Nova Scotia election: Public backlash over people’s pasts sparks candidate vetting debate

Click to play video: 'How past improprieties can affect candidate credibility in the N.S. election' How past improprieties can affect candidate credibility in the N.S. election
Public backlash over the past behaviour of some Nova Scotia election candidates is sparking conversations around the vetting process. Alexa MacLean reports.

The past behaviour and actions of some Nova Scotia provincial election candidates have sparked public concern over vetting and credibility less than a week into the campaign.

“I think there’s a difference between having a private life and having behaviour in your life that really makes people question whether you’re the right person to hold public office,” said Lori Turnbull, a political science professor and director of Dalhousie’s School of Public Administration, during an interview on Wednesday.

Turnbull says no candidate should be expected to have a blemish-free record and that doing so would be a detriment to encouraging a diverse range of applicants from putting their name forward.

“Nobody’s perfect and in some ways, we are looking for that perfect person sometimes and I think probably increasingly so and that can lead to some issues sometimes because there is no perfect unicorn out there,” she said.

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“Everyone has something that they wish they didn’t say or wish they didn’t do.”

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Turnbull says it’s ultimately up to the public to decide whether the character of a candidate makes them credible enough to be elected to public office.

However, she adds that there are some behaviours, like past criminal charges or convictions, that should be publicly disclosed and communicated well in advance of them ever being potentially leaked to the broader electorate.

“If you wait to be asked, then it’s always going to look like you were hiding it and you were trying to risk manage to see whether you could get away with it. And, you know what? It’s not worth it.”

Turnbull refers to Nova Scotia Liberal party leader Iain Rankin kicking off a July 5 COVID-19 briefing by disclosing two impaired driving charges he faced in his 20s.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia premier responds to new questions about drunk driving charge in 2005

She adds that public disclosure of criminal convictions and charges doesn’t automatically discredit a candidate’s electability.

For example, a number candidates who ran in the 2020 Saskatchewan election had criminal convictions. Six candidates ran for the Saskatchewan NDP and six ran for the Saskatchewan Party, which ended up being re-elected to a majority government.

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Turnbull says it often comes down to the ways in which improprieties are publicly communicated.

“It’s never going to be a black and white. You’re over the line or under the line, and it shouldn’t be that. It’s whether you can make the case to the party that you are the right person to represent them and then whether you can then make the case to the voters that you’re the right person,” she said.

All three Nova Scotia party leaders say their candidates are thoroughly vetted.

“Every candidate’s background and position is something that is thoroughly brought forward and thoroughly discussed,” said Gary Burrill, the Nova Scotia NDP leader.

“We went through a very comprehensive, serious vetting process,” said Tim Houston, the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative leader.

“I don’t have any information of any improprieties that would pose a challenge at this time. So, I’m confident in my candidates,” Rankin said.

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