Most Tory leadership hopefuls aren't eyeing hard-right turns
Candidates debate one final time ahead of Oct. 27 convention
The majority of people vying to be the next leader of Nova Scotia's Progressive Conservatives don't think the party needs to take a hard turn to the right to win a general election.
The sixth and final debate in the leadership contest happened Wednesday night in Truro, a little more than two weeks before members elect a new leader. The convention in Halifax comes at a time when conservative parties in other provinces are seeing electoral success.
Recent political shifts
The Progressive Conservatives in Manitoba formed government in 2016 after years of NDP rule there. More recently, the Tories in Ontario formed government in June and the right-leaning Coalition Avenir Québec formed government in Quebec this month.
In New Brunswick, the PCs won the most seats in that recent election and the right-leaning People's Alliance also made big gains.
Traditionally in Nova Scotia, however, Progressive Conservatives have been as quick to stress and champion the progressive side of the party as they have the conservative element.
'Stay true to who we are'
Leadership candidate Julie Chaisson said that shouldn't change now, and presenting the Tories as a big tent party makes far more sense than skewing in a certain direction in the hope it brings votes.
"We need to stay true to who we are and not be ashamed by it," she said.
"We need to get back to basics and back to who we are as a Progressive Conservative Party.... The PC Party is leaders in the environment — leaders in the economy, leaders in the environment and leaders socially."
Cecil Clarke likewise said he believes there's more than enough room in the party for it to be fiscally prudent while also presenting ideas that appeal to many people.
With him as leader, the party would have a "proven fiscal conservative at the helm that understands our human needs need to be balanced by sound economic policy," he said.
A reaction to bad governments
Tim Houston outright dismissed the idea of the party taking any kind of a hard-right turn if he becomes leader.
"You can't try to game [voters]," he said. "That's not my goal."
Houston said he thinks the response from voters in other provinces hasn't been so much a desire to move right in their politics as it's been a search for an alternative in cases where there happened to be Liberal governments, as was the case in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.
"I think you're seeing people recognize that they're not getting good government and they're moving to something."
Precedent for a shift
But John Lohr, the candidate who has unabashedly promoted himself as being the most conservative in race — someone who is ardently pro-resource development and has spoken out about the removal of statues of John A. Macdonald — said there is already precedent in Nova Scotia that shows voters will vote for conservative ideas.
The McNeil Liberals have been "remarkably conservative fiscally" and that tells him there is an appetite in the general public for that approach in politics, said Lohr.
"I own it and I think that there's a very bright future for the party going forward."
Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, who earlier this week announced a cross-support deal with Lohr, with each placing the other second on their ranked ballot, said the party needs to remain a "progressive conservative party."
Broadening the party's appeal means making people feel like they are involved in decisions, said Smith-McCrossin. People want a voice in the party and Smith-McCrossin said she would have a "very engaged and involved membership that are helping to form the policies and platforms that we'll put forward as the Progressive Conservative Party."
Potential wounds to heal
Among the jobs waiting for whoever becomes leader will be repairing any strained relations that exist between candidates and their respective supporters.
Those tensions were on display several times Wednesday as Lohr was booed heavily each time he raised the issue of campaign rule violations committed by the Houston campaign.