AMHERST – There’s a possibility the leadership of Nova Scotia’s Progressive Conservative Party could remain in Cumberland County.
Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin confirmed Tuesday she is “strongly considering” a run for the party leadership, succeeding Cumberland South MLA Jamie Baillie, who announced his decision to step down as PC leader in early November.
“It wasn’t part of my planning until our leader made his announcement,” the 48-year-old Smith-McCrossin said. “That afternoon I had people contacting me asking me to reconsider and that has continued on since then.”
To date, only Pictou East MLA Tim Houston has announced his candidacy for the leadership, but several others are considering a run including CBRM mayor and former provincial cabinet minister Cecil Clarke, former John Hamm staffer Rob Batherson and Kings North MLA John Lohr.
Last May, Smith-McCrossin became Cumberland North’s first Progressive Conservative MLA in a decade defeating incumbent Liberal MLA Terry Farrell. She would later be appointed health critic by Baillie.
“I’ve looked at the next few years of my own life. My kids have grown and I have a lot of support,” she said. “I think it would be a good challenge and there are a lot of things I’d like to see done differently in the province. I haven’t made my final decision, I’m still in the exploratory phase.”
One of the things she’s hearing is people are looking for someone who will bring a fresh approach to the party and government and she doesn’t believe the fact she was just elected to the legislature several months ago should be a deterrent.
“One of the criticisms could be is that I don’t have as much experience in politics as other people, but there are some who see that as a strength,” she said. “There are a lot of specific reasons why I ran last May and there are some goals I have for Cumberland North and Cumberland County. I don’t want to lose sight of those, but at the same time I could perhaps accomplish more as the leader or as the premier than I can as an MLA.”
One of the people she has consulted is former premier Roger Bacon. While she figured Bacon would tell her to sit this one out in favour of running later on in her career, she said he is supportive of her running now.
When Baillie first announced his decision to resign the leadership a little more than a month ago, Smith-McCrossin said she wanted to focus more on her riding than on a provincial leadership campaign. At the time, she felt it would disrespectful to Baillie to announce her interest in the leadership and wanted to give it some time.
“I have a lot of respect for Jamie and didn’t want to do something that would be disrespectful to him because he has brought our party forward a long way,” she said.
She’s still not sure when she will announce her final decision, but is going to take the next few weeks to talk to party supporters and gauge how much interest there is in a leadership bid, not just in Cumberland County but across the province.
One person who said he will definitely be supporting her is longtime Amherst physician Dr. Brian Ferguson. Ferguson said Smith-McCrossin, who is a nurse and is married to a doctor, is the best hope for health care in the province.
“A good measure of an MLA, whether they are in government or opposition, is how they perform after they’re elected and she has been tirelessly addressing a lot of issues,” Ferguson said. “Her link to and her concern about the health care system are key and I really see her as a potential saviour for health care in Nova Scotia, if not for me but for other younger doctors.”