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Once dominant Nova Scotia Liberals facing divisions at annual meeting

Click to play video: 'Concerns ahead of Nova Scotia Liberal Party AGM about future of party' Concerns ahead of Nova Scotia Liberal Party AGM about future of party
The Nova Scotia Liberal Party is set to hold its annual general meeting this weekend, ahead of choosing a new leader in July. But many ex-candidates and some riding association members are calling for the AGM to be delayed – wanting the party to address several concerns. As Callum Smith reports, the party says it’s full steam ahead – Mar 2, 2022

Nova Scotia’s Liberal party appeared to be facing internal strife Friday as its two-day annual general meeting got underway.

The party has gone from bidding for a third-consecutive majority government in last summer’s election to a “really divided state internally,” Dalhousie University political science Prof. Lori Turnbull said Friday.

“It’s not a good day for the party,” she said in an interview.

One of the signs of dissent, she said, is a movement billing itself as grassroots that has created a website demanding the annual general meeting be delayed until a new leader is chosen.

Party president Joseph Khoury said Friday in an email the dissident website should be taken down as it is defaming him and other party members. He said party members’ confidential information was used without their consent to circulate the criticism.

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Read more: What Justin Trudeau’s Liberals could learn from the Nova Scotia election campaign

Turnbull said it’s hard to discern what’s driving the infighting, adding that it’s a sign this summer’s leadership race to replace Iain Rankin, who stepped down in January, may also prove divisive.

She said there were signs during the summer election campaign of problems in the internal workings of the party.

In the early part of the campaign, news broke that Rankin’s party staff had pressured candidate Robyn Ingraham to drop out because she had previously sold revealing photos of herself on the website OnlyFans. Ingraham also alleged the party had told her to lie and instead cite her mental health issues as the reason for leaving.

“The party should have a handle on that sort of stuff,” Turnbull said. “It seems like from an organizational perspective things have been breaking down for a while.”

The Liberals, who have won more Nova Scotia elections than any other party over the past 150 years, lost decisively to the rival Progressive Conservatives last Aug. 17, seeing their seat count reduced from 24 to 17 in the 55-seat legislature.

Read more: ‘Terribly-kept secret’: Zach Churchill launches N.S. Liberal leadership bid

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Since then, Premier Tim Houston has been gaining in popularity in the polls.

Former Liberal cabinet minister Zach Churchill announced on Feb. 22 he is running to replace Rankin. He was the second candidate to enter the race, joining fellow caucus member Angela Simmonds, who is the first Black woman to run for leadership of the party.

The Liberal party has set a March 21 deadline for candidates to enter the race, with a leadership convention scheduled for July 9.

In a telephone interview on Friday afternoon, Khoury said, “Every family has its dysfunction. I don’t think it’s anything permanent.”

He also said he feels that the party is in good financial condition, having paid off all its campaign debt.

“We have a very strong and healthy party,” he said. “We have about 19,000 members, which is very good for a province our size.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2022.

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