin was asked to explain her involvement in the blockade.

"I wanted to give her that opportunity," Houston told reporters during a virtual news conference.

"The more I learned from Elizabeth about her involvement, the more obvious it became that it's not anything that I support, it's not anything that the PC caucus supports. When you know more, you do more."

Houston said Smith-McCrossin will also be barred from running for the party in future elections.

Potential electoral consequences

The governing Liberals are expected to call an election this summer. Smith-McCrossin would have all but certainly been re-elected running under the Tory banner in Cumberland North, a district that abuts the New Brunswick border. She took the seat in the 2017 general election from an incumbent, winning 51.7 per cent of the vote.

Houston acknowledged the potential challenge he was creating for his party.

"To see a seat possibly flip because of this, those aren't easy decisions, but you have to go back to your principles," he said. "This is really a question about leadership. When you're faced with these situations, how do you react?"

The decision to expel her from caucus comes following a politically damaging 36 hours for the party, which is the Official Opposition. On Tuesday afternoon, Smith-McCrossin issued an ultimatum on social media to Liberal Premier Iain Rankin after he unexpectedly announced people travelling to and from New Brunswick would face at least another week of self-isolation requirements upon entering Nova Scotia.

In a video posted to her Facebook account, Smith-McCrossin said the Trans-Canada Highway would be shut down at the border until Rankin removed the self-isolation requirements.

Houston spoke to reporters during a virtual news conference on Thursday. (CBC)

Shortly after that, a group of protesters — including some who spouted anti-vaccine messages — blocked traffic in both directions at the border for 24 hours.

The blockade shut down all but emergency services at Cumberland Regional Health Centre in Amherst, N.S., delayed the shipments of millions of dollars of goods and left motorists stranded in their cars along the highway.

RCMP eventually broke up the blockade Wednesday evening.

On Wednesday, Houston said he supported Smith-McCrossin voicing the frustrations of her constituents and standing up for their concerns. However, he also said he did not support the blockade.

"We know that Elizabeth is a very passionate MLA for her constituents," Houston told reporters in a Zoom call Wednesday. "Emotions flowed over yesterday."

Missing answers

He said a "blockade is never appropriate," but initially tried to downplay Smith-McCrossin's involvement with the protesters when asked about her ultimatum.

"I saw that as her communicating what was going to happen, in her understanding, that's how I saw that," Houston said.

On Thursday, Houston said his position changed as the ramifications of the blockade became clear and he tried to ask his colleague about the role she played, including whether the highway was already blocked when she arrived and if she tried to convince people not to stop traffic.

"The answers were just something different than I expected," he said.

In a Facebook post Thursday, Smith-McCrossin said Houston asked her following a caucus meeting to publicly apologize and to stop expressing her concerns about Rankin and his government.

'I will never apologize'

"I will never apologize for doing my job to represent my constituents," she wrote.

"As PC leader, Mr. Houston has every right to change his mind after he previously supported me. He told me he wished he hadn't said what he did in the media in support of me."

Smith-McCrossin went on to say that she continues to believe in the "vision, mission and values of the PC Party."

"I will need to take some time to reflect with my family, my constituents and my supporters on what I will do next in politics. Until the next election, Cumberland North residents can continue to count on me and my office to help them on their provincial issues," she said in her post.

Houston said he understands the frustrations people and businesses are feeling about the inability to move freely across the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border, but the blockade was not an appropriate response.

Lack of accountability

He said his decision crystallized when it was clear Smith-McCrossin would not take any accountability for what happened.

"There has to be some sincere sense that there was an understanding that the actions had ramifications on Nova Scotians. That was the bare minimum and then past that bare minimum then we could have further discussion, but we couldn't get over that hurdle," said Houston.

Rankin has called Smith-McCrossin's actions reckless and called on all members of the legislature to support the guidance of Public Health officials.

"I can say that the most explicit undermining of the things that are making us safe is blockading the road, and members of the legislature and the [Progressive] Conservative Party being a part of organizing that," he said.

"That's what is impeding safety."