If Nova Scotia’s Conservative leadership race maintains its present trajectory it will eclipse, in a matter of weeks, the reputation academics took centuries to build as the planet’s most vicious practitioners of internecine politics.
Henry Kissinger is often credited with the quip that academic politics is especially vicious because the stakes are so petty, but Samuel Johnson expressed a similar opinion 200 years earlier.
Kissinger’s lift from Dr. Johnson is petty larceny compared to the Nobel prize he filched for the Vietnam peace process he helped Richard Nixon string out for years. Kissinger’s North Vietnamese counterpart, and co-award winner Le Duc Tho honourably declined the peace prize.
It has reached the point where characterizing the N.S. PC leadership as brutish may be an understatement.
Cape Breton Regional Mayor Cecil Clarke sent an email this week telling party members that leadership rival Tim Houston was insulting them, disrespecting the volunteer leadership selection committee, and by extension, disrespecting all volunteers, making a mockery the process and, perhaps the deepest cut of all given the audience, of taking plays “straight from Stephen McNeil’s playbook.”
Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin (PC-Cumberland North) waded in with an email of her own that claimed Houston’s campaign is guilty of “six proven ethical breaches” and called on him to “do the right thing and show humility and remorse.”
Kings North Tory John Lohr was the first leadership candidate out of the gate with a letter that said Houston’s action “represents the worst things that people think about politicians.”
So, what is it that Houston, Pictou East MLA and presumed leadership front-runner, did to invite such vilification?
A month back, Houston’s campaign partnered with the Central Nova federal Conservative riding association to host a street dance while the national Conservative convention was in Halifax.
Leadership selection committee co-chair Chris d’Entremont, (PC-Argyle-Barrington) who is as even-keeled as any politician in the land, patiently explained that it’s against the rules for a campaign to accept a contribution from a riding association. The event was deemed to breach that rule, and Houston’s campaign paid a $2,500 fine.
But that’s just one of the dastardly deeds by the Houston campaign that have so outraged his opponents.
Noting that “one candidate did not play fair,” Smith-McCrossin summed up Houston’s other offences as follows:
“. . . two counts of Houston campaign team members inappropriately using PC Party resources for political gain, one count of attempting to funnel out-of-province money to buy memberships and another count of hosting an event where party memberships were being given away.”
Count one was committed by a new member of the party’s executive who, at the end of a letter thanking party members for their support, added an endorsement of Houston.
Count two was perpetrated by Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage MLA Barb Adams who asked a staffer for some technical help when she was trying to email an invitation to 72 party members in her neck of the woods. The aid was provided but the email went out from a party email account, and that’s not cricket.
The remedy in both cases was to invite the other campaigns to send a letter of their own to members on those two lists.
The membership give-away was a pork barbecue where $10 would get you a piece of the pig and PC membership card. It’s okay to sell memberships, and they cost $10, but layering on pork was too much, so the rules committee — what’s not to love about an outfit that has a rules committee — decided the $10 was the cost of the barbecue. Memberships had to be sold separately.
The most heinous offence is surely “attempting to funnel out-of-province money to buy memberships.”
It turns out, that was $20 an Ontario Conservative gave a local Houston supporter unsolicited. The recipient gushed a bit about the generosity on Facebook, and Bob’s your uncle, another criminal conspiracy was unmasked.
The sixth offence wasn’t one. Complaints were made about the PC party logo on Houston’s van and a $750 in-kind contribution his campaign acknowledged. In neither case were rules broken, so the crime spree ends at five.
Houston’s campaign has broken some rules and cut some corners, but after reading the party’s findings, in each case the transgression seems more technical than malicious.
The other leadership contenders need to find a real windmill to tilt at, dial back the feigned outrage, or maybe look for work in academia.