Rookie MLA announces run for PC Party leadership

Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, a nurse and business owner from Amherst who was elected just nine months ago to the Nova Scotia Legislature, is seeking the leadership of the PC Party of Nova Scotia.

Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin wants party to do something it never has before — pick a woman as leader

Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, a nurse by trade, has entered the race to become the next leader of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party. (CBC)

A rookie MLA whose entire political career is less than a year old is hoping Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party members are looking for someone new and different in choosing a successor to Jamie Baillie.

Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin wants those who will choose the next party leader to do something they have never done before — pick a woman.

"Because I'm the right woman," she said with a laugh when asked why the party should choose a woman as its next leader. "I'm ready to be elected. I'm ready to be the leader of the party and premier of Nova Scotia."

In announcing her candidacy, Smith-McCrossin joins MLAs Tim Houston and John Lohr, along with Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Cecil Clarke, in vying for the party's top job in the wake of Baillie's forced resignation last month.

None has filed nomination papers because the official race has yet to get underway. The party is still working on leadership rules, which may be ready for release at the party's annual general meeting this weekend in Halifax.

In business in Amherst

Smith-McCrossin trained as a nurse and is best known in Amherst, where she lives with her physician husband Murray and the youngest of their four children.

Until a few weeks ago, Smith-McCrossin owned three businesses in Amherst through a parent company, East Coast Holistic Health Ltd. — Amherst Medical Esthetics, Damaris Spa and Wellness Centre and Manasseh Local and Organic Food.

Smith-McCrossin announces her candidacy in the PC leadership race surrounded by family in the waiting room of the clinic she founded in 2002. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

She sold all three in anticipation of the workload and long hours she expects to put into running for the party's top job.

She announced her candidacy in the waiting room of the clinic she founded 16 years ago. More than 50 family, friends and supporters packed into an area in front of a podium with banners on either side of Smith-McCrossin, who told the gathering her lack of political experience was a plus, not a minus.

"I am new. I'm new to politics. I believe that is a strength. I have no baggage," she said. "I'm ready. I'm 48 years old. I've got the energy, the ideas, the passion and I want to take Nova Scotia forward."

Victory in first run

The party considered her a high-profile candidate in the last election where she ran next door to then-party leader Baillie, in Cumberland North. She cruised to victory last May, winning 51 per cent of the vote in her first attempt at elected office. Liberal incumbent Terry Farrell finished second, more than 1,000 votes behind.

It was an impressive rookie win, but winning over rank-and-file Tories will be a tougher challenge given she does not have the history, name recognition or caucus support of her rivals.

"I don't want to say anything negative about those three candidates," said Smith-McCrossin. "I do think I'm the right choice.

"I think Nova Scotia, the PC Party of Nova Scotia, is ready to elect a female, a woman leader. It's the right time for the party and it's the right time for the province."

Smith-McCrossin and her husband, Murray McCrossin. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Despite the obvious difference between her and her rivals, Smith-McCrossin doesn't want gender to be the only reason people vote for her.

"I've always worked side by side with the men on the farm and the same work, same as my sister, and I think because of that training I don't think of jobs in terms of gender," she said.

"I've never looked at a job and thought, 'Oh, I can or can't do because I'm a female.' I've always looked at a job and looked at, do I have the strength and abilities to do that job? It's never been based on gender for me."

'It's often about opportunity'

Nova Scotia's New Democratic Party has been led twice by women. Alexa McDonough was leader from 1980 to 1994 and Helen MacDonald led the party for nine months starting in July 2000.

The closest the Liberals have come to electing a woman to lead them was in 2007, when former finance minister Diana Whalen finished just 68 votes behind Stephen McNeil in that leadership race.

Smith-McCrossin said she decided to run for the PC leadership now, instead of later, because the job is open now.

"To be successful it's often about opportunity, so when an opportunity arises you need to take it then 'cause it may not come again," she said.

"In my businesses they all started, three of them started with an idea and I created a plan and I built it," she said. "I like projects and I look at Nova Scotia as my next project."  

One-time party president Scott Armstrong, who will likely co-chair Smith-McCrossin's campaign bid, said party members will support her because she is a woman but not only because of her gender.

"Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin isn't running because she's a woman," he said. "She's a woman who has great ability and great talent and would be a great leader for the province. That's why I'm supporting her."

Former Nova Scotia premier Roger Bacon has also endorsed Smith-McCrossin. Bacon served as premier for about five months, roughly half the time Smith-McCrossin has been an MLA.