Tim Houston will be the next leader of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative party after second place challenger Cecil Clarke voluntarily dropped out.
Houston came close to winning on the first ballot, earning 2,496.75 points to Clarke’s 1,385.71. A candidate needed to earn 2,550 points to win.
Clarke, the mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, walked across the floor shortly after the results were revealed, accompanied by a train of supporters. He told Houston that he conceded in order to maintain party unity.
Houston, a 48-year-old father of two, was first elected to the provincial legislature as the MLA for Pictou East in 2013. He was re-elected in 2017.
“Taking this stage today as the leader of the Progressive Conservative party is an absolute privilege,” Houston said following his victory. “It’s an honour to stand before you as the leader of the PC Party of Nova Scotia, the leader of the opposition. Thank you so much.”
“Change is coming.”
In his acceptance speech, Houston thanked party members, volunteers and his campaign team, then acknowledged Karla MacFarlane for stepping up as the party’s interim leader.
“You are on the ground floor of a movement, and I think you can feel it,” Houston said. “This movement is going forward to form a PC majority government.”
Houston asked members to look past the hurdle of defeating the Liberals and winning back the government.
“This is a great province with lots of opportunity,” he said. “We just need a leader and a party to help unlock the potential, and that is our goal.”
Caucus members John Lohr and Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin earned 692.45 and 384.96 points, respectively. Julie Chaisson placed fifth with 140.13 points.
Ballots were cast Saturday at the Halifax Exhibition Centre. Houston was the perceived front-runner ahead of the first ballot. Jamie Baillie stepped down from his position as party leader in January amid allegations of misconduct.
All five candidates spent much of the last 10 months campaigning to sign up party members. More than 11,600 people ended up purchasing memberships.
In a emailed press release, Premier Stephen McNeil congratulated Houston on the nomination and recognized MacFarlane’s time as interim leader.
“The role of the official Opposition is an important one in our parliamentary democracy,” McNeil’s statement reads. “I respect the commitment of Mr. Houston for taking on that challenge. It carries a significant responsibility to the people of Nova Scotia.”
Houston came under fire this summer after it was found by the party’s Leadership Selection Committee that his campaign violated leadership rules. The committee found that an Argyle Street party held during the Conservative party convention had violated leadership rules by accepting donations from a federal electoral district society.
He was fined $2,500 as a result; $1,500 for the unauthorized contribution from the Central Nova Conservative Association, as well as an additional $1,000.
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Houston also faced criticism in July after it was found that 72 party members were contacted using party resources by supporters of Tim Houston’s leadership campaign, regarding an ice-cream social he was co-hosting. In a decision letter, the leadership selection committee co-chairs determined the email had been sent by a staff member in the party office, and they were “not mindful that the request amounted to using party resources in a partisan manner.”
Despite the controversies, Houston said it will not impact party unity moving forward.
“I think the members have now had their say, the results are in, there’s a new leader of the party and we’ll just go forward from here,” Houston said. “I don’t get the sense that there’s lots of desire from people to look backwards. I think we’re going to look forwards and do great things for this party.”
— With files from Alicia Draus.