Nova Scotia

Can Liberals hang on in Kings-Hants or will it return to Tory fold?

With the riding's former federal cabinet minister Scott Brison not on the ballot in 2019, Conservatives have high hopes for Nova Scotia's Kings-Hants — a federal riding with a long tradition of voting Tory.

Scott Brison represented Kings-Hants for 22 years as PC and Liberal, but he's not reoffering

Kody Blois, a lawyer and first-time candidate, is trying to hold Kings-Hants for the Liberals. (Paul Withers/CBC)

With the riding's former federal cabinet minister Scott Brison not on the ballot in 2019, Conservatives have high hopes for Nova Scotia's Kings-Hants — a federal riding with a long tradition of voting Tory.

The riding encompasses Acadia University, rich farmlands and a fast growing corridor of suburban bedroom communities in East Hants.

The question is whether Conservative candidate Martha MacQuarrie can capitalize.

A constituency assistant for a provincial member of the legislature, MacQuarrie was a long shot when nominated in the summer of 2018.

But that was months before Brison's surprise resignation from the Trudeau cabinet earlier this year.

Her chances have improved.

"I'll concede that. Sure. But we still have a very strong message and I think our chances improve every day as long as Justin Trudeau is the leader of the Liberal Party," McQuarrie said in an interview in her New Minas headquarters.

Why a Brison sign is at Conservative headquarters

Leaning in the corner is an old, blue Scott Brison PC campaign sign, a reminder of the days when Brison was a Progressive Conservative.

The first two of his seven election wins here were as the PC candidate. Brison even ran for the leadership of the PC party before crossing the floor to join the Liberals. (He also ran for the Liberal leadership).

"It's motivation," said MacQuarrie, referring to the sign.

Conservative candidate Martha MacQuarrie stands at campaign headquarters with an old Progressive Conservative campaign sign for former MP Scott Brison, who later switched sides to the Liberals. MacQuarrie's chances of winning improved when the Liberal cabinet minister resigned earlier this year. (Paul Withers/CBC)

Other than Brison, only one other Liberal in Kings has been elected to Parliament since 1948, and that was for one term.

Fear of the seat flipping back to the Tories was one of the reasons former Trudeau principal secretary Gerry Butts tried to talk Brison out of resigning.

To hold the riding, Liberals have turned to Kody Blois, a 28-year-old lawyer with the big Halifax law firm McInnes Cooper.

He's a former junior hockey goaltender from the Hants side of the riding.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with MP Scott Brison following his farewell speech in the House of Commons Feb. 6, 2019, in Ottawa. Brison represented Kings-Hants for 22 years as both a Progressive Conservative and a Liberal. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Blois said he's ready for the job.

"I grew up in a working-class family. My father was a truck driver. My mum's an administrative assistant at a local school," he said.

"I currently work as a lawyer, so I think I'm someone that can relate to working-class families, people that are struggling to get by. At the same time, I've dealt with small business owners and professionals."

Brison hasn't gone away just yet

He's getting some help from Brison, who has campaigned with Blois and provided video endorsements. The campaign is being run by Dale Palmeter, a longtime Brison aide and familiar figure behind the scenes in Nova Scotia political circles.

There's also all the construction work underway in the riding, fuelled by federal spending delivered by Brison.

Liberal candidate Kody Blois says the Liberals have done a lot to support Canada's middle class. (CBC)

Blois asked to be interviewed in front of a rink being built in Windsor with a $4-million contribution from Ottawa.

"I'm proud to be running for a government that has invested in Canadians," he said as the sound of equipment rumbled and beeped in the background.

"We've done a lot to try to support the middle class and those that are working to ... join it. The infrastructure projects that we've seen in Kings-Hants, whether it's at Acadia, whether it's the Lantz interchange, this West Hants Sports Complex, it means something to communities."

Conservative candidate criticizes free trade agreement

Given the importance of agriculture in the riding, the Liberal is being attacked over the proposed U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade deal that would open a portion of the Canadian market to United States dairy products.

MacQuarrie calls it a sign of a weak government.

Blois responds with an assessment from former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambose, who said Canada "came out doing well."

"Our government was between a rock and a hard place," said Blois. "I think most farmers I've spoken to understand that."

The deal also secures access to the United States market for Michelin. The French tire giant has a large plant just outside the riding boundary. Many workers live in Kings-Hants.

Martha MacQuarrie is running for the Conservatives. (CBC)

As part of her party's affordability messaging to voters, MacQuarrie is pitching the promise to cut the carbon tax, although it has not been levied in Nova Scotia.

Ottawa has accepted Nova Scotia's argument that existing power rates reflect increased use of more expensive wind power to generate electricity.

"Well, you're right," MacQuarrie acknowledged. "But the provinces surrounding Nova Scotia all have a carbon tax, so the shipping companies are going to feel the increase."

Climate change in Kings-Hants

The Conservative has decided to skip candidate debates focused on climate change.

"I could be in a debate every day of the week and not getting to the doorsteps, not talking to to the constituents and hearing their issues and their concerns and those are my focus," said MacQuarrie.

Both the Green and NDP candidates in Kings-Hants said climate change is their top priority.

Stephen Schneider, an associate professor of criminology at Saint Mary's University, is running for the NDP. (CBC)

New Democrat Stephen Schneider, a Saint Mary's University professor from Wolfville, said there is little daylight between the Greens and NDP on the issue, since both see it as a national emergency requiring transformation of Canada's economy.

The academic is asking voters to pick the best candidate.

"My argument is that, you know, I feel that I'm the most qualified candidate with my background and experience," he said.

Don't lump us in with NDP, says Green candidate

Green Party candidate Brogan Anderson, a library worker, said her party is not interested in old labels or affiliations.

"I think that is a real appeal for people when I meet people at the door. They're not confused between the NDP and the Greens," she said.

"They're coming from all parties they're interested in, what we have to say. They're interested in new politics and a new engagement. And I think that's the attraction of the Green Party.

Green Party candidate Brogan Anderson works at a library. (CBC)

Matthew Southall, a 28-year-old telecommunications technician, is running for the People's Party of Canada.

"I think that we're counting our victories in small but numerous ways, so the fact that I can get out and go to these debates [where] I find that I'm the only conservative leaning person that shows up," he said.

Matthew Southall is running for the People's Party of Canada. (Paul Withers/CBC)

Also running are Stacey Dodge of the Veterans Coalition Party of Canada and 19-year-old Nicholas Tan for the Rhinoceros Party.

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About the Author

Paul Withers

Reporter

Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.

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